The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously stated, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Living in a world of alternative reality may be nothing new in the human experience, but it seems we presently find ourselves at a point in history where the capacity to live in a world of false assumptions and selective perception is uniquely possible, due in large measure to the cyber world and its unprecedented means of transmitting, blocking, and altering information.
Faithful Seventh-day Adventists need to be especially resistant to the mindset which would have people arbitrarily decide, in the absence of verifiable evidence, that certain sources are reliable and others untrustworthy. The reason this mindset should be so repellent to Adventists is that when we share with the world the Three Angels’ Messages and the full doctrinal testimony of Holy Scripture, our task is to enable listeners to objectively investigate what Scripture in fact teaches, together with the historical and contemporary evidence confirming the fulfillment of Bible prophecy and the wisdom of Biblical lifestyle standards.
When a Seventh-day Adventist evangelist or Bible worker preaches to the public or studies with an interest, he or she isn’t likely to get anywhere by saying, “Just trust me. My friends and I are the only ones telling you the truth, and everyone else is lying.” Few who attend an Adventist evangelistic meeting or study with an Adventist Bible instructor would take such a statement seriously. Yet in the world we currently live in, this is the approach certain vocal, even prominent persons are taking to issues and events.
Popular Sources of Information
It’s easy for conservative Christians to find fault with the mainstream media, and to take for granted the truthfulness of those who speak negatively of these popular sources of information. This is because much of what is commonly called the mainstream media in Western society is associated in devout Christian minds with Hollywood, immoral advertising, and trashy entertainment. And because faithful Christians accept the Biblical worldview regarding sin, righteousness, and the negative view of human nature Scripture presents, it is easy for such persons to assume that anyone who has something bad to say about the world or its various institutions is probably telling the truth.
No sensible person is likely to say that any popular source of information is always or never reliable. Whether one or another media source is usually, sometimes, or rarely reliable may be argued across today’s spectrum of culture and secular politics. But where major problems arise is when either chronic suspicion or visceral rage—justifiable or otherwise—takes the place of calm reason and a willingness to consider evidence. If in fact the mainstream media is as dangerous and dishonest as certain ones allege, it is especially incumbent upon those who make such claims to offer hard, objective, and verifiable facts as to why certain news outlets can’t be trusted and others presumably can be. When hurling such accusations, it is never enough to simply say, “Trust me,” or “Believe me,” or, “We’ve looked into this and found proof for what we’re saying.” If popular sources of information are as wrong as certain ones claim, hard proof in contrast to the assumptions made by others is needed.
Seventh-day Adventists and the Truth
Seventh-day Adventists have a unique historical and profoundly intimate relationship with the truth. Truth-telling is what our witness to the world is all about. When we meet the public with our doctrinal and lifestyle agenda, much of which is unpopular with the surrounding culture, we urge inquirers to check out the Bible for themselves and see if what we’re saying does or does not comport with the Biblical text. We urge people to do the same with the historical and contemporary evidence we share regarding the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, the change of the Sabbath, and other issues. Appeals to “alternative facts,” as some now call them, should never find a welcome in a Seventh-day Adventist mind or worldview. Several reporters rightly noted, when this phrase was first used some months ago in the secular political realm, that when they were growing up a much harsher word was used for such information—lies.
When an Adventist evangelist presents the prophecies of Scripture and charts their fulfillment throughout history and current events, mainstream media and standard scholarly sources are often used. We don’t go to the public and tell them that none of these sources can be trusted, and that only the “safe” sources we happen to be using are reliable. Irrespective of who does or does not control the mainstream media or the mainstream world of academia, overwhelming evidence can be cited from these sources to prove the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, to demonstrate the change of the Sabbath to Sunday by the Roman Catholic Church, and to give credence to the general claims of God’s Word relative to faith and practice.
God’s witnesses have to be especially careful in their regard for truth and fairness in their public exposition of Scripture, prophecy, and corroborating historical evidence, for the simple reason that our conclusions regarding a host of Biblical, prophetic, and lifestyle issues do in fact run counter to mainstream religious and other assumptions. But when Seventh-day Adventists declare to the public the non-mainstream convictions that comprise our faith, they offer hard, verifiable proof in support. They don’t ask for blind faith on the part of their listeners. They don’t ask their audiences to accept “alternative facts.” Rather, they demonstrate what the real facts are, based on Scripture and objective supporting information.
Evidence That Appeals to Reason
In her masterful chapter, “What To Do With Doubt,” in Steps to Christ, Ellen White makes the following statement:
God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason; and this testimony is abundant (1).
Appeals to “alternative facts,” obscure sources, and invitations to blindly “trust “ the one making the claims in question, do not appeal to reason. Rather, they appeal to suspicion, fear, paranoia, rage, and often the reposing of trust in persons particularly skillful in manipulating these feelings. Because truth and the calm, deliberate reason necessary to arrive at truth is so important to our mission to the world, Seventh-day Adventists should develop a special aversion to any approach to truth or contemporary issues that makes claims but offers no verifiable proof. Conspiracy speculation, whether in the world or the church, is especially problematic in this regard, as such thinking is especially adept at making claims without proof. Feeding on religious or other sources which nurture such a mindset is most injurious to our Christian witness, whether among fellow believers or in society.
1. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 105.