Every November, as the calendar year is winding down, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries in the UK select a word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest during that year. They choose the winning term based on criteria such as the number of times it is searched online. They call it “The Word of the Year.” The Oxford team tends to choose a word that captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that year.
In 2013, the word of the year was selfie: a picture you take of yourself with a smartphone. In 2015, it was emoji: you know, a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion. In 2016 the word of the year was post-truth.
Q Place president, Mary Schaller, recently shared her thoughts about this interesting choice:
I find it fascinating that the 2016 word of the year was post-truth. It’s an adjective meaning “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This word has far more serious implications to our emerging 21st century worldview than selfie or emoji does.
And the President of Oxford Dictionaries, Casper Grathwohl, also had this to say in light of the winning word:
It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse. Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.
The earliest known usage of the word was in a 1992 essay by American playwright Steve Tesich where he writes, “We, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some ‘post-truth world’ implying that truth itself has become irrelevant.”
The Christian does not agree with Tesich, but certainly there are implications for every believer as we endeavor to find appropriate ways to respond and share the gospel in today’s post-truth culture.
In our postmodern era, universal truth claims get a lot of resistance. The philosopher Jean Lyotard famously defined postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives.” What does that mean? Basically, that those big stories—the overarching narratives by which we define reality—are regarded with suspicion. In a postmodern world, no one story is large enough to contain the whole of reality, much less define it for all people.
But while metanarratives are suspect, personal perspectives are sacrosanct. You are authorized to tell your story. It’s wise to keep this in mind when you talk about your faith in a public setting. Preface what you say with words like, “I’ve found that in my experience” or “From a Christian perspective . . .” This doesn’t mean you water down the truth. As Christians, we believe in universal truth, but you’ll be more likely to gain a hearing if you start by speaking from your personal perspective, rather than trying to claim objectivity.
My wife attended the same college I did. After several frustrating conversations about faith in one class, she started speaking about her beliefs as part of her “culture.” She would say things like, “I’m a Christian and in our culture we believe that . . .” Suddenly she found that other students were far more open to hearing what she had to say.
While it may not be popular in a post-truth culture to believe in objective truth, there are ways to interact with those who believe differently than we do. Your responses, practices, actions and words can give the Truth a chance to be heard.