No Alternative Truth: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
A worrying aspect of the current era is that facts no longer seem to matter. Additionally, the evidence which lies behind facts is suspect, even if we have seen the evidence with our own eyes or heard it with our own ears. As one person famously said, there are, it seems, “alternative facts” and, we must suppose, alternative evidence regardless of what we have actually seen and heard in real time.
There is, however, a problem with this approach, especially for those of us who name the name of Christ. The difficulty is one of truth.
The New Testament places a high priority on truth as the basis for Christian faith. How could it be otherwise as we place our faith in a person who claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life”. While the word “truth” is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament, it tends to always carry with it a correspondence with reality and discernible facts within that reality. For the writers of the New Testament, as for the early Church, truth was singular. That is to say, there was not an “alternative truth”. Moreover, that singular truth was rooted in fact… “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
There were of course instances, especially in the early Church, of those who attempted to present an alternative truth with alternative facts to back it up. For instance, the Docetists created a whole system of theology around alternative facts claiming that Jesus only appeared to be human and that his human form was an illusion. For the Docetists, you had to be let into the secret of this illusion to know the alternative truth. You may think that you saw Jesus die upon the cross, but you can’t believe what you see. You may think that you heard Jesus cry out, “It is finished”, but you can’t believe what you hear. Only the initiated, of course, know this world of alternative truth and the alternative facts which lay behind it.
Although the early Church condemned this system of thought as heresy, it did not prevent Docetism from morphing into various forms of gnosticism with evermore complex myths and theological systems over the course of the first three centuries of the Christian era.
I have often wondered why certain Christians seem drawn to the apocalyptic portions of the Old and New Testament or, indeed, why some pastors and leaders seem to absolutely revel in making apocalyptic pronouncements and/or prophetic predictions. The other day I scrolled through YouTube sampling what was on offer in this line of thinking. I learned that Obama was the antichrist… as was Biden… as was Trump… The bear out of the North was definitely Russia… or maybe Iran… or, how about, Azerbaijan… The vaccine was the mark of the beast… or maybe a microchip placed in the vaccine was the mark of the beast… Oh no, that would make Bill Gates the antichrist! I saw pastors holding fireside chats making prophetic predictions about what was going to take place… unless you voted the way they thought you should. I was also amazed at how many pastors were suddenly expert on constitutional law, Supreme Court rulings and, of course, legislative procedures; not to mention sociology expertise with regard to race, the place of women (almost always presented by men) and other such topics. Then there were the ones reminding their readers that they were undergoing persecution… by their cozy fireside… with perfect studio lighting… professional camera work… and sending their message far and wide. It’s hard to miss the irony.
I’m not sure any longer that the problem is one of agreeing on facts. It seems to me that the problem is that we no longer can agree that truth is essential as the basis of our faith and, equally important, of our interactions with one another. Speaking the truth in love seems to have been forgotten as a basic precept of Christian faith. Instead one is offered “secret knowledge” and conspiracy theories which justifies anger and distrust of those who refuse to accept and/or believe the pronouncements of one’s particular group… or pastor… or prophet.
There is a faith that was once delivered. That faith is based upon truth and is evidenced by love. There are no alternative facts. There is no alternative faith. There is no alternative truth.