It’s been interesting to watch the press’ reaction to the phrase “alternative truth” since, from my perspective, the secular media have been more than happy to accept any number of alternative truths progressives have been peddling for years. These popular, progressive “alternative truths” include things such as…
- Human life does not begin at conception.
- Abortion is a good approach to healthcare for women.
- Hormonal Contraception is good medicine.
- Children raised in same-sex or cohabiting households do as well as children raised traditional married households.
- Divorce is not traumatic or harmful for adults or children,
- Children do not need both a mother and a father
Of course, there are many others like this. If you click any of the above links, you will see strong evidence why these “alternative truths” –routinely accepted by the media– are either outright falsehoods or at least assertions that are far from settled. None of these widely accepted, “alternative truths” are, in fact, objectively truthful. In fact, every one of these statements are at least as questionable as the Trump admin’s assertions about crowd size at the inauguration, if not more so, but the media has never had a problem accepting any of these ideas. And yet because enough people have proclaimed these alternative truths long enough and loudly enough they are almost universally accepted.
Is pointing this out just a game of tit for tat? Or is there something deeper going on here?
Is What’s Good For the Liberal Goose Good for the Conservative Gander?
One of the most important rules in a post-modern, post-Christian society, is that “truth” is not objective. It is what “we” (society) say it is. Perhaps one of the reasons the media seems so shocked about the Trump Admin’s co-option of this post-modern doctrine is that conservatives (even erstwhile conservatives like Trump) have traditionally rejected the idea that truth is a social construct (i.e., what “we” say it is) preferring instead to assert a more objective, Natural Law, approach to truth where matter matters, and truth represents the actual state of things. It is odd, to say the least, to see a putative conservative like Trump play the post-modern game of “believe what I say, not what you see.”
As a person who believes in objective truth, I don’t think any of this is a good thing, but rather than simply writing off Trump as a manipulative so-and-so, I think it is much more honest to see him as an authentically post-modern conservative; a person who, like the progressive Obama administration before him, really believes his own bullshit and thinks that truth is simply a tool to be used to serve a particular political or personal agenda. For the post-modern mind–liberal or conservative–there really is no such thing as “lies” per se. There are only statements that are useful and statements that are not useful. Similarly, in the post-modern academy, research exists, not to discover truth, but merely to advance the agenda we’ve chosen to advocate (the technical term for this is “action research.”)
Progressives have been playing at this game for decades and have won the heart of the culture by doing so. The public acceptance of gay marriage, the transgender debates, the normalization of divorce, and a host of other cultural mainstays are the fruit of this effort. Conservatives have now co-opted this approach, not so much because they really believe in it, so much as because they are tired of losing. The conservative version of the post-modern game of truth-as-means-to-end is clunky, jarring, and somewhat less suave than the progressive version (because underneath it all, there is still the tacit belief in objective truth that has to be actively denied to be able to justify this game) but it is, epistemologically speaking, completely consistent with how the culture has been thinking about truth and thinking for at least the last decade or more.
The Cost of the Game
The problem is, that long term, this approach leads to the death of science AND faith. The philosopher of science, Stanly Jaki, argued that the intellectual assumptions of Christianity such as “God is a God of order” and “By studying creation you can learn about the creator” made science itself possible because it insisted there was such a thing as reason and predictability. He argued that despite occasional scientific eruptions in non-Christian cultures, scientific inquiry in those cultures was always “stillborn” (that is, died out after the particular scientist or innovator died) because, for instance, if you are pagan who believes that the earth and the wind and the waves are themselves gods who can do what they will, it would never occur to you to study what they were going to do tomorrow in the first place. Who are you to question the movements of the gods?
But the Christian, because of the incarnation, in which God eternally and intimately unites himself to his creation, is invited to learn about God by studying nature. Christians believe in objective truth because we believe the natural always points to the eternal. Because God’s fingerprints are all over creation, you can learn something about the artist by study his strokes on the canvas and the composition of the paint he uses. Not even Judaism, which believes that God is ultimately so other that you cannot even say his name, or Islam, which believes that Allah can do whatever he wishes and is not even bound by his own laws, can make these claims. Christianity is unique in its embrace of not just divine truth, but all objective truth.
It remains to be seen whether Christian conservatives can play the post-modern game without sawing off the branch they are sitting on. However it turns out, it promises to be an interesting ride.