Post-truth and its Challenges to Christian Mission Work in Asia

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Sebastian M. Michael

Abstract

Every year, the Oxford Dictionary chooses a “Word of the Year”. At the end of 2016 they announced, “After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016 was ‘post-truth,’ an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. The definition expounded: “The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford dictionaries have seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the Brexit EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also come to be associated with a particular noun, in the phrase ‘post-truth politics.” “Post-Truth” implies manufactured truth, in which no one truth can be trusted. The concept of post-truth acknowledges that non-elite humans of society have always been manipulated by powerful, aristocratic, and influential figures. People who hold power use their positions to make lay people believe that their particular “truths” are correct; in reality, “truth” is a matter of power and persuasion, not objectivity. In academic circles, post-truth means a “systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own ‘subjective social reality’ from their perception of the input”. Post-truth, in short, does not refer to deliberate lies. It is a phenomenon beyond mere statements we happen to disagree with. Post-truth means deliberately ignoring reason, rationale, facts, science, knowledge and statistics to follow an emotionallydriven agenda. It means shutting down and silencing truth-speakers in case the facts cause offence. In short, it means unfettered liberalism. Extreme liberalism is responsible for creating the post-truth society. In other words, it is Liberalism that normalized the idea that facts shouldn’t matter. It is Liberalism that prioritises emotions over facts and creates this Post-truth society. Historically, the origin of this term is from the Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesichwho coined the term “post-truth” in 1992 in an essay published in The Nation in the context of the Persian Gulf War. He stated, “We, as a free people have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world (Flood, 2016).” Though the realistic implications of “post-truth” is deplorable, many begin to accept it with the belief that it becomes useful if we read it as a shorthand for life after the pursuit of truth, or in other words, a way of life in which there is apparently no way to separate fact from fiction. oday we are told there is no such thing as fact, that there is no such thing as science, and that there is no such thing as reason. We are told that all “truth” is propaganda. What this mindset does to society, to our constitution, to our thoughts is far more menacing. All these ideas and processes have brought lack of clarity, confusion and reduced commitment to Christian values and life. Consequently, post-truth challenges Christian discipleship in the present world. This paper is divided into seven parts. The first part investigates the historical development of a post-truth society. The second and third sections describe the characteristics of the postmodern and relativistic world of today, and its movement towards post-truth society. This is followed by a study of the salient features of postmodern culture and a post-truth society. The fifth part concentrates on common reactions among laypeople to the present post-modern and relativistic society in terms of the rise of cultural nationalism, religious fundamentalism and people’s movements. The sixth part examines how these processes affect Christian life and its values in contemporary times in terms of loss of authority, loss of foundations of knowledge, and breakdown of important structures of society and culture. The last part is the conclusion drawn from the above study.

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Author Biography

Sebastian M. Michael, Institute of Indian Culture, Mumbai

Dr. Sebastian M. Michael

The Director of Institute of Indian Culture, a Post-Graduate Research Centre in Culture, Society and Religion, affiliated to the University of Mumbai. He has obtained his M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Pune, and his doctoral degree (Ph.D.) from the University of Mumbai, India. He worked two years at the Anthropos Institute at Sankt Augustin, Germany. He was also the Director of Ishvani Kendra, a Missiological Research Institute of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), Pune, India. Prior to that he was the Director of Gyan Ashram, a Centre for Dialogue and Inculturation in Mumbai. He was Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Mumbai. Today he is also an Emeritus Professor and Adjunct Faculty of Cultural Anthropology, University of Mumbai. He was also the Asia Pacific Zonal Coordinator of the SVD for six years. Now he is the SVD Asia-Pacific (ASPAC) Coordinator for Mission, Education & Research (MER).
Fifteen Ph.D. scholars has successfully completed their doctoral studies under his guidance. He was a Consulter to the Pontifical Council for Culture and Inter-Religious Dialogue, Vatican. He is the Secretary of the Bombay Archdiocesan Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He published about 100 articles in the national and international journals. The edited volume Dalits in Modern India: Vision and Values (1999; 2nd ed. 2007) was a best seller of Sage publications. It was translated into several languages.