Standing before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said all those “who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” In response, the Roman governor offered up the famous question so many are asking today: “What is truth?”
The conversation between Jesus and Pilate unfolded as the seasoned politician was deciding what to do with “the King of the Jews” who had been arrested for blaspheming. To Pilate, truth was relative — it was whatever the majority agreed with, or whatever helped politicians achieve their respective goals. Truth was whatever worked, not whatever was right.
When justice is watered down to whatever gets the job done, truth dies.
Without an objective moral compass — an immovable guidepost for right and wrong — hubris wins the day. We’re watching that grim reality take shape right now, as the U.S. grapples with how to move forward in the age of the coronavirus.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia was severely demonized last month, when he made the decision to begin slowly reopening his state. But as the numbers continue to trend in the right direction, many of the same journalists who bemoaned the Republican are mum as the number of new cases has fallen by 12%, according to Axios. There’s a reason for this: news coverage is hardwired to favor negative information. In other states that have eased restrictions — like Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma — the number of coronavirus infections is also shifting downward. But in a news cycle, good news, data indicating things are OK, is akin to no news at all.
That’s not to suggest lifting stay-at-home orders is the right thing to do in all areas. Without a doubt, reopening will result in a spike in coronavirus cases — that’s been known since day one, according to former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., who said such increases are “expected.”
But that’s the point, isn’t it?
All of this is new and foreign to us, our politicians and our medical experts. The last time a pandemic swept through the U.S. was 1917, before any of us were alive.
Nevertheless, so many have been unwilling — or at best, reluctant — to just admit that. And it’s created the perfect ground for crackpot conspiracies to grow.
People are frustrated with the ever-evolving rhetoric of politicians and doctors around the country. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told us there was no reason to wear masks; now, they’re rightly telling us it’s important to wear non-medical masks to protect those around us. First, experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leader on infectious disease research, told us a useful vaccine would be coming in 12 to 18 months; now, Fauci is saying there’s no guarantee a vaccine would even work and Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, isn’t so sure one is coming in a year or so.
It’s fine not to know all the answers to these things. Like I said earlier: none of us have lived through anything like this before. And it would be silly to expect a novel virus to fit into our prescribed timeline. For that reason, I don’t envy the job of any politician right now.
But when people are ridiculed for being confused, for wondering what the end game is, or for questioning why the answers have so quickly evolved, it’s no wonder conspiracy videos like “Plandemic” spread across social media. It’s not that everyone on Facebook and Twitter is a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist; the reality is they’ve been told confidently by experts what the future looks like only to see that future never materialize. Then, when the questions come, they’re swiftly shut down for daring to wonder aloud how we get out of the thing that has not only taken thousands of lives but has also crushed the economy and undoubtedly permanently shuttered countless small businesses across the country.
Journalists, medical experts, and politicians all need to level with the American people. They need to admit that, like all of us, they, too, don’t have all the answers, because that’s the truth.
Kemp and others are reacting to the best information they have. This is just as new for the governors who keep their states locked down as it is for the governors who begin reopening, and none of us should pretend to be Nostradamus.
You and I also need to be more graceful when possible. If we hear politicians, reporters, or doctors admit they don’t know the answer, we should extend grace to them, because at least they’re leveling with us — they’re being honest rather than allowing hubris to override humility.
We should all strive to be imperfect sinners doing the best we can with what we know. None of us should be like Pilate, eager to placate our conservative or progressive peers with relative gobbledygook paraded around as truth.