On any given day, you can turn on the TV to either CNN or FOX News to hear roughly the same breaking news story. I say roughly the same because while the general story might be reporting on the same subject, each channel generally has wildly different interpretations about the event that transpired. A story about Donald Trump, for example, may have a more positive spin from FOX News whereas CNN may not give as positive of a flavor.
This has caused us to enter into an era of wondering if facts are even facts anymore. President Trump himself has coined the now eponymous phrase “fake news,” implying that people are deliberately fudging incontrovertible facts to suit their own needs. That may indeed happen sometimes, but I’m less pessimistic about that idea. For example, both sides of the political aisle gave their theories around what events surrounded the recent death of Jeffrey Epstein. Those theories were interpretations of those events, but nobody denied the fact that Jeffrey Epstein is now dead.
The challenging part for me is that this “fake news” thinking has been extrapolated to life as a whole. After all, if we can’t get “facts” right in basic news media, then how do we understand truth in life as a whole? Are there facts at all, or are there only interpretations of phenomena?
There’s a name for this worldview, and it’s called postmodernism. Postmodernism basically says, “We have no way of knowing what is true, so the truth you define is as good as anything else anybody comes up with.” You might be thinking that I’m disparaging postmodernism here… but I’m actually not. Consider any political story you’ve heard in the past year. Each side of the political aisle shares its story, and given your personal experiences, you will almost certainly find one more compelling than the other.
But buried beneath all the interpretations of phenomena are the incontrovertible phenomena themselves. Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, we all agree abortion is a thing. Whether you believe Trump executed Epstein or the Clintons executed Epstein, we all agree Epstein is dead.
What trips me up about postmodernism, then, is that it looks at the thing under the thing and says, “That’s just an interpretation, too.”
I’ll grant you this: we can go down the philosophical rabbit hole all day on what truly is existence, but — my ironic interpretation here — those conversations aren’t exactly useful. They might be fun to engage in, but given that we have no way of verifying if something like simulation theory is ground truth, making a case to say that all phenomena is an illusion is, well, one interpretation.
Okay, I feel me losing you even as a write this, so let’s pull it back some. My point here is that postmodernism can manifest itself in a sort of naive way. It looks at the “post truth” world of the media to say, “If there’s no truth there, there’s no truth anywhere.” Except… we all experience the physicality of the world the same way. We all feel pain when stubbing our toe and utter bliss when eating pizza. If you put a strand of your hair or my hair under a powerful enough microscope, you’ll see the cells that comprise that hair. Zoom in far enough and you’ll even begin to see the molecules and atoms, too.
Throughout history, societies and cultures have made some pretty big interpretations around this existence. We’ve come to know these as religions. And yeah, I have no problem stating that these are indeed interpretations, including the religion I’m intimately familiar with of Christianity.
So the grand question is, are these interpretations useless?
Well, think back to what we talked about with political stances before. It’s pretty clear that people find a lot of value in interpretive understandings thrown over incontrovertible phenomena. We don’t say, “Being pro-choice or pro-life is a silly decision because abortion doesn’t exist.” No, we acknowledge that it exists, and based on personal experiences, we choose a side. We understand and may disagree with the other side, but we still recognize that is an interpretation of an incontrovertible phenomena.
So if you want to say one religion is wacky or the whole construct of religion is nuts, that’s A-OK with me. But don’t mistake criticizing the interpretation as a denial of the truth entirely. Something is going on here. It is a beautiful mystery, but a mystery it remains. And sure, maybe we are just software programs in a highly simulated universe in some cosmic nerd’s hard drive. (Second Life has gotten pretty advanced!)
For me then, I’ve found a lot of value in glancing across all the interpretations of this life and noticing the similarities. From Christianity to Hinduism to plain old scientific discovery, you might be surprised at how similar these interpretations of reality are in some very key ways. I find this encouraging and less apt to toss it all away as total baloney.
So friends, I hope you take peace in that thought, too. This “fake news” world has cast too dark a lens on ground truth, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s all BS. My hope is that you walk away from this post and understand that joy can be found in the interpretations because the interpretations are founded on top of a beautiful mystery.
Let’s wrap up there. See you in the next post.