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Toward Wholeness Blog

Corona: challenging a post-truth worldview

A survey of the Bible finds that whenever there’s a wholesale disruption to ‘normal life’, God can use it to call us back, not to the way things were, but to something better. My hope over the next season, while we’re cocooning and watching both stock and job markets melt, is to offer some thoughts on what we might learn from the crisis. Here’s the first offering

“Post Truth” is essentially a way of saying that we live in a world where, as Kellyanne Conway so eloquently said shortly after Trumps election, “there are facts... and alternative facts”. In a world of alternative facts, people can simply say stuff and certain hearers, out of loyalty to the one speaking and a deep desire to confirm what they want to believe, swallow it hole. It’s not just that people have been believing politicians; it’s that they believe pastors, and teachers, and financial advisors, and advertisers, and the vast silent yet tightly woven web that is our consumerist, individualist culture. There’s at least some blood on all our hands.

Now, though, along comes this virus, and yes, it’s terrible, and costly. But it’s also a teachable moment, and I believe something good is happening. Some people are beginning to insert a step into their world of belief that‘s perhaps been missing for a while. It’s called “verification”, or “consider the source”. For example, I was just over the border from Italy, in neighboring Switzerland, when the outbreak migrated into Europe via Italy via China. The effect in Europe was almost immediate:

#1 Scientists spoke and offered verifiable evidence that social distancing would be vital to containment. The word was harsh, with profound short term economic consequences for everyone. It was also a bit of prophetic word, because at the time, the number of cases was still low.

#2. Most people, and politicians, believed the scientists and took recommended action.

I call this “response to revelation” and all of us do this, all the time. We hear something and then respond, either with belief which leads to a course of action taken, or unbelief, which means resistance of a proposed course of action because we don’t believe the source.

What I found fascinating though, was that in Europe there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the harsh measures proposed because there was a high level of trust, because those making the proclamations were, it was believed, trustworthy and had done their homework. And why were they deemed trustworthy? Science. Facts. Evidence. Thesis and tests. Double Blind studies. People are making costly proclamations and people are receiving them because of a prior credibility rooted in the “verification" quality of science.

Meanwhile, I’m watching social media feeds from back home and realizing that in my country, people aren’t acting as swiftly, or with as much courage to the costly thing. Instead we’re debating whose version of truth we’re going to believe. I now believe it’s because we’ve been living in a post truth world where people are happily picking and choosing their own individualized views of reality, views that fit their FOX, or MSNBC, or whatever, preconceptions.

Like the prophets of old, medical professionals stood up and offered us dire warnings, and explained their verification process. But instead of mobilizing, we heard sarcasm from politicians about chicken little, and were told that we were "handling it perfectly". The good news to be found in this moment is that our pursuit of truth regarding the virus can be verifiable by both science, and observable evidence. As a result, people are paying more attention, perhaps firing up their ‘verifiability’ engine and responding to revelation.

What if we applied the verifiability engine to other things? the overwhelming evidence that climate change is tied to our collective carbon footprint, and over harvesting of the soil, the seas, the forest, and the mountains. The virus has given us immediate feedback that, in just these few short weeks, the earth is healing. What if we tried, based on this evidence, to conceive of more localized economies that are sustainable with less consumption? the overwhelming evidence from history that when the middle class disappears, there’ll eventually be a revolution and cultural implosion - that it’s no good to make greed the central tenant of an economic philosophy because it’s unsustainable. What if we tried, based on the evidence, to move away from the policies that have been allowing the rich to get richer, at the expense of majority. After all, here’s another revelation to which we should respond, straight from the Bible: “when one suffers...all suffer”?

“Come on man! I’m just trying to survive here. Don’t lay this stuff on me now!!” Yes, practical actions like hand washing and prudent financial decisions are important. But the prophet Jeremiah declared that one of the major problems that led to the ultimate implosion of Israel in the 7th century BC was that leaders “healed the wounds of the people superficially”. I’d suggest that it’s not best for us to try and return to the “business as usual” that’s led to culture wars, xenophobia, an exponential increase in depression and anxiety issues, loneliness, and the kind of fears that lead people to hoard toilet paper.

Rather, perhaps we can use this time to learn, and repent, and change. And one of the things from which we all, liberal and conservative, orthodox and progressive, need to repent is the notion that we can make up our own reality, or that it’s OK to believe what our leaders say just because they say it. Nope. To quote a conservative president. ”Trust. And Verify”.

Just because you’re pastor said it...

Or your favorite politician...

Or your president, of either party

Doesnt’ make it true. Think. Consider the source. Value honesty. Respond to credible revelation, learn to trust the more credible sources. Vehemently dismiss lies and liars. If even a few of move in the direction, it will be a healthier world on the far side of Corona.

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