What is real?

I recently read an article about the early life of Hitler and how he began his career as a propagandist. He became very skilled at it and, by the time he had risen up through the ranks, he had gained the ability to convince people of all sorts of things for which there was no basis. The article related how he might choose an issue of concern to people, find a way to make the Jews appear responsible for it and then create and repeat slogans until he had crowds of people chanting anti-Jewish slogans. As people’s passions were thus stirred, these ideas became “real” to people even though there was no truth in them.
Similarly, we live in an age where there is a proliferation of “conspiracy theories”. While such theories are not necessarily a new phenomena, the extent to which they can be transmitted and repeated for all to see is unique to this technological age. Arguments about what is true abound on the internet and “evidence” is denied as having been made up or manipulated for profit or political purposes – hence, the “conspiracy”.
I’m almost afraid to cite an example for fear that I will accidentally stir someone up but here goes: at one time, it was hypothesized that autism was tied to childhood vaccination. Well-conducted research has demonstrated that this is not true. However, there was some spurious research that gained a lot of attention. Despite the retraction of that spurious research, there are many people who still cling to the belief that vaccination is dangerous and they keep repeating it on the internet. Trying to dissuade them of this notion is interpreted as part of a conspiracy. Evidence no longer matters.
Why bring this up? Because it demonstrates a deep confusion in contemporary culture about what is real – to the point that many people have concluded that either (1) there is an objective reality but we cannot possibly know what it is, or (2) there is no objective reality and that all claims to a deeper reality are but “social constructs” or “your opinion”.
It is hard enough for people to agree on reality in politics and science, much less on the eternal Reality of Christ our Savior, the Logos of God. But it becomes truly frightening when a large percentage of the population seems to have drawn the conclusion that there is no point in seeking a higher Truth or examining the evidence for it because it is presumed not to exist.
As I found myself pondering this, I found myself wondering how a Christian is to respond to this state of affairs. It seems to me that it important to help people see that they are hungry – or else they will not seek nourishment. I recall something C.S. Lewis wrote – that hunger, while not proving that someone will actually have food, does prove that there is such a thing as food. In our contemporary culture, people are hungry but do not understand what they experience. Hence, they attempt to fill themselves with things that will never satisfy (money, sex, possession, drugs).
It is incredibly important that, as Christians, we live in such a way that people will want what we have – or at least be curious about it. Seeing in us an inner peace, an assurance that we are loved, a kindness and compassion that doesn’t argue but accepts and forgives and loves all – surely that will move some people to recognize that they are hungry and that things of this world are not satisfying them…
I pray for the grace to live in such a way. May God have mercy on me.


(A version of this article was first posted as a comment on Fr. Stephen’s blog Glory to God for All Things. Unfortunately, he had to remove it because it stirred up controversy about vaccinations, validating my point but creating a distraction he understandably did not want as part of his post.)

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