Friends, it’s time to talk about Reality. By Reality I mean that which continues to exist whether you or I believe it or not. We have somehow gotten the idea that truth is something that happens inside our heads, that if you believe in a thing enough, it must be true. But that’s not how Reality works. Reality is not a verbal construct. That is to say, truth doesn’t begin with words that people speak. Truth begins with external facts. A responsible use of words involves an honest effort to reflect Reality, or, when Reality isn’t clear (and it often isn’t), an honest effort to move toward it.
As I have said before in this space, it is true that, by altering inward realities (persuading, cajoling, inviting, bullying, wheedling, teaching, selling, etc) we often change outward realities. Words matter, as you have heard many times in the last week.
Be that as it may, big-R Reality always has the final word. And when we shape little-r realities (aka, the status quo) without regard for Reality, we will always create misery (and we may lose our democracy). I am borrowing from James K.A. Smith, who wrote in Desiring the Kingdom, “All of our attempts to remake the world as we want are not only doomed to failure. They are doomed to exacerbate suffering.”
It has been said that we are living in a “post-truth” society. Speaking as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have to say that I have been appalled and heart-broken by the vigor with which people who claim the name of Christ have contributed to this post-truthiness, embracing and espousing patent falsehoods as if believing them and repeating them will somehow make them true.
Are you disappointed that Joe Biden won the election? Fine. Say that. Say, “I’m disappointed that Joe Biden won the election.” That is a true thing you can say about an inward reality. But sad and disappointed feelings don’t constitute evidence that the election was stolen, nor do those feelings give you permission to ignore the fact that nobody has produced actual evidence (the kind that somebody might swear to in a court of law) that the election was stolen. That would be the grossest kind of relativism.
Back in December, Eric Metaxas had this to say about the fact that nobody had been able to produce evidence that the election had been stolen:
It’s like somebody saying, ‘Oh, you don’t have enough evidence to believe in Jesus.’ We have enough evidence in our hearts. We know him and the enemy is trying harder than anything we have seen in our lives to get us to roll over, to forget about it.
Eric Metaxas is a very articulate man. In this case, he was articulating insanity and, if I’m not mistaken, blasphemy. We’re supposed to believe Trump’s claims in our hearts the way we believe Jesus’ claims in our hearts? I don’t know what kind of nefarious plans the Democrats have in store for Christians, but I don’t see how they could do any more harm to the cause of Christ than this kind of thing.
I recently heard a joke about two conspiracy theorists who die and go to heaven. When they get an audience with God they say, “So, tell us: how exactly did the Democrats steal the 2020 election?” God says, “Nobody stole it. Joe Biden just won.” One conspiracy theorist turns to the other and says, “This thing goes up higher than I thought.”
I realize that joke is offensive and presumptuous in a lot of ways. But it brings up a question that we should all ponder, whatever our political tendencies: If it turns out you’re wrong, are you going to be all right? How much of your sense of self (and, for that matter, of God) depends on your being right in your political and cultural convictions? If God said you had it wrong, are you sure you’d believe him? Or would you double down? I will admit it: my first instinct is to double down. I’m trying to get better at repenting.
I expect to get a lot of responses to this email with a lot of “what-about-isms” and “both-sides-isms.” I’ve got a lot of going on this week, so I probably won’t be able to reply. Which means you can have the last word. But if I were to respond, I would probably say something like this…
If you’re feeling pretty good about the Trumpified state of American Evangelicalism and/or if you think last week’s riot at the US Capitol was an act of patriotism, I’m not sure we have enough shared sense of Reality to have a meaningful conversation about these matters. I very much believe in dialogue, but only in the service of Reality. To return to the idea of the stolen election, if you believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen, you are believing for reasons that have nothing to do with an honest commitment to Reality. Forgive my bluntness, but at some point we have to stop giving proven falsehoods equal time. That’s not what it means to be fair and balanced. When we leave Reality behind, things are going to go very badly. They are going very badly already.
If, on the other hand, you’re having some doubts, you’re the person I’m really writing to. I have some excellent news for you: The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not exist to prove that you were right all along. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not exist to ensure that you are able to accumulate political and cultural power. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an invitation to be aligned with Reality. And Reality, as it turns out, is better than all the pseudo-realities we create for ourselves (or the pseudo-realities that we allow the powerful to create for us). I know we’re not supposed to quote Woody Allen any more, but I can’t help it: “I hate reality, but it’s still the only place where I can get a good steak.” Reality is the only place where you can live a life of happiness and fulfillment.
If it turns out you were wrong about some things, you’re going to be all right. If you cling to pride and falsehood like a drowning man clutching at a cinder block—well, you might not be all right.
P.S. After I wrote this letter, I read Russell Moore’s weekly letter, which covers some of the same ground, only more thoroughly, articulately, and authoritatively. I commend it to you.