• Searching for Truth in a Post-Truth World: The Southern Baptist Schism as Case Study in the Power of Narrative for the Construction of Truth

    Adam McDuffie (see profile)
    History, Narration (Rhetoric), Religion
    Item Type:
    Post-Truth, Religious Right, Southern Baptist, truth, Narrative, Religious studies
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    We find ourselves residing in a society in which facts and truth matter less and less. President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign stood firmly on a foundation of appeals to emotion and personal belief. He consistently rejected facts presented to him by the media as having no basis in reality, arguing that they instead resulted from media bias against him. While this may seem to be a dismaying development to some, I would like to argue that this phenomenon is not new, but is merely an intensification of a gradual transition from emphasis on truth to emphasis on narrative. Humans have long held a loose relationship to truth, instead relying on narratives as a method for generating meaning and certitude. Our own emotional response takes primacy over the facts before us, and we seek a narrative which affirms those emotional responses. In this paper, I will seek to demonstrate this through an examination of the role of narrative in the schism in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In every stage of the SBC’s breakup, and particularly now in the retelling of this history, we find competing narratives portraying drastically different images of who was in possession of the moral high ground. As conservatives paint themselves as brave warriors coming to the rescue of a wayward institution corrupted by secularism, and moderates portray their movement as seeking to preserve an organization which welcomed and encouraged a diversity of views in the face of a radical rightward shift, it becomes possible for the outsider, or perhaps even the insider, to lose perspective on what is fact or fiction. As truth and fact are increasingly meaningless, we cling to narratives which mediate feelings of identity and community. We seek justification for our position, and narrative provides the means of overcoming facts to legitimate our movement and our identity in the face of opposition. Truth persists, not as verified fact, but as a feeling of unity constructed through narrative.
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    4 years ago
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