Youth Culture Window
For the past 13 years, the experts at Oxford Dictionary have anointed one word as the “Word of the Year.” 2013’s WOTY was “selfie.” In 2015, the word was... not “actually” a word.
They’ve just crowned 2016’s most significant term. Sadly, it has a definition, but not much meaning.
When Truth Ends
Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2016 is “post-truth” and the linguists from across the pond define it as “the circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (which sounds a lot like Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”).
Take just a moment to re-read that definition and contemplate its implications. In essence, a post-truth world puts more credence on “feelings” than “facts.”
Oxford’s experts chose “post-truth” as their WOTY, not because it’s a new term, but because the frequency of its use increased by 2,000% from 2015 to 2016 (with all the talk about international events such as the American presidential election and Brexit). But let’s push American politics and European problems aside. Is the lure of a “post-truth” world really that appealing to young people?
Here’s where they would respond with an enthusiastic all caps “YAAAASSSS!”
Post-truth is a convenient morality if you think about it. It’s tolerant of irresponsible behaviors, and it’s not pestered by that irritating notion of right and wrong. So it’s no surprise to see this mindset growing in popularity, especially with today’s young people. In fact, three-quarters of Millennials (74%) agree with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know,” compared to only 38% of the generation of Elders (the Millennials’ grandparents).
We see this playing out in their daily attitudes and behaviors. Consider these common beliefs among teens today:
“I don’t think watching porn hurts anyone.” (THE FACTS)
Each of those statements represents a belief that’s popular among today’s kids, but none of them are supported by reality. So, is a post-truth world just filled with inconsistencies…or are there larger consequences lurking in the shadows when kids abandon truth and live their lives based on “feelings” instead of “facts”?
“The lyrics don’t affect me.” (THE FACTS)
“Casual sex won’t hurt anyone.” (THE FACTS)
“I don’t care what others think.” (THE FACTS)
“Smoking pot is no big deal.” (THE FACTS)
At best, their values take on a measure of irrelevance because “doing good” isn’t as important as “feeling good.” Good and right are no longer objective; they are subjected to feelings...feelings that change. At worst, their lives are filled with unnecessary consequences stemming from decisions that were based on feelings instead of facts. “Just do what feels good” can take teenagers down any number of tragic paths including regret, shame, guilt, unwanted pregnancy, STIs, broken hearts, and much, much more.
In the Bible, the Book of Judges ends with these words: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) This exact same phrase is found in Judges 17:6, as well. Just to be clear, there is a HUGE difference between “doing right” and “doing what’s right according to you.” If you want proof of that, just look at the utter wickedness that fills the pages of the Book of Judges: idolatry, oppression, revenge, betrayal, war, rape, more revenge, etc. It’s an endless cycle of brokenness because the people didn’t live by a set truth.
"The relativism we see in the book of Judges," notes Sean McDowell, author of The Beauty of Intolerance, "reminds us that the idea of 'post-truth' is really nothing new. Since Genesis 3, humans have always found ways to twist, avoid, and deny truth. It’s in our nature. But today there is a growing consensus and emphasis that we should base our beliefs upon feelings rather than fact, and this idea is absolutely dangerous to students. That's why teaching them to recognize and value truth is one of the most important things we can do as teachers, parents, and youth pastors."Here are a couple of ways to help cement your teenagers in truth so they can avoid the pains associated with building their lives on feelings instead of facts.
- Teach kids about the nature of truth. Feel free to add to this list, but at the very least, show the teenagers in your life that (A) truth actually exists, (B) truth is revealed by God (C) truth is knowable/recognizable, and (D) truth doesn’t change. Each of these is crucial for teenagers to understand and believe. Here’s a powerful - and free - resource to help you do that.
- Help kids develop a biblical worldview. It’s highly unlikely that kids will “live right” if they don’t “believe right.” But having right beliefs - the truth - is only the beginning. Helping kids develop a biblical worldview is where the rubber meets the road. They can take the truth on any number of topics - creation, marriage, sexuality, salvation, relationships, and much more - and apply it to their lives in ways that glorifies God and benefits others. Luckily, there are some really helpful resources that can help you disciple new believers, help guys learn what it means to be a man of God, or even teach young people theology in easy to understand language.
Ultimately, a world in which truth is not valued is a world in which Jesus is not valued. Oftentimes, we reduce truth to a concept, or words we speak in a courtroom, but the Bible introduces truth as a Person. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Treat truth as if life, and eternal life, hinge on it…because it does.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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