Reaching People Who No Longer Value the Truth

Remember Jerry, it’s not a lie—if you believe it. – George Costanza

They say that the truth hurts. I’m inclined to agree.

When trying to reach another person across a divide of disagreement, it’s really difficult to compete with a firmly planted and fully thriving lie—in fact it’s virtually impossible.

In the turbulent days in which we find ourselves, our most formidable adversary is not the one who is most intelligent, cunning, or even immoral—it is the person who no longer has need of the truth; who ceases to be burdened by the existence or veracity of data in order to believe what they believe. 

When someone has arrived at this place of delusion, their only pressing commitment is preserving the myth they’ve told themselves—and so their minds for all practical purposes are rendered nearly unreachable.

To reach a different conclusion would involve them rewriting the false story they’ve already convinced themselves of and vigorously defended, sometimes for years.

To consider another alternative becomes a threat to their very identity—and so rather than arguing with one’s own mind, the much less complicated or time-consuming task is to simply tell it what it wants to hear regardless of whether or not it is real.

The person who has discarded truth is insulated from rationality. He or she will not respond to the presence of a cogent argument or the proffering of measurable facts.
Any information not corresponding to the narrative they’ve predetermined will be immediately labeled “fake news” and quickly rejected.

You cannot win a debate with such a person, you cannot craft compromise with them, and you cannot appeal to reason—unless you are too are willing to concede to fantasy in order to reach them where they are, and this is a steep and slippery slope.

When we encounter someone whose opinion doesn’t match our own, there is great wisdom in seeking to understand the other person; attempting to see the matter from behind their eyes. But when this conclusion is reached based on fraudulent information, when he or she refuses to weigh the evidence at hand, when they chose simply to adopt the perspective of least resistance, this can be an impossibility. 

Yesterday I was speaking with a woman named Tammy. She was reiterating a well-traveled talking point from a partisan news show about the dangers of Muslims in America. I asked Tammy to take a look at a couple of well-researched articles by major newspapers, and to compare the numbers there with her perception. “Pshht!” she blurted out, rolling her eyes, “I’m not interested in fake news!” Tammy had no desire to engage information or to entertain the possibility of contrary evidence. It was much easier to devalue that information and dismiss it out of hand.

This is the FoxNews Effect on America. The network, along with both extremist poles of social media have done their most cancerous work by making critical thinking irrelevant, by counting on a populace with a low threshold for information fatigue, and by exploiting people’s vulnerability to intellectual ear candy. They understand that once they craft a story in the head of another human being, they only need to provide confirmation of that story; to reassure them that whatever lie they’ve embraced is true. After a short time, facts are not at all necessary to sustain believability—only the words themselves.

And so we’re faced with the task of wrestling with some really gut-wrenching questions today:

How do we teach our children to treasure honesty, when for so many people they encounter, fundamental reality is up for debate?

How do we who claim Christianity affirm our faith tradition’s call to truthfulness, when an increasing number of those representing that tradition are no longer interested in it?

How do we engage people standing opposite from us on an issue—when they no longer seem to value, desire, or entertain factual information?

What does a country become when its leaders, responsible for stewarding reality in times of adversity and matters of great consequence—have no use for it?

How does America endure a President who is mortally allergic to the truth and fluent in lies?

The answer isn’t in abandoning the truth ourselves. In fact, these days require us to be a people who guard it more fiercely than ever; to keep seeking to know what is real, and to speak those things loudly and repeatedly in the hopes they will find fertile ground, even in the hardest of hearts.

The answer is to raise children who believe honesty and integrity to be the bedrock of our humanity. I want to believe all people can be reached, that there can be a place of common understanding in which to begin brokering compromise, even across the most vast of spaces.

I wake up every day seeking to do this work, but with far too many of those in my neighborhood, in my family, and on my timeline—it is getting more and more difficult not to conclude that it is a fruitless endeavor.

I’m afraid that reaching them may never again be an option—and that the only hope going forward may be to outnumber them.

This may be the truth that hurts the most.

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239 thoughts on “Reaching People Who No Longer Value the Truth

  1. Matthew 25 Movement

    I pledge to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.

    In America right now, too many people are feeling very afraid because of the new political realities in Washington, D.C., both because of the political rhetoric of this election campaign and how they were targeted as groups of people. In response, the message of Matthew 25 is rising up at the grassroots level and among faith leaders — within faith communities, congregations, denominations, seminaries, and faith-based organizations. It’s the Gospel text where Jesus says: How you treat the most vulnerable is how you treat me.

    People are feeling a need to act. Matthew 25 can lead us in what to do. And so we’ve created the Matthew 25 Pledge — just one sentence which simply says: I pledge to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus. Clearly, many people in America are feeling quite vulnerable right now, but the Matthew 25 Movement — a broad collection of national faith-based groups, grassroots activists, heads of denominations and more — is focusing on three groups of people who are especially at risk under a Trump administration. So here we offer our starting point, pledging to:

    Support undocumented immigrants threatened with mass deportation; and advocate on behalf of refugees who are being banned from coming to America.

    Stand with African Americans and other people of color threatened by racial policing.

    In line with our commitment to religious liberty we will defend the lives and religious liberty of Muslims, threatened with “banning,” monitoring, and even registration.

    This is the beginning. This is where to start now. But if and when other groups of people are targeted by government decisions or by hateful cultural responses, we who sign the Matthew 25 Pledge will also seek to surround and protect them. Rather than just watching, grieving, and feeling sorry for what is happening to the most marginalized, who are named in the 25th chapter of Matthew, we can pledge to join together in circles of support in the name of Jesus.

    • Dear Gloriamarie Amalfitano:

      Agreed. But do you know — because it would stand by the stranger, the sick, the homeless, those in prison — any significant Matthew 25 movement would be regarded as politically subversive. After a mass media campaign vilified/discredited its leaders, the state would act directly to suppress such a movement. And many apologists of the 1%/other-9% nation would support the repression of the Mt 25ers.


      • gdd, so… what’s your point? That it would be civil disobedience? Big deal, the USA was founded on a huge act of civil disobedience.

        • Dear Gloriamarie Amalfitano:

          Believers will learn that fidelity to Christ indeed bears a price. But that is a good thing. Moving in this direction, we will remember who we are and to whom we belong. We may be shunned/expelled by the state, but our God will keep us and raise us to unending life on the last day.


  2. I wanted to pick up on John’s experience with a person who dismissed mainstream news articles as fake news.

    What news outlets are fake news? Is it the New York Times? The Washington Post? The Wall Street Journal? MSNBC? CNN? ABC? CBS? The BBC? NPR?

    I wonder if people who dismiss all of these sources as fake (at least with regard to stories on the Trump administration) don’t have a tiny bit of dissonance. Or, do they buy the mainstream-media-is-left-wing- and-hates-Trump narrative without question.

    If it’s the latter, I wonder when you start to approach a cult-like mindset, with unquestioning faith in the cult leader, and dismissal of any evidence contrary to this leader’s views.

    • Dear Friendly guy:

      Personally, I suspect they are all purveyors of false news at times. I also suspect that all of them stray into truth at times. I’m not sure where this leaves me, but there it is.


    • Friendly guy, IMHO, some passed “when you start to approach a cult-like mindset, with unquestioning faith in the cult leader, and dismissal of any evidence contrary to this leader’s views” a long time ago.

      Hence the cognitive issues we see.

  3. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
    Romans 14:10
    Like all to know , It is NOT my Job to make you see Truth, It is MY job to Tell Truth.
    NOT my Job to force christianity down your throat
    It is MY Job to Rebuke, exort, Tell How, Why, What the Truth is.
    God is HOly and If you dont see , It is up to you to ask WHY ,
    Why do YOU hate Christians,
    Why do YOU hate Godlyness,
    Why do you Hate Holyness
    Why dont you see Truth
    Examine Your hearts daily to see if you are in the faith, to see if you really know Christ, and Really Believe.
    YOU have to ask , Not up to me to Judge YOU , But it is up to me to speak the truth, tell the truth, lead you to the Bible
    Evidence that demands a Verdict.
    YOU will face God for your self
    NO one to blame
    No one to speak against
    No others to take up the slack for your actions, thought s , decisions, views on life.
    Cry out to God,
    Ask for forgiveness,
    Ask him to open your eyes so you can see truth

    • Dear christopher freeman:

      Oh good grief!

      Have you ever considered that …

      YOU hate Christians,
      YOU hate Godlyness,
      you Hate Holyness

      or that …

      [you] dont you … Truth?

      You hand out this stuff like candy with no idea who the people here are in real time. Has it honestly never occurred to you that others have as much right to question the integrity of YOUR faith commitments as you have to question theirs?


  4. There is a difference between facts and opinions on what the facts mean. Bias means opinion, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s out in the open.

    For example, if you’re following the voting record of a certain congressman, you should be able to quote the register and say he or she voted for this or that …and it will be fact. Whether or not you AGREE with that vote is where bias comes in. And that’s where debate comes in. You don’t debate whether or not that vote took place, what you do is debate whether or not the vote was good or bad.

    See, what’s blurry these days is what the facts actually are. Somebody says this or that is a fact, but doesn’t cite where that information came from, is adding to this mess. And social media is extremely guilty of this kind of thing, and yes, it happens on both the liberal and conservative side of things. This is where we’re losing our way, I’m afraid.

    • Jan Foley wrote “See, what’s blurry these days is what the facts actually are. Somebody says this or that is a fact, but doesn’t cite where that information came from, is adding to this mess. And social media is extremely guilty of this kind of thing, and yes, it happens on both the liberal and conservative side of things. This is where we’re losing our way, I’m afraid.”

      Which is one of the reasons I cite a lot of sources. Of course, these are ignored by people who don’t choose to have evidence and facts contradict their opinion.

      The sad fact is that there are people who believe that their opinion is just as worthy as evidence and facts, not matter how much the evidence and facts proves the opinion is baseless.

      For instance, let’s look at some of the opinions white people have held against POC which have no basis in evidence, facts, and history.

  5. Pingback: The Platform is a 4-Letter Word - JaxPolitix - Disambiguations for the political and social musings of Jack Altschuler

  6. I’ve been saying for at least a year that the only way to end stupid people is for them to die out over the coming years. And this reality isn’t sad, it’s promising.

  7. Pingback: The Platform is a 4-Letter Word – Part 2 - JaxPolitix - Disambiguations for the political and social musings of Jack Altschuler

  8. Wondering how to reach those who do not value truth has long troubled me. Any ideas?
    Is it any wonder so many people see no value to science? Science tries to discover the truth. But if truth is of no value to you, why should you value science?

  9. We already outnumber them. By a lot. So how are we in this situation? A system that’s as broken as it is corrupt, that’s how. The only way to fix it is to work twice as hard and vote like our lives depend on it – because they do.

  10. It really seems like you wrote this last night for Jared and Ivanka Kushner. I can’t imagine how life must be in Israel now that Trump has caused this change of capitols. I love Tel Aviv, and while the history of Jerusalem is fantastic for tourists, the city is not conducive to commerce and policy in the same way that Tel Aviv has been for years. Why should it change? I think that harsh truths are hard for self-involved people to hear. They’re too busy thinking about their own fairy-tale beliefs.

  11. The real question John , is that after all this time, why are you wasting your breath even trying to discuss anything with these people? Its senseless and a huge waste of time. The rift is permanent. Intelligence is no longer valued. The educated are considered the enemy. Fake news applies to anything they don’t want to believe.

  12. Please keep preaching, John. Your thoughts are practically the only thing that keeps me from losing all hope. Be strong!!!

    • John, the thoughts in your column mirror my experience. In a recent conversation, an otherwise intelligent, educated woman responded, when my gentle (I hope) reiteration of fact was taken by her as a personal rebuke, “I don’t care. I like him and I support him.” There you go. She then spit out, angrily, two words: “Benghazi” and “Monica” -as if the history behind either one of those remotely approached either truth, in one case, or treason. The Party that hated the “Russkies” now welcomes them to the White House. Neither common sense nor self-preservation nor allegiance to America approaches allegiance to Trump. As you explain it, the combo of Fox propaganda and the fear of being personally wrong is a lethal, fearsome infection sweeping across our country. Truth and education (which Trump, via Betsy De Voss, is quickly destroying) are our hopes and anchors, just as they were in the 1700s.

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