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Jesus is the minimum viable truth

The controversy at NPR reveals deep confusion about truth

Katherine Maher speaks at the technology conference in Lisbon on Nov. 13, 2023. Associated Press/Photo by Armando Franca

Jesus is the minimum viable truth
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They are just too committed to the truth? “In fact,” NPR’s new president and CEO, Katherine Maher, in her 2022 TED Talk said to the audience, “our reverence for the truth might be a distraction that’s getting in the way of finding common ground and getting things done.” This line, embedded in a two-minute clip, undulated across X (formerly known as Twitter) a few days after NPR whistleblower Uri Berliner was placed on unpaid leave for chronicling the hard left-ward drift of NPR since 2016. Always attracted to the word “reverence,” I watched the 15-minute talk. Drawing on her experience as head of the Wikimedia Corporation, Maher cast a vision for an approach to truth in a world suffering from an “epistemic crisis,” positioning those like National Public Radio as the voice of reasoned calm in a raging storm of misinformation.

Despite her relaxed poise, Maher’s TED Talk reveals the last gasp of postmodern relativism giving way to hard reality. “My truth” disintegrates under contact with 7.8 billion other individual truths. Recasting “truth” as personal preference, Maher laments a world divided. Seeking the truth “allows us to start having conversations about the truth in a way that focuses on what we believe rather than what can be known. And that is a definition that is deeply divisive and harmful.” Huh?

To illustrate what kind of “harm” concerns her, she turns to the subject of climate change. “Debating the truth of climate change,” she explains, “has prevented us from mitigating the harms to us of rising seas, increasingly deadly waves of heat and cold, and powerful storm systems.” We “need,” she says, “better ways to get shared understandings,” without using “one shared truth as our baseline.” What is this better way? She hopes we will embrace something called “minimum viable truth.”

Minimum viable truth, she said, is about “getting it right enough, enough of the time, to be useful enough to enough people. It means setting aside our bigger belief systems and not being quite so fussy about perfection.”

It's important to see the iron-clad absolutism delivered in this benign, frictionless TED Talk.

It's important, I think, to see the iron-clad absolutism delivered in this benign, frictionless TED Talk package repeated incessantly by the dulcet tones of almost all NPR reporters. Anyone who insists on proclaiming a contrary truth will evidently cause damage to the program of finding “shared understandings.” People like Uri Berliner who bring to light contrary claims are going to run afoul of the program of combatting disinformation and misinformation. Those who refuse to set aside their bigger belief systems in order to participate in the process of finding a “minimum viable truth,” are going to become a problem for the larger system.  

Thus we may easily observe the clever trick accomplished by something like “minimum viable truth.” Progressive articles of faith that ought to be litigated in the public square, such as man-made global climate change, the merits of DEI, gender ideology, abortion, euthanasia, and the claims made by scientists and politicians during the pandemic, are the minimally viable truths. Claims running afoul of those minimally viable truths are classed among those subjective beliefs that cause so much harm. This is why the First Amendment, she says, is so problematic

Missing, ironically, is any mention of religion. One is left to conclude that the claim made by the Lord Jesus to be “the Way the Truth and the Life” would fall under the pall of subjective belief, harmful to the process of getting things done. Maher is only the latest in a line of public figures who loudly decry the existence of absolute truth while slipping in a raft of demands grounded in absolute claims. As a Christian, my minimum viable truth—the very smallest amount of information I need to make sense of the cosmos—is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Grasping that truth, for me, is a matter of the greatest, most profound reverence.

Anne Kennedy

Anne Kennedy has a BA from Cornell and an MDiv from Virginia Theological Seminary. She is the author of Nailed It: 365 Readings for Angry or Worn-Out People, rev. ed. (Square Halo Books, 2020), and blogs about current events and theological trends on her Substack, Demotivations with Anne. She and her husband Matt live in Upstate New York with their six almost-grown children.

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