Unmasking Truth — Recent Podcasts

Friends, as the weather closes in the gardening, yard work, and time in the wood shop decrease. So, I find myself with more time on the treadmill walking away the calories. I’m not one who likes to spend that time unoccupied, so I fill it with my favorite podcasts. Today I want to briefly highlight two of them.

The current release of the “TED Radio Hour” features conversations about truth in our time under the title of “Warped Reality.” Discussions focus on “deep fakes” as a profound symptom of the truth crisis in our digital technology, on the nature of free speech in the internet age, and the continuing power of systemic bias in the algorithmic world of social media and digital hiring and law enforcement — what the speaker refers to as the “weapons of maths destruction.”

The podcast can be accessed here: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/29/929115189/warped-reality.

We ELCA Lutherans are just coming down from our annual Reformation reading of John 8 — “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” What does it mean for a congregation to be a community committed to “truth”? Beyond the obvious theological and faith commitments involved in such a a discipline, shall we now be communities who take the time to teach our members new skills for discerning factual accuracy in the media we consume?

I think this may be one of the agenda items, for example, when we help people come to terms with the 8th commandment on bearing false witness against the neighbor. I know this is part of the conversation in many confirmation programs these days. This is certainly an invitation to audit our own congregational social media presence for assumed “algorithms” in how we present ourselves online in terms of skin tone, gender dynamics, orientation assumptions, etc.

It’s definitely worth the listen. I most appreciated the work of the “Algorithm Justice League,” and I will look for that work to continue. It’s near the end of the pod, so wait for it.

I also heard the recent “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” episode entitled “The Enduring Impact Of COVID-19.” Dave Davies interviews Nicholas Christakis,  a doctor and a sociologist who has studied the science of infectious diseases and how plagues of the past have altered societies. Christakis is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, where he directs the Human Nature Lab. The conversation revolves around his new book, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.

I think I’ll get a copy of the book and perhaps review it in the near future. For now, I was struck by his prediction of the near-term impact of COVID-19. He suggests that, vaccine or not, we will deal with the immediate effects of the virus into 2022. We will, he believes, deal with the social and economic collateral damage in its most obvious forms through 2024.

This is, of course, very distressing news. The Christian congregations with which I have connections are struggling mightily to determine a strategy to get from now to the end of 2020. There is intense pressure on many pastors and other rostered leaders (sometimes to the point of bullying and even threats of termination) to return to “business as usual” in terms of in-person, maskless activities.

I’m not sure there’s the will or the energy to consider a strategy to get through 2022 with masks, social distancing and group gathering restrictions still in place. Nor do I hear any conversation about ways to mitigate the longer term effects and losses that are sure to be part of this path to the future.

My spouse works for a global banking organization. They have no plans to return to in-person work in any significant way until they are well into 2021. Many in her organization will never return to in-person work. In that organization there is no question about putting worker safety second to doing business. Nor is there any pressure related to employment or compensation to do anything other than be safe. I wish that would be the case for all Christian congregations.

I’m grateful for that wise and caring perspective from a large, international business. What will that mean, however, for the various venders, for example, who made part of their living on the commuting habits of these workers? It is in many ways the end of the world as we know it.

At the moment, her company is doing well financially. They anticipate that at some point, however, the corona-piper will need to be paid. They have built into their strategic model sequestered funds for if and when that downturn in revenue happens. The congregations I know are wrestling with how to make it to next month financially. They have no luxury to strategize about next year or five years from now (with a few notable exceptions). I wonder how many congregations will simply no longer be “in business” five years from now.

The podcast can be accessed here: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/26/927796954/the-enduring-impact-of-covid-19. It is also worth the time.

The two podcasts are, of course, connected (although not intentionally). Our relationship to truth is to a large degree determining how we deal with the pandemic and how we might strategize for the future. If we cannot come to terms with reality, we cannot develop effective strategies to move forward. A commitment to truth is critical to making effective plans. Denial always leads to disaster.

What strategies should Christian denominations, judicatories, and congregations adopt now based on the assumptions that truth is under fire and that the virus will be with us from another 18 to 24 months in force? I have no idea, but I do wonder if “the people in charge” are seeking answers to this question.

Christakis’ book can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Apollos-Arrow-Profound-Enduring-Coronavirus/dp/0316628212/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1604072640&sr=.

Image credit:

“Treadmill” by www.metaphoricalplatypus.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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