In our era of fake news, we need MORE > Truth
We chatted with Kristi Mair, author of MORE > Truth, about writing, philosophy, living as a Christian, and our relationship to information in our current political climate.
1. Why was it important to write MORE > Truth?
Life continues to throw theological challenges at us as Christians, and the question of truth – what is truth? - isn’t one that is going to go away any time soon. If anything, we’ve seen a new development in the abuse of truth with ‘post-truth’ rhetoric, ‘fake-news’, and ‘alternative facts’ dominating headlines and subtext for a while now. Life seems to be imitating art: Orwell’s 1984 doesn’t seem like such a far cry from reality. ‘Truth’ is a challenging and an unpopular idea. It feels cold, aloof, divisive, irrelevant, and even dangerous.
As Christians we are tempted to feel exactly the same way, even though we claim to know Truth Himself. That’s why it was important to write MORE > Truth. Our cultural moment demands answers of us. Truth matters. What we see in all of this is a desire to know the truth. Our society wants more truth, not less. If Jesus really is “The Way, The Truth, and The Life”, how are we to understand what it means to know and enjoy truth, communicate truth, and live in truth? As Christians we know that truth matters, but we are often too busy and it seems like too much of a big subject to wrap our brains around so we tend not to bother. But the thing is, when that happens, we stop being counter-cultural, and we start to doubt that Christ crucified really is good, true news. I hope that MORE > Truth will help us to engage with our own weary hearts, as well as society’s, as we come to see how good, beautiful and true, Truth really is.
2. You have a background in philosophy. Whose philosophical writing do you admire?
Ha! How much time do you have?! Admiration is an odd thing. There are a number of philosophers whom I admire for their intellectual grit and candour. Even though they reach devastating conclusions, they rightly see the glimmer of truth that “all is meaningless under the sun”. But, rather than embracing meaning in God it leads them to embrace it within themselves. Much of the Existential school of philosophical writing is quite odious (Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche), but it was through their enquiry into meaning and the ensuing absurdity which arises when we see that there isn’t any (if God is dead), that first propelled me into thinking more seriously about God. It was Nietzsche’s sad conclusion that “God is dead, and we have killed him”, which made me look more closely at the evidence for Jesus.
Then, there are those I admire because their apprehension of truth has led to even more liveable, enjoyable truth. Michael Polanyi would be the main contender in this area for me, as well Esther Meek. Their work has literally changed my life. I also thoroughly enjoy the work of Phenomenologists such as Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, as well as Luc Ferry, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, Victor Brombert, Leszek Kolakowski, Umberto Eco, Hannah Arendt, Karl Ove Knausgard, Justin Martyr, Boethius, Proust, I could go on and on. It is difficult to know where to stop really. We are all engaged in some kind of philosophy, and poets at times are our best philosophers, so I’d also add Andre Ady, Petöfi, Keats, Wordsworth, and other writers like Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Milan Kundera and George Steiner. Such a feast of thought!
Finally, and most importantly, Jesus remains the philosopher I admire the most and seek to build my life upon.
3. How has your study of philosophy shaped how you consider information, like the news we consume today?
My analytic philosophical training has helped me immeasurably. I’ve been trained to think critically, assess the ‘soundness’ of arguments and spot logical dead-ends from a mile away!
The heart of post-truth is the place emotions hold in their ability to persuade people today. It is largely because that cold, analytical approach is seen as distant and without practical relevance for people on the ground today that such a post-truth groundswell has emerged, particularly through the U.S. Presidential elections. To say that “Washington doesn’t work” is to say, “You don’t know me.” Studying what it means to know (epistemology) as a Christian not only in my own personal life, but in the world today is something that has really formed the way I engage with truth claims. And we all do it. We are all philosophers; we all ask these big questions in life, and we all sift for truth and seek it on some level. That is one way I consider the news – what is the glimmer of truth in what I am reading? (It could just be true that it’s all wrong!)
As I’ve studied philosophy, I see more and more how little I know, and often, in today’s society, that leads to statements such as “So, I can’t possibly know anything truly then, can I?” Whilst seeing more of my finitude through philosophy and it creating deeper awe and wonder in Jesus, it has also given me greater confidence as a Christian, particularly when I consider how to process information and share it. Under God, philosophy has given me the tools to speak persuasively, and Jesus has given us all we need in the Gospel to speak beautifully. It’s these two things, persuasive truth and beauty that I try to root out when looking at information: is this a good argument? Are the premises sound?, What does this lead to? Is it beautiful news? If not, why not? Is it part of fallen humanity? Philosophy has helped me to understand my Christian worldview, and what it looks like to either accept or reject information based on where in that redemptive arc the news is placed.
4. How do you think we can learn to be more truthful with ourselves and with others?
That is like asking ‘what comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ This is a big question, and one I go into more in depth in the book, but I would say it starts in our hearts, spreads through our relationships and is demonstrated in community, church family. But, church family should also set the tone which then filters through relationships and reaches our hearts. It’s a both/and approach. As we are reminded in the book of James, we can’t see someone’s faith apart from their works, nor their works apart from their faith. It’s similar with this, we can’t be truthful with ourselves if we aren’t truthful with others, and we can’t be truthful with others unless we are truthful with ourselves.
We all have to start somewhere. Perhaps prayerfully considering one friend with whom you can be truthful as you encourage each other in repentance and belief is of vital importance. As you do this you will be truthful with yourself. If you don’t trust them you won’t be truthful. Relationships like these expose us, as they stop us from practicing the self-sufficiency of all I need in the Christian life is me and Jesus, but they also protect us, as they stop us from practicing the personal-anonymity of all I need in the Christian life is a community church crowd and God.
A big part of the reason we aren’t more truthful is many of us feel ashamed when it comes to truth. We view God as either Objective Truth ready to judge us, the distant dictator God in the sky always wanting more of our time, more of our skills, more of our money. Or, we view God as Subjective Truth, so close that we lose His ‘otherness’. We create him in our own image, and words such as ‘discipline’ and ‘obedience’ are declared anathema. I think it very much depends on our church backgrounds as to how we can engage with this question, and I spend some time in the book unpicking our Charismatic and our Conservative cultures in how we view truth, so that we can be more truthful with ourselves and others in those contexts.
At bottom, the Bible points us to the tension in 1 John: we are innocent, sin has no part in us, but we are also sinners, and so we cannot say we have not sinned. As one of the Reformers said, we are ‘Simul Justus et Peccator’ (at the same time righteous and sinner). It is only at the cross of Christ that we are exposed to the horror of what we are really like and given the joy to shout ‘hallelujah’ for all that we have been given in Jesus. It is this dual dynamic of being confronted as we really are: sinners, without hope, more corrupt and callous and despicable than we would ever think of ourselves, Christ-killers, whilst being shown we are more in Christ than we could ever hope for and imagine: forgiven, adopted, loved, recipients of Christ’s mercy, grace, life – His very self! That is how we be more truthful with ourselves and with others. We allow the Spirit to peel away our pretence and shame at the cross as we acknowledge our love of lies, and we allow God to allure us into the desert and speak his truth tenderly to us (Hosea 2:14).
It is knowing who we are in Christ, and all that he has done for us, and will do for us, that frees us to live truthfully with ourselves and others.
5. What has been your favourite part of the writing process?
Getting it done! Ha. More seriously, it has been reminding myself of the confidence I have in knowing Christ is Truth. I’m sure we have all experienced joys and sorrows this past year, some worse than others. Perhaps, like me, there have been times when you haven't wanted Christ to be Truth either. I haven’t liked Him very much. At times it has felt like that relationship where you stay because you can’t imagine life any other way, rather than staying out of joyful commitment. The Spirit has greatly reminded me of the life-giving joy of trustworthy commitment to Christ, rather than the life-sucking obligation of servitude to Christ. In many ways I have not felt at all qualified to write this, and oddly enough, that is what I have enjoyed the most: receiving from Christ afresh as I have admitted that I also despise truth! Before I came to write this I so enjoyed talking with friends, students, and colleagues about truth, our struggles and challenges with truth, as well as the ways truth sets us free. I’ve grown through them and with them. I also spent a little chunk of the writing process in some exquisite coffee shops in Vienna and Budapest – the book has been a labour of love and life, and it’s a subject that is very close to my heart. I hope you will also love and live (Jesus) Truth well through it too.