In my previous blog entry, I used a word that happens to be, well, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016. That word is post-truth.
I recall something from my Youth Culture classes. In merely a couple of years or so, things have evolved so fast. And a few have quickly turned passé. Before they were talking of the so-called “truth decay” brought about especially by the subjectivism or relativism of postmodern ideology. Now the decay has reached its ignoble end. We’re now indeed in the post-truth era.
The word is actually 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.” Perhaps the youth do not count so much “in shaping public opinion.” (Really? Is that so?) But to consider them spared or anesthesized against the twisting and manipulating of truth (in and by media, for example) is rather naïve. Indeed, young people seem to be the sitting duck targets of appeals to “emotion and personal belief.”
Take alone the task of educating them. Indeed, how can you teach young people right and wrong — more so, values such as honesty, and faults such as lying — when all they read and see around the internet are lies and fake news? That is, of course, if they are aware in the first place that such news are indeed fake and false! The facility with which liars get away with their so-called alternative facts, or propagandists and spin doctors control and dominate data for their ends (which are not always good), can only make us shake our heads.
Oh, by the way: even the proliferation nowadays of fake news (along with its milder variant of items tweaked for purposes of humor, satire, and sarcasm) hasn’t spared youth ministry. A few days ago, I chanced upon this news item. It serves as a wonderful — or funny — example. Scrolling down to the bottom of the webpage, you will see the clincher (which you should not miss!). There is a disclaimer or admission, which goes (spoiler alert here), “The Babylon Bee is Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire.” And pay attention too, to the many other news items (strategically laid out at the right side and at the bottom). Note the headings such as “buzzing,” “related articles,” and “don’t miss.” They may not be like those clickbait items in most other websites, but they are truly satirical and humorous.
But then — and sadly — not all that goes around the World Wide Web is funny and enjoyable. So much division is spawned (and even outright hatred and bitterness against one another) with such false stuff. Seriously, we owe something to our future generations. (And by the way — whoever said that youth are only intended for the future?) We ought to be careful and responsible in what we post now (and also like, comment, and share) in Facebook, for instance.
Sometimes we wonder how easily teens write their Profiles and posts with flippant half-truths, let’s say just to make themselves “look good” especially to their peers. There is a general easing of truth standards, it seems, when it comes to posting and sharing in social media. Or we may be wrong (how we wish!) . . .
In connection with all this, our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, did have something to say to youth, in a recent address to them on the occasion of World Youth Day 2017 (which was just a couple of days ago: Palm Sunday, April 9). Here is a pertinent passage which I would like to dwell on —
To have a past is not the same as to have a history. In our life we can have plenty of memories, but how many of them are really a part of our memory? How many are significant for our hearts and help to give meaning to our lives? In the social media, we see faces of young people appearing in any number of pictures recounting more or less real events, but we don’t know how much of all this is really “history”, an experience that can be communicated and endowed with purpose and meaning. Television is full of “reality shows” which are not real stories, but only moments passed before a television camera by characters living from day to day, without a greater plan. Don’t let yourselves be led astray by this false image of reality! Be the protagonists of your history; decide your own future.
Read it again carefully. Go over the above passage at least twice — even the entire message of Pope Francis is worth checking out! The Holy Father seems to presume or imply the falsity prevalent in today’s post-truth social media, indeed. His concluding exhortations to the young, on the other hand, do have a ring of challenge and empowerment.
As we are right now in the holiest of weeks (for us as Catholics that is, with the sacred Paschal Triduum), it is good to recall that little but infamous incident during the trial of Jesus before Pilate. It is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 18, verses 37 to 38. There’s the famous question of Pilate: “What is truth?”
By sarcastically and cynically dismissing Jesus’ powerful first-hand testimony just like that — with nary any consideration at all — it is as if Pilate is aligning himself with the post-truth ideology. Whereas Jesus Christ, as we all know (thanks to His self-revelation), is the Truth.
Let our young people take their pick, take sides, and take a stand.
MartYM or Fr. Martin Macasaet, SDB, SThD is a professor of Youth Ministry. He received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome.