“Freedom can’t come from deceit. It can’t come from the lie. Jesus taught us freedom comes from the truth,” stated Dr. Stephen Long, professor of ethics at Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology, on a recent episode of The Weight podcast. The episode, recorded on January 7, one day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is predicated on Long’s book Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World.
The question of truth in politics was pervasive in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. When the insurgents were cleared from the Capitol and members of Congress returned to business on the House and Senate floors, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) delivered a floor speech in which he asserted that “the best way we can show respect [to our constituents] is by telling the truth.”
A main theme of Long’s aforementioned book is that our politics today have replaced truth with power.
“The idea that the world is rendered intelligible by what is true, by what is good, and what is beautiful… Those things no longer have a kind of hold on us,” asserts the professor. “What really renders the world truthful today is power.”
Long insists that this replacement was born largely from the invention of markets and their subsequent prevalence in society and culture.
“We created this society based on free markets… which is an oxymoron. Markets can’t be free, only people can be,” Long stated. The same goes for education, “the sort of marketplace of ideas,” Long continued. An example of this in politics is former President Donald Trump, whom Long insists is “a man determined by market forces.”
A thought that Long hopes to leave readers with upon conclusion of his book is, “Where do you learn to tell the truth?” This is where the Church comes in, concluded the professor and podcast hosts. “One of the central roles the Church must play is a willingness to look at the truth in our lives,” stated Long. “If we can’t tell the truth in the Church, where are you going to learn it?”
“God is the first truth,” Long continued. Because of Biblical teachings, we know that you can have truth without deceit, but you cannot have deceit without truth, according to Long. “That’s why in the Christian tradition, the devil is the father of lies.”
Aside from our politics replacing truth with power, Long sees another threat to our civic square today in valuing strength over truth.
“It’s [Roman Governor Pontius] Pilate who likes strength. It’s Pilate who likes to question what is truth… Questioning truth puts you on the side of Pilate, and any person who has been to vacation Bible school should know you never want to be on the side of Pilate,” Long insisted.
How can we reinstate truth in the public square? Aside from reimagining and rebuilding the Church in America, Long suggests we bring back rational deliberation and charity. “Charity is the ultimate good. Hope and faith will disappear but charity will not,” he insisted.
Moreover, whose work can we look to, as Christians, on these issues? Co-host and Methodist Pastor Eddie Rester cited the work of Yuval Levin, director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Levin’s book A Time to Build was named the Conservative Book of the Year for 2020 by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The book outlines the disintegration of longstanding American institutions like the media, places of worship, and political parties in recent decades. He argues that we can revive the American dream by recommitting to our institutions, rather than tearing them down.
Long highlighted the work of Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, especially his work on the common good. In conclusion, Long outlined American Christianity’s need to rebuild robust, Biblical churches. He describes the rise of megachurches as damaging and asserts they are “sort of the marketization of the gospel.”
Christianity, however, can offer unique solutions to our modern problem of truth being replaced with power and strength. Long sees this especially in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Here truth and life have the last word, and that should give us all hope,” he concluded.
The Weight co-hosts Chris McAlilly and Rester are both United Methodist pastors and founded the podcast last spring under the tagline, “If it’s something the culture talks about, we need to be talking about it, too.” McAlilly and Rester produce weekly episodes on culture, politics, and the future of the church.