St Albans priest reveals why we should be championing the truth-defenders in a fake news world

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 December 2019

Peter Crumpler with some of the many books written about

Peter Crumpler with some of the many books written about "post truth".

Archant

Rev Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, examines the importance of truth in the current political climate.

Truth matters. Trust is under attack. As the General Election looms and the political debate becomes more strident, claims of fake news and disinformation continue to be made and countered.

Voters are searching for truth and integrity in a sea of spending promises and political claims. To help, many churches and cathedrals across the country are hosting political hustings to give candidates a chance to speak and be questioned. St Albans Abbey hosted one such lively husting on Monday evening.

Trusted local media such as the Herts Advertiser have a vital role to play in reporting grassroots election issues and holding the candidates to account. Yet many voters will be getting their news and views from a variety of sources including social media where facts are more questionable.

The search for truth, and the need to react in a world increasingly filled with fake news and disinformation - sometimes labelled as 'post truth' - has prompted a project with its roots in St Albans. It is backed by the Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith and led by St Albans diocese.

The project has the support of members of several faith groups, as well as those not professing any faith. The initiative is in line with a call to "honour the gift of truth, both to speak it and to seek it" made by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York during the election campaign.

Justin Welby and John Sentamu recently told congregations "We all have a responsibility to speak accurately, to challenge falsehoods when we hear them, and to be careful to separate facts from opinion."

The St Albans project is focussed on a wide range of issues related to truth, like how continuing developments in technology, communications media, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and social media are impacting us all.

Earlier this month, a 'Truth Lab' was held in St Albans where Christian ministers from a wide range of backgrounds met to talk about the erosion of truth. They began to think about strategies to cope with the ever-changing scene.

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In the past year, round-table events held locally and in London have brought together people from the media, business, science, technology, the civil service, the arts and religion to look at 'Where is Truth Now?'

An Agenda for Action was proposed and widely distributed, with support coming from across the country.

It identifies a "genuine and dangerous threat" posed by the assault on truth and encourages faith communities to develop a significant role in countering its negative impact.

The Agenda wants to see a programme of debates, workshops and discussions so the effects of disinformation can be highlighted and countered.

It suggests "truth-defenders" be recognised and celebrated and calls for a "clear, short, practical manifesto on truth in public life", and the publication of a faith-based response to "post-truth".

It also calls for "non-digital realities" such as the human longing for truth and meaning to be explored.

No one involved is under any illusion about the scale of the challenge. This election campaign has underlined that.

The strength of feeling was expressed by the new Dean of Westminster, David Hoyle, speaking last week at his Abbey which faces Parliament. He said: "We can see, more clearly than ever, that we have poisoned our own wells. Our political parties now have to be reminded that they should tell the truth. As if there was an alternative."

Tough, challenging words. Yet we know the church and other religious groups have themselves been guilty of failing to live up to their own standards when it comes to truth and transparency.

In a world of fake news and disinformation, the St Albans initiative is hoping to show that the church and other faith communities want to offer their help in ensuring truth is valued at the centre of public life. We are willing to play our part, and to work with others to make that happen.

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