Delivered at Ames UCC
on January 15, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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A long time ago, it seems now, I taught a course on rhetoric and argumentation. Throughout the semester we went over different types of arguments and logical fallacies: how to make a parallel case, how to avoid a straw man, for example. The project for the term was to take a racial or ethnic conflict—and I came up with 72 different ones ranging from reparations in the United States to Greece’s treatment of the Cypriots—and lay out the arguments on both sides, then make a case for one side.
This required research. And, as the Internet was just starting to be widely accessible, it required teaching the students how to assess if an online source was valid because we were learning that anyone could and would post anything. The criteria were authority, purpose, format and publisher, relevance, date, and documentation.
If only the Internet came with those criteria posted every time we turn on a browser. If only we had to accept those terms with each and every click and scroll. Because twenty years later, the validity of online information is a moot point. Truth has taken such a hit over the last year that the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth”:
..relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.1
But here’s something that has been eating at me even more than the collapse of credibility: Post-truth sounds a lot like my theology and that of our branch of the Christian family tree.
For example, one of the stories we did not hear in this year’s cycle with Jesus is his trial in the wilderness. According to the story, Jesus is alone for forty days, beset by ha-satans, the forces of non-being. They have a powerful conversation in which Jesus only responds with scripture, demonstrating a fierce loyalty to God. We know because we have a word-for-word account of their dialogue, as if Luke secured a transcript of this solitary experience forty years after Easter.
This is not possible.