Truth or Consequences (Part 2)

Aaron wears a mask

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog about the vital importance of making decisions based on truth rather than on narratives that we’re emotionally invested in. Kind of a lot has happened since then and I thought it was time to re-visit the issue.

The news cycle in Israel is dominated these days by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that it has caused us here. People are getting desperate and resorting to desperate measures, including violent clashes with the police in the context of a growing protest movement focused primarily on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but also the other government ministers and officials who are responsible for what many perceive as inexcusable mismanagement of the crisis.

Of course, similar scenarios are playing out in many other countries around the world, probably including the one you’re sitting in as you read this.

I haven’t heard the issue being discussed much, but while I certainly agree that many governments, including mine, have made many mistakes and taken many poor decisions in this season of crises, I humbly beg to point out that there are some things which those political and media big shots have no control over which have made the job they’re trying to do, which would have already been very difficult, infinitely more so. Ordinary people like me and you have also made some very unhelpful contributions to the toxic brew of bad choices and poor judgement that has brought us to this point.

Allow me to explain.

As has been pointed out by many scholars, we are living in the “post-Truth Era” of which there are two pillars. The first pillar is that everyone feels free to believe whatever they want, while also refusing to believe whatever they don’t want to believe. The second pillar is that no matter how outlandish, absurd, silly, irrational or even insane the things people choose to believe might be, they’ll be able to find something on the internet which validates it.

For example, there is a fairly broad consensus in the medical community worldwide that wearing a mask is helpful in slowing the spread of COVID-19. However, there is also a small but very vocal group of medical professionals and scientists who say that masks are completely useless in this regard, and there are a long list of reasons they have come up with to oppose wearing masks. What should have been a very straightforward question about whether or not wearing a mask would be helpful in addressing a problem which is causing enormous pain and suffering all over the world has turned, in many countries, into just another battleground in the never-ending culture wars.

The worst part is, both sides in this debate have plenty of things to post on each others Facebook pages to try and prove their position is correct. Much of this material, again on both sides of the debate, has been published by serious scientists, and there’s NO ONE who carries sufficient authority to say one side or the other is correct and it’s time to stop the arguments.

That’s a big problem, because masks really do work, or they really don’t. One thing or the other is true, and it matters a whole awful lot WHICH of these two possibilities is true and which is untrue.

In fact, on this question of what it true regarding masks hangs millions of lives and the QUALITY of life that hundreds of millions more people will enjoy (or not) for decades to come.

All of this begs another question about how something that should be so straightforward became so divisive?

Part of the explanation for that lies in the way the issue of masks got caught up in other pre-existing conditions plaguing our modern societies, especially the decreasing levels of trust in governments, institutions, public figures, etc. and the fracturing of what little trust still exists along tribal lines. Everyone knows that if you’re on the Right in America, you get your information from Fox News and if you’re on the Left you get your information from CNN and MSNBC. A similar dynamic exists in the news channels, newspapers, etc. here in Israel and in many other countries. These different media platforms offer up their own versions of reality which are often at least in conflict if not diametrically opposed to each other, often hinting that anyone suggesting a different version of events is deceitfully trying to manipulate public opinion in a way which will advance some dark, evil agenda. These different versions of reality can’t all reflect the truth at the same time (it’s not even a given that one or the other is true even most of the time.)

Therefore, for many people (are you one of them?) what has become “truth” regarding masks and many other issues is whatever the thought leaders in their particular tribal group say it is. Far too many of us have outsourced our decisions about what’s true and what’s not to such tribal elders. We copy and paste their talking points onto our social media platforms and into our conversations with each other, declaring them to be self-evident truths instead of the barely-informed, emotionally driven opinions they so often are.

Brothers and sisters, this is a recipe for catastrophe.

The Church of Jesus Christ MUST extricate itself from this tribal identity driven process of self-defeating deceit and bombast and instead become loyal only to what’s true, no matter how painful, embarrassing, infuriating or inconvenient it might be. If it turns out, for instance, that what I believe about masks is not true, than I must be ready to admit it and change my stance on this issue. The same is true about many other issues.

A “post Truth” world in which everyone is free to live as if whatever they want to believe is true while demonizing and rejecting anything or anyone they don’t want to believe is true, no matter what is objectively and observably true, can’t last very long. It’s dysfunction is built in to its basic operating system and everything that this phenomenon touches will be destroyed by it. If the Church (and Israel) is to remain intact so that it can perform the function God created it and raised it up to do, you and I must be willing to face and accept the truth, or we will join this lost and dying world in having no choice but to accept the devastating and perhaps eternal consequences.