The Magazine

We Hold These Lies

A Protestant sociologist argues that America has embraced a culture of untruth

Jun 12, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 37 • By DAVID AIKMAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

For Guinness, though, it is not just postmodernism as such that is the problem; it is what he calls "a profound crisis of cultural authority in the West -- a crisis of beliefs, traditions, and ideals that have been decisive for Western civilization to this point." If this crisis is not resolved, Guinness warns, then freedom itself will be imperiled. "Far from being a naive and reactionary position, truth is one of the simplest, most precious gifts without which we would not be able to handle reality or negotiate life."

Though born in China of British missionary parents and educated in England, Guinness has been passionately concerned about the direction of American politics and culture since his first visit in 1968, when he met Mario Savio and other New Left luminaries.

That visit led to one of the first thoroughgoing critiques of the 1960s counterculture, The Dust of Death. Though an Evangelical Christian, Guinness has often been fiercely critical of the Christian Right, and in the late 1980s he foresaw more clearly than most how the emerging American culture wars might prove in the end more threatening to people of faith than to secularists.

He sought to defuse the battle in advance with the "Williamsburg Charter" in 1988, a document intended to spell out exactly how the Constitution made provision for vigorous secular-religious debate without destroying a fundamental civic consensus on church-state separation.

Guinness today is the intellectual force behind the Trinity Forum, a Virginia-based think tank that engages business, political and government leadership in the United States and abroad in forums to discuss key historical and contemporary issues of character, freedom, and faith.

"One of my passionate desires," says Guinness, "is that the leadership of America will begin to appreciate the place of faith in the Western heritage, as the single strongest animating force in Western civilization."

Guinness obviously believes that Christian faith, expressed intelligently and renewed and invigorated by America's social and cultural leaders, offers the most effective way out of the postmodernist cul-de-sac into which our culture seems currently headed. But if the book were longer than its terse 128 pages, he might have spelled out more expansively why a contempt for the notion of truth is disastrous for everyone.

Without respect for truth, it will be impossible to sustain justice or freedom. Time for Truth is probably the best single restatement of the need for truth in contemporary America.

David Aikman is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.