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“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That’s good news to anyone who wants to be free, which is probably everyone.

But what does truth have to do with freedom?

And I guess a more pertinent question is the one Pilate supposedly asked later in the same New Testament book: “What is truth?”

Good question. How do we know what is true? What is reality? How do we tell the truth from falsehoods? How do we know what is fake news or disinformation? These are questions that we’ve all had to wrestle with in the last few years, in ways we’ve perhaps never had to before.

Long ago, in a land far away, when I was a young man and there was no Internet, I got my truth a couple of basic ways: I read it in the newspaper, or I saw it on the evening news. Those were the sources of our information. if I wanted to dig deeper on a subject, I would use an encyclopedia or go to the library. That was it.

The Internet has changed that. Now, truth seems to be a commodity, something we can trade- buy or sell. Truth is a variable.

Or is it?

There are people in this country who believe what I consider to be outrageous things. They believe that President Biden is not really the president, and his place is being occupied by an actor. They believe that JFK Jr. is going to join with Donald Trump and become the next president and vice-president of the country, or, in fact, are still serving as president and vice president from a secret bunker somewhere. They believe that the deep state satanic cabal is responsible for the abduction of children, child sacrifices, and pedophilia. Among other things.

I am incredulous when I hear these things. These people are all around us. They might be our next-door neighbor, our cousin, our mother or brother. I’ve met some of them, looked in their faces, had conversations with them. They are otherwise normal, smart, nice people. Except they believe outrageous things! I get angry when I think about the ridiculous things people believe.

And yet.

And yet I once believed that Satan influenced a snake to trick a woman named Eve to eat some forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, ruining God‘s perfect plan. I once believed that this same Satan tempted Jesus in a desert somewhere in the Middle East. I once believed that Jesus was born to a woman who’d never had sex, that he walked on water, and rose from the dead. I once believed he was taken up into the clouds after his resurrection and promised to return “soon” to restore heaven on earth. Or something like that.

Are any of these ideas any less outrageous than believing a child trafficking ring operated out of a pizza joint in Washington DC? Are these beliefs any different from the deep state satanic cabal pedophilia beliefs?

I don’t think so.

Same outrageous beliefs, just different characters. Different heroes and different villains.

I watched a movie recently called Denial. It’s based on the true story of a trial that happened in England a few years ago when well-known Holocaust denier David Irving was suing an author for libel because she said that he was wrong to deny the Holocaust. I won’t spoil the ending of the movie, just say that it was engrossing, emotional, and very well done.

I have loosely followed the trial of Alex Jones, who has claimed that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook was staged, that the people were actors, and no children died. He’s been ordered to pay millions to the families of the children who were murdered. Spewing lies occasionally has consequences.

Jones postulates his ideas on a site called InfoWars, the implication being that we are engaged in an information war, a battle over which sources of information are true. Donald Trump popularized the idea that mainstream media is nothing but fake news. This has become a rallying cry to the far right; so much so that no one in that camp believes anything the media has to say.

This is not a free-speech issue. We are free to say whatever we want, it’s just that what we say has consequences. If it’s not true, we may be challenged. And then it will be incumbent upon us to prove that what we are saying is true, that the assertions or claims we’ve made can be backed by evidence.

I used to believe things that did not have evidence to support them. I believed them because they were written in a sacred book or told to me by authority figures I trusted.

But believing things that aren’t true has consequences. If enough people can be stirred up to believe that an election was stolen, and the vice president can change the results, they will storm a capital building and lives will be lost and democracy and free elections will be challenged.

I’ve given many talks in the last few years in my Dying Out Loud work and appeared on many podcasts and YouTube shows. I’ve been asked multiple times how I feel about dying as an atheist. Having a terminal illness affects how you look at life and death. Having once been an evangelical Christian, I held the belief that after death I was ushered into eternal life. Heaven. Now, I view death as the end. The lights go off. Nothing after.

And I’ve been asked how I feel about that. “Don’t you wish there was something more? Are you afraid of dying? Are you sad that there’s no heaven?” I usually respond by saying something like: “why should I be, isn’t this life enough?”

Now would I rather get to see my friend Steve again? Or my dad? Sure. But wishing something to be true doesn’t make it true.

When we ignore the truth and create fabrications to suit our fancies, there’s usually an agenda behind that. We want to feel better about something. Or we want to justify something we believe. But the truth is the truth. Facts are facts. Something did or did not happen. And what someone believes about that event doesn’t change the reality of that event.

But why does it matter? What is ultimately at stake here?

Relationships.

I can have a relationship with someone who sees the world differently from me. We can have different priorities, different convictions. But I don’t know how to have a relationship with someone who sees reality differently from me. If we can’t agree on what is real and what is not, we can’t even have a conversation about it.

And if we can’t have a conversation, how do we have a relationship?

And healthy relationships are the foundation blocks of a healthy society.

That’s what’s at stake.

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Dave Warnock was caught up in the Jesus movement of the 70s and lived the bulk of his life as a Charismatic Evangelical, serving as a pastor for three different churches. Following several years of...