On 21 January 2017, the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, in his first press briefing after the election of President Trump, accused the media of deliberately underestimating the size of the crowd for President Trump's inaugural ceremony and stated that the ceremony had drawn the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration –both in person and around the globe". However, aerial pictures of Trump's and Obama's inaugurations put side by side showed that Spicer's claims were incorrect. They unequivocally showed that the turnout for Trump's inauguration was far lower than the turnout for the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama.
Trump’s campaign strategist Kellyanne Conway later justified Spicer’s statement by saying, “Sean Spicer simply gave alternative facts”. When asked what alternative facts were, if they were not simply a lie, Conway said, "Two plus two is four. Three plus one is four. Partly cloudy, partly sunny. Glass half full, glass half empty. Those are alternative facts." In other words, alternative facts are what you perceive to be the reality – not actual reality. Truth is what we want it to be. So in Spicer's case, there was a bigger crowd at Trump’s inauguration because that was Spicer’s perception of the situation.
Personally, I am unconcerned about how many people were at either Obama's or Trump's inauguration, but the prevalence of alternative facts and fake news sites suggests that western society is losing its ability to ascertain what truth is. Psychologists tell us this is because people are increasingly letting their wishes, hopes, fears and motivations dictate to them what is true, rather than taking the time to systematically and objectively test whether something is true. In other words, we are more likely to accept something as “true” if it supports what we want to believe, rather than what we have determined to be true by assessing the evidence. Now, this is not particularly important when we are discussing the size of a crowd at an inauguration or a football game, but it is a real concern when our inability to ascertain truth precludes us from seeing the truth that leads to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus, however, came into the world to refute relativism and alternative facts about faith and morality. In John 18:37 he says "for this, I was born, and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth .” And the truth he bore witness to was that no one gets to the Father, or to heaven, except through him (John 14:6).
Now Jesus was, and is, the perfect witness to this truth because he is the reflection of God's exact nature and God is truth, for there is no guile or deceit in him. In other words, Jesus can be trusted to tell the truth because for all intents and purposes he is God. Therefore, Jesus more than anyone was perfectly suited to bear witness to the truth that we might know God, glorify him through faith, and thereby gain eternal life.
While we are saved by faith, God doesn’t expect us to leave our brains at the door when considering the merits of the gospel. He invites us to objectively consider his words and deeds and to assess them for truth. This is why Luke in Acts 17:11 Paul describes the Berean Jews as being of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. They didn’t reject it simply because it was contrary to their wishes or fears. The challenge for all of us who share the gospel is to encourage people to put aside the “alternative facts”, their wishes and fears, and let the truth of the gospel speak objectively for itself.
Then they will know the truth, and the truth
will set them free. (John 8:32)