“Trump Doesn’t Give a Tweet about the Truth” was a title I thought about using for this article—but while it is partly about DJT, this article is more broadly about the crisis of truth-knowing and truth-telling in contemporary society.
Warnings about Truth Decay
Douglas Groothuis, an evangelical Christian, authored a book titled Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (2000). Hearing of that book soon after it was published, I thought it was a clever title and that it dealt with important issues.
Not surprisingly, The Social Construction of Reality (1966), the book I wrote about in my 7/25 blog article, is cited in Groothuis’s book. Among other things, postmodernism affirms that reality/truth is socially constructed—and Groothuis (b. 1957) sees that as a problem.
“Truth decay” is not just a concern of conservative Christian theologians, however. Increasingly it is becoming a serious concern in society at large, particularly in the world of politics.
Early this year, RAND Corporation produced a 324-page report under the titled “Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life.”
To this point I haven’t read but just a bit of the RAND report, but my impression is that it is an important study about a real crisis.
Warning about the Death of Truth
I have read the new book by long-time New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani. Her book, released last month, is titled The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.
Early in her book, Kakutani (b. 1955) writes that DJT “lies so prolifically and with such velocity that The Washington Post calculated that he’d made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office” (p.13).
(Update: According to an Aug. 1 Washington Post article, as of July 31 DJT had publicly made 4,229 false or misleading claims.)
In her concluding chapter, Kakutani suggests that “Donald Trump is as much a symptom of the times as he is a dangerous catalyst” (p. 152).
Indeed, before the end of her Introduction, she calls attention to academics in the 1960s who were “promoting the gospel of post-modernism, which argued that there are no universal truths” (p. 18).
While she does not mention Berger and Luckmann, Kakutani decries “the post-Trump cultural landscape, where truth increasingly seems to be in the eye of the beholder, facts are fungible and socially constructed” (p. 43).
But the prevarication so prevalent in present-day society is a problem that cannot be explained simply as something produced by the theories of social construction and postmodernism.
While there are positive (and true!) aspects of social constructionism and postmodernism, there is nothing commendable about the willful telling of untruths for political purposes and/or personal gain.
Heeding the Warnings
Last week I also read Preaching Truth in the Age of Alternative Facts (2018), a slim book (only 89 pages) by William Brosend, an Episcopal priest and seminary professor. (I recommend that fine book especially to any of you preachers who may read this.)
One of Brosend’s main points is that truth is not primarily what people believe or say but is found in how they live. Thus, he emphasizes, truth “may best be proclaimed as righteousness (dikaiosunē)” (p. 5).
In other words, which Brosend does not use, truth is something we do or practice (see John 3:21) by working for (social) justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunē means both righteousness and justice.)
Consequently, one of many negative results of truth decay is the maintenance, or increase, of social injustice.
So, yes, it seems that DJT—and many of those who support him—abets truth decay by not caring a tweet about either truth or justice.