May 1, 2006

Confusing Truth and Fiction

3 Min Read

If you do much witnessing to people these days, you have probably run into this phenomenon: You tell them about Jesus, and they say something like, “Well, the church has twisted around what Jesus really said.” You press them on what they mean and what makes them think so, and they start telling you about a really good book they read that opened their eyes about Christianity, namely, The Da Vinci Code.

The book is a novel, you might point out, topping the charts for best-selling fiction. That means, by its own admission, the book is not true. And yet, that probably will not faze the person who just knows that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that His message of free love and tolerance for all was distorted by an oppressive, male-dominated, puritanical institution that made up the Bible to fit their plan to take over the world. And that person knows it because he read it in a really exciting novel.

That novel does make historical claims. Historians and other scholars have examined them and have shot down each and every one. Even otherwise liberal scholars admit that the claims of Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown are balderdash. He can get away with them by claiming that, hey, this is just a work of fiction. It doesn’t have to be historically correct. It’s made-up. Though Mr. Brown still, on his website, insists that what he says in his novel is historical, he has that cover, should he ever need it. But for that deluded soul you are witnessing to, pointing out the historical whoppers in the book may do no good at all in changing his mind.

In our postmodern climate, people confuse truth and fiction. They think all truth is fiction. So they “choose” their beliefs according to the particular fiction they “like.”

Modernists and pre-modernists alike assumed that truth is something we can “discover.” Truth is “out there” apart from ourselves, an objective reality. We may know truth either completely or, more often, in a partial way, or we may remain ignorant of it. Some truths we can know through reason. Others through experience. Christians have always insisted that some truths we can know only through revelation. But “truth is truth,” whether we like it or not.

Postmodernists, though, reject the objectivity of truth. They see truth not as a discovery but as a “construction.” The culture “constructs” particular views of reality. Different cultures therefore have different truths.

That is to say, whoever has “power” in the culture constructs a truth to keep the people out of power (women, minorities, those with different sexual preferences) in line. All truth-claims, therefore, are essentially oppressive. But what can be constructed can be deconstructed.

Individuals who wake up to the controlling paradigms can be liberated from the oppressive power structure. They can “construct” their own truths. Or, better yet, the oppressed minorities can get together and construct competing paradigms that tell their stories in an “empowering way.”

So the academic world today is awash in “alternate histories.” The official histories, we are told, are also fictitious in their own ways, leaving out certain people and playing down certain events. So there is nothing wrong with “marginalized” people playing the same game in the same way to advance their power interests for a change.

This equivalence of truth and fiction is taught in our major universities, and — however esoteric it may seem — has metastasized throughout the culture. Our information media are major carriers. We have new genre-blending art forms such as non-fiction novels and docu-dramas, plus Hollywood’s need to spin facts to make them more entertaining.

A network news show did a consumer report on safety problems in an automobile. But the collisions they engineered did not always cause a good, photogenic explosion. So the network used explosives to blow up the car. Viewers, believing what they saw on the screen, watched the car explode and assumed this was evidence for a really bad safety problem, but it was all fiction. The filmmaker Oliver Stone did a movie, JFK, on the Kennedy assassination, mixing factual footage with a lurid thriller plot, in which the CIA and the military-industrial complex conspired to murder the president. Polls show that a substantial number of Americans believe that the movie version is what actually happened.

The Da Vinci Code dramatizes all the postmodernist clichés: The white males who constructed Christianity are really just concerned about getting power so they can oppress women and free spirits. But here is an alternative narrative that is much more liberating. And because this newly constructed fiction is cool, fun to imagine, and allows sin, people buy into it as their truth. Christians once had to persuade non-believers that there is a God. Now Christians have to persuade non-believers that there is a truth.