Post-Truth, Alternative Facts, and Willful Optimism

I routinely will myself toward optimism. It is easy to be pessimistic, not just lately but chronically. Recently, however, as an ethicist it is difficult to speak with any hope of being persuasive. For instance, in a Spectrum Sabbath School post in December , I was buzzing along writing about "character" in relation to the story of Job. “Lying,” I wrote, “was something that everyone knew was wrong and that eventually liars are marginalized in human society.” I stopped myself mid-sentence. How could I write this when someone who has been proven to be dishonest was elected to the highest office in the land; the single most powerful position on the face of the earth?

Of course, some will say, he is a politician and all politicians lie and we can quickly enough point across the partisan divide and see liars on both sides. But he isn't just a politician. He is a businessman, operating with some measure of success in the world's largest capitalistic society. Lying, it appears, is not only personally successful, it is persuasive to others. Millions of Christians (and many Adventists) willfully chose to look past his lies. I am confused by this. I am confused by those who do not tell the truth and by those who believe the lies do not matter. Despite my confusion and discouragement, I choose to be optimistic.

The 2016 Oxford Dictionary word of the year is "Post-Truth."i The term has been in use for a decade or so, but seems particularly appropriate given the political climate of both Britain and the U.S. over the past couple years. Post-truth is an adjective defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." Make no mistake, Adventists are thoroughly caught up in the grip of our post-truth society. What I wonder is if we are also completely committed to "alternative facts."

Yes, alternative facts. Apparently, it is now acceptable in regular English parlance for people to look at something physically and directly in front of us – and disagree as to what it really is. Mind you, this is not particularly new. I still recall a former POTUS attempting to maneuver his way around the definition of "is." But it seems that we've come to a point in society where scientific fact is now scientific opinion and we're locked in ideological battles for which science, fact, and truth have little relevance. Of course, this is not new for Adventists. We have been fighting about "Truth" and scientific facts for a very long time. But what does it say to our young people when their pastor and/or their Church administrator(s) tell them not to believe the facts they are reading in their textbooks? "Trust us" they say, because God has revealed to us an alternative set of facts and someday the rest of the world will come around to our view?

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I am not in thrall to science. For almost twenty years I’ve been biting my tongue (not always successfully) when my clinical colleagues cite “evidence-based” medicine.ii Neither science nor scientific method is my God but the attempt to turn our faith into science or our science into religion is wrong-headed. I will not allow science to dictate my faith in God as creator. How he created has been and remains a thoroughgoing mystery. In faith, I revel in his creative nature. On the other hand, I refuse to allow my Church to dictate an alternative set of facts I must accept in order to be deemed a faithful member. When either Church or society unnecessarily pit science against religion, it should be rejected. A story that emerges from Walla Walla College (now University) may illustrate my point. The story is well documented by historian Terrie Aamodt in her book Bold Venture: A History of Walla Walla College.iii

It seems one of the School of Theology professors held some beliefs that several church leaders felt were suspect. One of his questionable beliefs concerned the nature of Ellen White’s inspiration. An investigation ensued and the professor was eventually called in for an interview with several college administrators . As the questioning wrapped up, the professor, Harold Bass, picked up his hat to depart. One of those who was questioning him said, “Harold, if Mrs. White had written that your black hat is white, it would be white to me.” Professor Bass responded, “God gave me eyes to see things white and things black and things in between, and as long as I am normal I will not substitute the word of Mrs. White or anyone else for what my eyes tell me. If I do not use the senses with which I am equipped, I cease to function as a man.”iv

I choose to be optimistic in a world that now proclaims it is post-truth and facts aren’t necessarily facts. Can our faith help provide a way forward? I’m optimistic that our love for each other will prevail, at least locally. I know there is no good reason for my optimism but I am very interested in the scientific research on optimism. Tali Sharot introduced me to the “optimism bias” years ago in a TED talk.v Turns out, we humans are more optimistic than realistic. We all think we are better drivers than others, more intelligent than the average person, and less likely to get a divorce. It is all statistically impossible, mind you. We can’t all be better than average and roughly 50% of all marriages fail, but go ahead and try asking the blushing bride if she has planned for the high likelihood of her divorce! Sharot notes that when the brain processes both positive and negative information about the future, our “neurons faithfully encode desirable information that can enhance optimism but fail at incorporating unexpectedly undesirable information.”vi Others insist that there is good reason for us to be optimistic toward the future. Author Matt Ridley proclaims in his book, The Rational Optimist, “I am a rational optimist: rational, because I have arrived at optimism not through temperament or instinct, but by looking at the evidence.”vii Whether optimism makes sense or not, the research indicates that “optimists live longer and are healthier.”viii

While choosing to remain optimistic it helps me to hear the words of Christ. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” (Luke 6.37-38 Message). I like the NRSV interpretation of the last phrase in the passage, “for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” I believe in the optimistic idea that human nature is malleable. Of course, some things are truly fixed by our genes. Debating against genetic science is just silly. And we have centuries of careful thought and practice across all religions and cultures highlighting human ability to grow toward virtue . It is a palpable demonstration that we can habituate personal qualities, character traits that are positive, uplifting, and Christ-like. So, yes, “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Compassion is one of these virtues and, within Adventism, healthcare ministry leads the way. Recently, Dr. Richard Hart, leader of Adventism’s flagship Loma Linda University Health, focused his monthly newsletter reflections on care for the LGBT community.ix Aside from the focus of his note, he expresses a disposition of compassion toward others when he writes: “…we are called to meet the world where it is. It is critical that we understand, treat and support everyone whom we encounter, regardless of their hereditary, cultivated, assigned or self-assumed sexual identity. That is what we do as health professionals. It is what our code of conduct expects of us. I don’t think anyone can argue with that.” Indeed, he goes on to ask us, What Would Jesus Do in a similar situation of facing our world with compassion and care?

This dedication to face, no immerse, ourselves into the world in which we live, empowered with Christ’s compassion and mercy, is what I value about Adventist (really, all) healthcare ministry . The most dedicated Adventists I know are in healthcare and despite the odds, they also willfully choose optimism. They believe our massive institutions are places of grace and mercy, not just lost, formerly Adventist businesses bent on making a buck. In the physicians’ careful analysis of the best treatment plan, I am optimistic about the life and well-being of the patient. In the gentle touch of the nurse, the physical therapist, the respiratory therapist, and others, I see optimism physically playing itself out in the lives of millions. Standing next to Chaplains with their extraordinary listening skills, I feel the optimism that patients draw from the presence of God’s spirit. And yes, even in the work of the finance office, there is routine optimism; somehow we’ll find a way to bring the poor and vulnerable alongside caregivers so they may feel the Savior's touch.

So, I willfully embrace optimism. I know it's not very rational. I know there is not enough data to suggest I should be optimistic about how we will treat each other with compassion and mercy. But in the reflection of Christ’s own life, I see, I feel, I know compassion and mercy. The healing ministry of Christ, extended through American healthcare, will continue regardless of who lives in the White House. Even in the post-truth, alternative facts world in which we live, we can still love.

iiiAamodt, Terrie Dopp. Bold Venture: A History of Walla Walla College. College Place, WA.: Walla Walla College, 1992, see pages 98-104.

viiRidley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010, p. 10.

Mark F. Carr is an ordained minister and theological ethicist with experience as a pastor, pilot, commercial fisherman, professor, and now clinical ethicist. He writes from his home town of Anchorage, Alaska.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7880
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I take it you voted for Hillary and are unhappy Trump is POTUS.
There is News. and there is FAKE News. There is a lot of FAKE News out there.

In people’s MINDS, IS there a Difference between one who is just a Messenger of God, and one who is just a Prophet of God.
What would be the differences in people’s minds?
Asking this in relation to Ellen. Perhaps Joseph Smith. Others.
Are BOTH – Messenger, Prophet – equal?
Does a Prophet TODAY, have the same standing as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Joel, Amos,Obadiah,Zephaniah?

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“Someone who was dishonest was elected to the highest office in the land?”

Really?
Someone who was dishonest masquerades as our church’s “prophet”!

EGW’S ardent affirmations that all her words were her own “except those told to me by angels” have been proven blatantly bogus.

Her vehement and vociferous denials of her rampant plagiarism make her fraudulent, flawed, fake and false.

Her entire family was complicit in these deceptive denials. As have been numerous church administrators-- until Walter Rea exposed the charade.

If we are not prepared to tolerate dishonesty in a politician, why do we condone it in our “prophet”??

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“What is Truth?” it was standing right in front of Pilate, and he knew it. The most vile and corrupt man, by his own admission, now occupies the White House and the majority of vocal Adventists applaude the result. The White Lie has reached limits unknown until now.

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One thing observed from different perspectives yields a spectrum of appearances and interpretations.

“Post truth” and “alternative facts” are self shielding condescending insults against people who do not ascribe to the same polarized personal beliefs and associated emotional intensity. Regarding “objective facts”, the devil is always in the details, not infrequently involving data bias, drawing conclusions beyond the scope of the data and confusing ones simplified beliefs with the complex multifaceted objective reality.

Unfortunately the “two party” establishment and the entertainment business segment called “news” play the polarizing game and most folks are mesmerized by their chosen brand-name. “Hope and change” was one brand-name. Time will tell if “Great again” is just the other establishment brand-name or something more independent. Whatever direction the wind blows, a positive mental attitude and inner peace, joy and thankfulness can make for better sailing.

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Promoting Post-Truth, Alternative Facts, and Willful Optimism.

There, I fixed it.

I have always appreciated Mark Carr, even back to his youth ministry days in Virginia, and never more so than now. Thanks for a soulful and sound treatise on ethics and the imperative of carrying “the mind of Christ.”

Another word for this mindset is integrity.

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Steve, you have no reason to prognosticate about who I voted for and it has nothing whatsoever to do with my column.

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Hi Robin,
I can imagine why you feel so passionately about this issue. It, however, is not behind my comments and neither is it necessarily relevant.
Thank you for your thoughts,
Mark

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Indeed, sharethelove, “a positive mental attitude and inner peace, joy and thankfulness can make for better sailing.” This is what I consider the most important thing I said here, or at least wanted to say. This is the direction that optimism compels me to take.

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Huh?? I’m not sure what you are trying to say…

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Thanks Chris. Integrity with the Gospel and being the salt of society compels me to speak AND maintain hope and optimism.

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http://freedomoutpost.com/1063-documented-examples-of-barack-obamas-lying-lawbreaking-corruption-cronyism-hypocrisy-waste-etc/

Please refer me to your published piece concerning Obama’s lies and I will take you at your word.
Short of that I think your confusing optimism with delusion.

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Thanks, mtskeels9496, for this. You may have also noticed my words, within this column, “Of course, some will say, he is a politician and all politicians lie and we can quickly enough point across the partisan divide and see liars on both sides.” So, your point?

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Your angst. Your entire premise is morally indefensible. Or did it only suddenly occur to you after 8 years of Obama and a 2 year campaign by Clinton that people in office have (gasp) lied?

We could of course go into moral relativism were no doubt the thought that Trump thought he had more people at the inauguration than he did drives you to distraction but Obama saying Bush raising the debt ceiling was a failure of leadership and then doubling the national debt doesn’t even raise your eyebrow. How about when Obama said If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor…and you would save 2500 bucks a year on your Heath care premiums?
Your entire premise is in the part that occurs after the part you quoted me. [quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:12941”]
Millions of Christians (and many Adventists) willfully chose to look past his lies. I am confused by this. I am confused by those who do not tell the truth and by those who believe the lies do not matter.
[/quote]

So you admit you are confused, but apparently only recently so. Hence your problem.

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Lying doesn’t confuse me, “post truth” and “alternative facts” do. And no, nothing new about lying…My premise is that in the face of these things, I would rather lean toward optimism, inspired by Jesus and his life rather than pessimism. What is interesting to me is the feedback I’m getting in response to this column…So I point to politics and politicians as reason for pessimism…According to your argument I could have written it during the Obama administration as well. Sure enough, I’ll accept your premise. But my point is about clinging to optimism. It appears to me that you and several others would rather fight about politics/politicians than linger on the positive influence of Christ; that’s not my point. Thanks for the fight…I mean response. As for what is or is not “morally defensible,” might you point out to me how is it that you know what is or is not “morally defensible?” Oh…sorry…there I go again, wanting to fight rather than communicate about the amazing love and grace of Christ toward all of us, regardless of political orientation.

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Dont blame me. Your the one who chose the example of Trump when Obama has 100x more documented lies.

You say," Post-truth is an adjective defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."
which by definition is the classic example of the Obama administration.

Where is the post truth your so worried about here? https://www.facebook.com/FilmingCops/videos/1305974309437661/

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Pastor Carr, given the bio posted with this article indicates you’re an ordained minister in the Adventist church, I must say that I’m confused by your statements here.

Because if you’re an Adventist pastor, then you must believe that God is as much a liar, as is Donald Trump. If it’s OK for God, then why not for the Donald?

Allow me to briefly explain my line of reasoning here. Take yourself back to the beginning of the Adventist story - the inception of the Millerite Advent movement. God called William Miller to preach that the second coming would happen in about the year 1843. It was wrong - that was never going to happen. But God needed a modern day remnant movement, and to get that, it was necessary for someone to preach the “false truth” (aka. alternative facts) that Jesus would come in 1843. God called William Miller, and Miller, after much deliberation and soul searching, accepted the call.

We all know how that ended. The date was revised a couple of times, ultimately being determined as October 22, 1844. And Christ didn’t come. But the remnant movement God wanted to create, had been spawned. Still, they were not yet ready to go into full-scale evangelism, so God lied again. He told His prophet Ellen White (in quite a number of visions) that nobody who hadn’t accepted the Advent message before October 22, 1844, could now be saved. So the merry band of Adventists spent the next approx 7 years just shoring up the faith of the “pre-1844” group, to ensure they remained faithful and didn’t fall away.

Eventually God decided to come clean, and break it to Ellen White that they now needed to embrace sinners from outside their group. So the Adventists started to evangelize. But they couldn’t yet accept that God actually loved sinners, so God had to keep lying to Ellen White, stressing the importance of a strict observance of not only the law, but a myriad of dietary and lifestyle practices. God told Ellen that he hated sinners, particularly self abusers, and that self abuse (otherwise known as secret vice) was responsible for a host of horrific health ailments.

Of course I could go on and on. Apparently God lied to Ellen at least up until 1888, as although she was in constant communion with Him, it was not until then that she even came close to understanding the realities of the plan of salvation and God’s gift of grace.

I don’t believe God is a liar, and at least partly because of this, I’m now a former Adventist. But I find it incongruous that an Adventist minister can write the article you’ve written here, while still an Adventist. I’m not all that upset that Trump is POTUS (though I’m actually Australian), because while he’s not honest, in my opinion he’s more authentic than his opponent (she was both extremely dishonest and was also sanctimonious).

And yes, I happen to believe there’s no such thing as an honest politician, which means that ultimately you have to choose your poison, but you need to do so, pragmatically.

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I’m waiting for how Pastor Carr would answer this quandry. Is it God who lied or EGW? Let’s see who blinks.

Most likely possibility, it is us who misunderstood. After all, who would admit that God, or worse still EGW would lie.

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Your confusion is more profound than you think. Trump is not a politician. That’s the whole problem for both Democrats AND Republicans (ostensibly, no difference). Politicians are born talking out of both sides of their mouths - and yes, they all lie; but we have selective lie detectors that operate only on those we oppose. When politicians lie you don’t know it until it’s too late, after the damage has been done - (like Obamacare and the Syrian “red line”). The reason everybody, except those who voted for him, don’t like him is that he owes nobody any payback. That’s unheard of for any politician - no meaningless appointments to grant - no bills to push through. This means that the control freaks have lost their power. This is what got him elected (as well as Hillarie’s basement server and her brand of lies that reach way back in time). Besides, I don’t know what Trump “lies” you’re tall;liking about. All he ever said was he 's going to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN". Give him a minute.

Have you read your Bible lately - things are not going to get any better around this world. “Truth” has always been on the scaffold. The problem with truth and what we like to call "facts’ is that they depend on who is defining them - and based on what - didn’t you ever read George Orwell’s "1984"? Talk about a spirit of prophesy!

I’m surprised things have gone as well as they have. Mankind has managed to actually make some progress in science - but even there, the control is in the hands of those who hold the purse strings when it comes to what research gets done. When it comes to human relations, agendas abound and power and control rule the day.

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