The Uneasy Relationship Between Truth and Power

For years Evangelicals have warned against postmodern relativism and the loss of objective truth. Our apologists have boldly reminded us that truth is truth, no matter who accepts it. As one celebrated conservative political pundit is fond of saying, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Truth is truth because God is God. If we lose that, we lose everything.

So, here’s the question: Why are people of faith—people who value truth and reject relativism—blindly following a leader who makes such a habit of disregarding it? Why do so many who should know better seem incapable of discerning fact from fiction, truth from error, conspiracy theory from reality?

In 1984, during the dawn of the rise of the Religious Right, Richard John Neuhaus wrote a book called The Naked Public Square. Uncannily, he warned us then of what we’re seeing today. He foresaw with remarkable clarity that Evangelicals’ love affair with political power would eventually lead to a willingness to compromise truth.

Neuhaus didn’t place all of the blame at the feet of Evangelicals. He was rightly alarmed by the secular progressive agenda that seeks to drive out every vestige of religious influence from the public square. That force has made considerable progress in the thirty-six years since Neuhaus wrote.

He saw, however, that once expelled from the public square and thus disabled from functioning in its prophetic role of speaking truth to culture, the church would be tempted to embrace a new role, the striking of deals. Instead of truth-telling, the church would desperately turn to power-grabbing. However, when power becomes the focus, truth becomes a tool in its service. The two are not compatible. You cannot serve both truth and power. Truth doesn’t survive the sellout for power.

Neuhaus wrote:

“Truth-telling and the quest for power are incompatible. All earthly power employs mendacity, some mendacities being justifiable and others not. For those set upon getting or keeping power—no matter how noble their ends—truth always means effective truth, truth relevant to the end pursued. In its extreme revolutionary form, the end itself is ‘the truth’ and everything which advances that end is therefore true” (236).

We are now living in the nightmare that Neuhaus envisioned. Truth, in this cultural moment, is wholly pragmatic. Those who are buying up ammunition to “stop the steal” are not looking for the truth, they are labeling “truth” whatever helps them accomplish their end, or more accurately, the president’s end.

Instead of being discipled by “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), many are learning from the president the art of the deal—how to make up “truth” to maintain power.

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