When what’s fake means more than what’s real

The following is a response to a post by Morgan Guyton at his Patheos blog, “Mercy Not Sacrifice” You can read Guyton’s post here. My response is below; you can also see it and other comments here.

∞ ∞ ∞

That conservative evangelicals claim to be defenders of absolute truth while at the same time peddling fake news is hardly inconsistent. Indeed, it stems from the same compulsion. By the way, fake news is nothing new. We just used to call it propaganda.

You say that for conservative evangelicals (to which I’d add ideologues in general), “reality is whatever makes your doctrine work.” I agree, but I’d put a different english on it: Their doctrine is a presupposition they hold to be inerrant. They don’t need to choose “facts” to make the doctrine work. They won’t accept as “fact” anything that disputes the doctrine. This may sound like semantic quibbling. It’s not. For the ideologue the ideology, or doctrine, is the heuristic that determines what’s real. It IS the ultimate truth; facts (as opposed to “facts”) are beside the point. Ideologues aren’t after facts, they’re after truth claims consistent with the reality their doctrine posits, a reality against which they will brook no doubt because it is a reality in which they are pure and righteous and God is well pleased. They need not cede the privileges to which their religious freedom entitles them.

It’s totally pernicious. It’s totally unfaithful to the God of the Bible, of all creation—the ideologue chooses his (alas it is too often a “he”) perspective rather than one based in humility and on an appreciation of what’s possible to know about the world God created. Ideology is idolatry, pure and simple.

And yet there is a more jealous beast coiled at the heart of all this.

Why does the ideologue hitch his wagon to a particular doctrine? Because it depicts a world in which his fears and resentments make sense. Fear and resentment are the determinants of his reality, the whip of the ideologue’s ultimate concern. The roil of emotion at the instability of human existence is the realest thing an ideologue knows. The only acceptable “truths” are those which justify these feelings.

This explains why obedience is such a big deal to evangelicals. Obedience is a pretty ham-fisted means of persuasion, it bypasses reason, but it works. The more people evangelicals and religious ideologues convince of the “truth” of their doctrine the less cause they have to doubt it. And doubt it they do. It’s there, coiled in the dark chambers of human insecurity. Unacknowledged, to be sure, and all the more ready to strike for being so.

Conservative evangelicals and ideologues in general are not scoundrels, capable and deft though they may be when it comes to malice. What they are are fools. So says Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Letters and Papers from Prison” (chapter 1, under the subheading “Of Folly”). Folly isn’t an intellectual deficit. If it were it wouldn’t be so impervious to reason. Bonhoeffer calls it a moral defect. He doesn’t use the term SIN, though surely he believed ideology was a form of it; he was executed for believing so. The only hope for sin, of course, is redemption.

How do we respond to a world in which a critical mass of the public is so averse to a reality based on incontrovertible facts, that they will fashion with a graving tool a counterfeit reality and promote to the highest office a man like Donald Trump to be their Moses? You cover eloquently in your 3rd to last paragraph (“Being obedient to the truth means…”) a good part of it. My question is, How do we suffer the folly of fools without writing them off as people we’d be better off without? How do I address the sin of sinners with the humility my own sinfulness teaches me? How do I love others made in the image of God even when I can’t see God’s image in them?

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