We live in an age of huge political divide. That much, we all can agree on. That this divide existing in America might largely be the divide of belief in facts vs. belief in faith and even fiction, no doubt rustles feathers and causes anxious pearl grasping.
Fox News executives were recently shown admitting they knew it had created fake “stolen election” news and coverage to regain viewership ratings after they had called the election fairly for Joe Biden. Their viewership didn’t like this truth and quickly moved to more “alternate fact” outlets. To regain their status as a far-right leader, they knowingly invented stories, stoked emotions, rallied the fringe. Fox sold lies for money. And plenty of people bought it. This story is quite telling about ourselves and our biases and bigotries.
Rudy Giuliani once said, “Truth isn’t truth.”
Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s famously combative press secretary, shocked logical-thinking America with her comment, “We have alternative facts.”
Today, Tucker Carlson is spinning a Disneyfied version of the Capitol insurrection to console and cement his viewership.
What a web of deception we weave when we believe in “alternative facts” over proven truth. For better or worse, if we’re going to live in the real world governed by science and physics, we’ve got to commit to admit that real facts and real truth exist, and faith and beliefs are exactly that – faith and beliefs. Accepting facts must trump abiding faith and opinion.
We can hold opposing opinions about facts, and that’s fine and workable in the real world. But while we may opine differently of what to do about these facts, we can’t dispute a proven fact with simple made-up fakes. The Earth is a sphere, it’s not flat, despite all the Flat-Earthers still fighting with full faith for that lost cause.
There is the real, and then there is fiction. Sometimes getting to the real requires substantial study, effort, tests, investigation. But once proven, facts are facts and truth is truth – and this is regardless of what anyone feels or hopes or wants to believe or the “alternative facts” they produce. We can’t confuse faith, opinion, belief, or any “alternates” with actual, proven fact.
Meanwhile, we live in an America where approximately one-quarter hold extreme evangelical, nationalist views. Another quarter hold beliefs in various gods or versions of one faith or another. There’s substantial disagreement between these folks, who each insist they are the “only and true” faith. Often, they are at odds with one another. Recently, the esteemed Saddleback Church was removed from the Southern Baptist Convention because it had… female pastors. Usually, these groups want to impose their views upon everyone else. Including you and me.
Where does this lead? America won’t be healed until its politics are based on facts on the ground, science in our classrooms, and reality in our politics. Faith-based politics is akin to rolling on the ground at a big tent faith revival. You feel the spirit, but really, you and everyone else are just getting dirty.
Not long ago, the Christian faith was bent by many to justify slavery in America. Today in Russia, the Orthodox Christian faith is used as a tool to justify genocide in Ukraine. But while believers may have justified slavery through their faith and Russians may feel good inside that God wants them to “de-nazify” Ukraine, the facts are that slavery was wrong and Russia is committing massive war crimes against peaceful Ukraine.
That’s the problem with faith and belief in alternate facts overturning truth in politics. Faith is so often abused for the powerful to achieve their objectives. And belief in something effectively sold us is easier than discovering and responding to hard truths. Even the Bible says in Timothy 4:3. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
This itself is fact: We hear what we want to hear. We tune in to the channels that make us feel good about our beliefs. The repetition and confirmation console and confirm us. As Timothy says, “We suit our own passions.”
This belief-confirmation can be costly. Psychology Today recounts the old story, “Mark Antony heard a rumor that Cleopatra had committed suicide and, in consequence, stabbed himself in the abdomen — only to discover that Cleopatra herself had been responsible for spreading the rumor. He later died in her arms.”
Fake news and “alternative facts” are deadly.
Vladimir Putin was and is surrounded by an echo chamber of fearful generals mirroring Putin’s false beliefs about Ukraine back at him. Putin believed he could take Kyiv in three days and all of Ukraine in two weeks, and most everyone said, “yes, yes to Putin’s alternative facts.” Those who disagreed fell out of hospital windows and tumbled down 10 flights of stairs…
We just passed the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war against Ukraine, yet in the real world, in true reality, it was President Joe Biden, not Vladimir Putin, strolling the streets of Kyiv with President Volodomyr Zelenskyy. After 200,000 dead and wounded Russian soldiers, and with their military severely diminished, Putin still believes “alternative facts,” and the repercussions for Russia, Ukraine, and the world are staggeringly tragic.
Americans can hold whatever beliefs they want in their personal lives. Faith helps guide many people’s lives. But when it comes to our politics and policies, only a very firm grip and response to true, real, proven, facts will steer our course into a productive, beneficial, more free future.
Misplaced belief in self-serving “alternative facts” is dangerous and deadly. Embrace real truth and the truth will certainly help keep us free.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.