Post-truth’ 1 : Spiritual leaders should not be too hasty in buying into ‘post-truth’ – it’s toxic

By Dr Jenneth Parker FSI Research Director

Some spiritual leaders seem to be ready to embrace ‘post-truth’ as an opportunity to awaken people to ‘deeper truths’ of a spiritual nature about our relationships. However, I want to suggest that ‘post-truth’ is a poisoned chalice for spiritual community. It is also worrying that this tendency to care less about secular forms of ‘truth’ seems to reflect a continuing resentment by some regarding the human achievements of science and thought. While it is important to critique elements of ethno-centrism, racism and gender discrimination in the enlightenment, it would be folly to throw away the baby with the bath water. One of the most precious gifts of the enlightenment has been the accommodation of faith, reason and science in the service of human development.

While the Schumacher Institute acknowledges complexity and emergence and continual systems change this does not mean that we come to anti-science conclusions – far from it. We are founded on a commitment to systems sciences across the disciplines and human agency to improve ways to design and run our human systems while protecting and restoring ecological systems.

One argument, which I have recently heard, resurrects a pernicious relativism. The story goes: ‘well all news outlets tell the news from their own perspective therefore they are all the same and you cannot trust any of them’.

This wilfully overlooks a huge difference between:

  • those who make the attempt to support their views by reference to evidence (that has been critically assessed) and
  • those who either: deliberately construct falsehoods to feed an ideological agenda (such as Nazi propagandist Friedrich Goebbels); or, do not care to even minimally check their assertions (such as Trump Advisor Kellyanne Conway).

There is an important difference between saying ‘all facts are presented from a particular perspective’ and saying that ‘anything goes’. Spiritual leaders who begin on the slippery slope of advising their communities that ‘truth does not matter’ and recommend ‘goodness’ instead are embarking on a dangerous course. They will soon enough be appalled by the increases in bigotry, hatred and prejudice that get deliberately fostered in the ‘post-truth’ climate.

The international development and sharing of knowledge has been a great channel for communication, collaboration and understanding. It is needed for us to work out how to protect, restore and share this planet and build more equitable human relationships. As an educational organisation that supports both science and spiritual awareness the Schumacher Institute will continue learning, research and debate that helps humanity develop our ‘best truths’. We hope that you will enjoy supporting us in this endeavour.

Note: A group of people at the Institute are working with partners to build engagement between values based traditions (including faiths and more philosophical positions) and Earth System Science.  In the course of this work we are participating in a range of events and learning about current issues in the field of spiritual and multi-faith engagement. Members of the Institute are participating in the forthcoming Spirit of Humanity Forum in Iceland in April 2017 on the theme of spirituality and environment. I hope the concerns cited above will be received in this context of collaboration and exchange.