Recently I wound up talking with someone online who was a friend a long time ago in a church context. It was the most devastating conversation I’ve had in four years, since I was having conversations with Hospice about my mother dying.
It wasn’t just that this person was voting differently from me in the upcoming Presidential election. I have strong opinions on this one and it is hard for me not to try to persuade people, but the real problem was that my friend believed ridiculous things.
The things my friend accused “my” candidate of are first of all, ridiculous but second of all, easily researched and discovered to be untrue. If we are told a candidate did something in college that is unseemly, that might be hard to find real evidence on…but if you are accusing someone of murder, it’s not too difficult to get real info about how the supposed victim died!
And not only that, but most of the accusations are hackneyed – they’ve been brought up before, intoned by audience members and rallies and spelled badly on signs. These things have been taken seriously and researched by serious people, since they keep coming up. And they’re not true.
My friend believes them fully, though, because of his sources of “news.” My friend is surrounding himself with information that comes from just one direction, and unsurprisingly, those sources corroborate one another (if they don’t one-up one another). But he’s so in this bubble he doesn’t realize that his sources are akin to those tabloids we used to see at supermarket checkouts insisting that some celebrity had married an alien (and what he believes to be true is just as credible).
My friend isn’t uneducated. He isn’t dumb. But he sure is angry, and unwilling to even take a peek at whether or not he might be misinformed.
And that, to me, is the most dangerous thing about this very dangerous election. Yes, I do believe one of the candidates is dangerous.
But the death of facts is far worse. An inability to know or find the truth – but worse, a disinterest in critical thinking, in challenging ourselves over what we think we know to be sure that what we know is the truth – is devastating not just to this election but the very idea of self-government.
Once it’s not just my opinion but my facts and they are irrefutable because I won’t listen to anyone refute them, we’re in big trouble.
I can walk away from a conversation with my friend but that doesn’t really solve the problem. I’d like to think that perhaps he will be disabused about his bubble when “something” happens, but maybe not; confirmation bias is a strong force. But we can’t really walk away from this whole problem and hope it solves itself.
I am taking the conversation to heart as a corrective to be sure that I’m not flagging in my own efforts at double-checking what’s true. There are all kinds of echo chambers, after all.
And I am going to take refuge in firm foundation, that my destination is secure in Christ, and that Jesus has promised never to leave us. We aren’t navigating this alone. And while I do believe that God won’t negate how we vote to save us from ourselves, he will by His Spirit guide the steps of those who love him, giving us good work to do no matter what we all decide as Americans. May the Lord have mercy on us.