Getting to the truth in modern America is a bit of a slimy process. Respectful debate? So old-fashioned. Dissenting civility? Boring and unTweetable. We prefer our “people of influence” to lob a grenade back and forth in a pathetic game of hot-potato until the least agile of the adversaries explodes in a hail of “gotcha” shrapnel. It isn’t discourse. It isn’t argumentation. It’s a verbal and mediatic death-duel between self-promoting opponents.
In an era saturated with the instant-gratification of Facebook “likes” and viral soundbites, in an age in which statements are judged less on their veracity than on the number of shares they garner, truth seems to be scored more on impact than on content. And the Purveyors of Truth, in growing numbers, seem to have traded credibility for notoriety and exchanged authority for viral-appeal.
They’ve birthed a sad hybrid of notoriety and authority, an impotent thing called Nothority.
Society has taken to Nothority with disheartening eagerness. Whether it be in politics, philosophy, science or religion, we don’t set out to find answers anymore. Instead, we filter the “truths” that come hurtling at us out of the Facebooksphere and Googleverse, like laziness-seeking missiles, and we endorse the strategically packaged version that suits us best.
Then we promote it. We click the buttons that further disseminate it, investing neither the time nor the energy it would take to vet the document and determine its credibility.
Or we disagree by retorting with unsound arguments and knee-jerk rants that discredit our message. We launch venomous offensives on the person rather than the concept and use language intended to hurt and humiliate.
We trade the higher ground of Truth for shameful attacks and shallow displays of our own Nothority.
I may be an idealist, but I want people who share my faith, values and political convictions to speak of them in an intelligent way, particularly in response to assaults on our beliefs. I want us to read the full articles we lambast and verify the origins of the texts we quote and explore the implications of the truths we proffer and anticipate the rebuttals that are bound to follow. I want us to understand the amendments we claim and the justice we demand. I want us to be charitable and unrelenting, kind and incisive, open and unwavering, honoring and challenging. And willing to concede when we get it wrong. In other words, I want us to speak and act with authority in a combative world too often ruled by half-truths and hidden-agendas.
Oh, and mind if I rant just a little bit more? I’m sick of seeing what I stand for diminished by the sometimes well-intentioned missteps of high-profile influencers who sabotage us from inside our own ranks. We can’t control what others will say and write, but we can control what we give them to judge!
The latest episode of Much Ado About Ducks further intensified my hunger for measured and reproachless words from those who speak for me…or think they do. I’m not going to comment on Mr. Robertson’s statements or beliefs, nor will I weigh in on his theology vs. mine. (I’ve made my personal views on homosexuality clear HERE.) But he stands as an example of what troubles me: though Mr. Robertson was likely not thinking in terms of how his words might be used, for a wide slice of society that has no contact with Christians, GQ’s article about him became a defining thing, allowing those who despise us to say that this is what Christianity is. Whatever truth he may (or may not) have spoken was lost to the graphic use of words like “anus” and “vagina” and the racially charged comments he apparently blurted without forethought or filter.
But this isn’t really about Duck Dynasty. This is about my frustration, as a Christian, with being represented in worldwide arenas by so many larger-than-life figureheads whose mediatic playgrounds pollute my front yard. Whose irresponsible words, whose lapses in judgment and whose apparent lack of compassion sully my name and reputation.
I want those who support my worldview to be thoughtful and meticulous in the words they use. I want them to display integrity in their private, professional and virtual lives. When they fail, I want them to respond honestly, humbly and repentantly. (The onus is then on us to love them authentically.) I want them to be savvy about the jackals who lurk in the shadows of banquet halls and cafés, of twitter accounts and email inboxes, waiting to pounce, salivating, on the first whiff of an out-of-context quote that might score them the über-reward of words like “trending” and “bombshell.”
I want those who speak for me—for my religion, for my political party, for my sexual principles and my concept of humanity—to be respectful, intelligent, uncompromising, well-spoken and attractive for all the important reasons: because there is something irresistible, sobering and stimulating about true authority.
I want those who speak for me to be willing to do so from quieter platforms and to smaller crowds—because worldwide media events don’t soften hearts and encourage change. They don’t gently persuade or lastingly convict. Interaction does. Softly spoken, sincere, smaller-world connection does. Intelligent, thoughtful, rational and civil discourse does. In this world of smoke and mirrors where significance is nullified by our dependence on Nothority, any chance we have to be of influence will have to come through the guilessness of relationship.
It may not score us the “Trending Now” headlines we want. It may not advance our cause with the speed and power we’d like. (We’ve seen too many times how vitriol can win both attention and votes.) But in an era of rampant and empty Nothority, our intelligence, rationality and kindness will instill our words, our actions and our beliefs with something that cannot be bought by monetized blogs or promoted by mediatised scuffles.
It will earn us respectability and credibility. It will grant us authority.
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At an idealistic level I agree w/ you, Michelle. But in the real world, that would be expecting a high level of Christian maturity in Christians who happen to have become famous, as well as a careful thoughtfulness in their words. I most often cannot muster either one. It almost verges on expecting a certain sameness of personality traits. It still surprises me that God lets us each be who we are (in all our quirky differentness), even after changing our hearts. To summarize some of my other thoughts, I think that Phil, in his blunt/redneck handling of the truth that God saved him from a life of sin, speaks far better for me than Joel Osteen types in their smiley, don’t-offend-any-potential-donors smarmyism. HUGS to you. The haters will still post their hateful comments, even after Billy Graham comments. I’m reminded every day that the only thing that explains all we see around us is that we’re in the midst of a SPIRITUAL war.
Thanks for your response, Bill. (To be clear, this article is NOT about the Duck Dynasty scandal, and I merely used Phil as an example of careless word usage.) I certainly understand what you’re saying, but it seems to me that the Bible itself calls us to a “high level of Christian maturity.” It should be our constant aspiration. That doesn’t mean uttering nothing but pleasantries and shying away from any disagreement, but I think it does require that we state our Truth intelligently, in a way that doesn’t nullify its impact or discredit its speaker.
I don’t know what Duck Dynasty is, so can’t relate in that. But in general about the things you wrote. I think the whole media world has simply changed so much that many of the former ways don’t work anymore. And I doubt the old ways will ever come back. Everything is quick, constantly changing. There probably is no other choice than to adapt. Especially in writing for the web all the important things have to come in the first short paragraph because the majority of people will not read any further.
Looking at America from Europe, everything there seems to be very polarised, so suppose that reaches all walks of life.
As James puts it, the tongue (whether in spoken or written form) is a powerful weapon that MUST be wielded humbly and carefully, in truth and in love. Just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we aren’t obligated.
I think this is spot-on, Michèle.
All this is part of the reason that some people, while remaining Christians, have stopped using the label “Christian” for themselves. The “crazy-uncle” voices in our culture have gotten so loud that it seems impossible to counteract them.
I particularly dislike the attitude which elevates scoring points over communicating truth. I’ve sometimes challenged friends about something they’ve posted or forwarded which casts someone they see as an opponent (e.g., Obama) in an unfavorable light, but which is not actually, you know, true. The response if often that they didn’t spend the 2 minutes required to check if it was true or not because it’s not important whether it’s true. It’s only important that it make the opponent look bad. Bearing false witness is a big deal (it made the Top Ten Things Not To Do).
I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’d much rather have Pope Francis be my spokesperson than Phil Robertson.
Michele understand your frustration at the many different faces of Christianity I am too. It is true that many people do not take the time and energy to check out what they support.It is very much a lack of what Christianity is. It is hard to be gracious when there is an attack without thought. But I find it encouraging to watch people slowly change with exposure to kind truthful, confrontation. But there are times when there needs to be open public confrontation but still done with respect.
Those who were abused at Mamou boarding school would never have been listened to if a group of seven MKs had not had the courage to stand on the sidewalk in front of the CMA annual conference in Pittsburgh PA. From that came the quieter exposure of the wrongs done, not only at Mamou but in other boarding schools.
Sometimes it takes a explosion to start change. MK Safety Net and many other groups are working to expose abuse in the Christian environment. There are also groups outside Christianity working to stop child abuse. Many of the groups don’t agree on the answer but they are raising awareness. Awareness by the general public will change the way people individually respond to abuse. This is good because that way more people are looking out for children.
I couldn’t agree more strongly, Shary! My article was regarding trying to have an impact in a lasting way without alienating the very people we’re trying to reach. When it comes to exposing atrocities perpetrated on the innocent (a cause very near and dear to my heart), I believe in the nuclear approach! There’s a difference in my mind between bridging the gap to allow for thoughtful conversation between people with different viewpoints and seeking justice for those who have been criminally injured through abuse of any kind. I absolutely support storming the gates with whatever means we have to bring those perpetrators down.