Friday, October 24, 2008

The Power of Propaganda

The word propaganda is generally associated with deception which is carried out by an oppressive government regime. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “the systematic propagation of a doctrine, cause, or information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.” It is basically a specially formulated series of messages which are designed to influence the opinions and coerce the behavior of large numbers of people. It tends to evoke more of an emotional than a rational response.

When I think of the word propaganda, what immediately comes to my mind is the steady stream of false information with which the German people were inundated by the Nazi Party. Adolf Hitler so strongly believed in the power of propaganda that he appointed a special minister as head of it. This man was Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels had two main objectives, one of which was to make sure that no one was able to read anything that was contradictory to the Nazi Party. The other was to make sure that the Nazi views were conveyed to the people in a controlling and persuasive manner. He even supplied cheap radios to the public so that everyone would be able to hear Hitler speak.

We can see the use of propaganda in nearly every aspect of modern day communication. This includes the news and entertainment media (particularly involving the upcoming election), and commercials and infomercials designed to sell a particular product. We have also been exposed to massive amounts of propaganda in multi-level marketing schemes. Anyone remember the water filters? Sadly, one area where we have seen the use of propaganda is in the church. (Note: As a disclaimer, I am now saying that I am not comparing any minister to Adolf Hitler, nor am I comparing any church to Nazi Germany. I am, however, showing the alarming use of propaganda by many ministers, particularly within the Word of Faith circles). The similarities are very sobering and are definitely worth consideration.

There are several basic propaganda techniques, most of which I will list. In some of them I have a link back to previous posts which go into more detail. There is an odd familiarity to all of these techniques. See if you agree.

1. Bandwagon - This is an attempt to persuade or convince an audience to take a course of action because “everyone else is doing it.” You feel pressured to join the crowd (spiritual peer pressure) in order to be on your way to certain victory. You are made to feel as though there is a mass movement that you would be quite mistaken not to join. Those whom you respect are participating, so you feel an obligation to as well.

2. Testimonial - Using someone, preferably a famous person, to endorse a product. A good example of this is a testimony made by a well-known minister. You believe it because of who said it, even though it might contradict what the Bible teaches. This technique can often be combined with Bandwagon. Everyone else believes it, so you do as well, even when you don't feel right about it.

3. Repetition and Slogans - Repetition uses a key word or phrase over and over to the point that the audience says it automatically from sheer habit. In our former church we were taught that we could have whatever we said, which reinforced the need for this intense repetition. The repetitive words and phrases help to shape the opinions and values of the audience. Another example is having statements which the congregation is expected to repeat like mindless robots on a weekly basis, most of which involve a selfish outlook on life and the Word of God. This is also done with certain scriptures which are often used out of context and typically beneficial to the speaker, particularly the speaker's pocketbook. We would often hear about how we were "going to a new level," or "turning a corner." Slogans were often rhyming ones. Examples include: “If you have a need, sow a seed” and “The church that’s alive is worth the drive.” There was always a rhyme about what each year was going to bring also, such as "A Taste of Heaven in 97."

4. Transfer - This technique lays the praise or blame of one person onto another in order to make one more acceptable or to discredit the other. This is used in order to transfer blame from one member of a conflict to another. It is also used to take praise from others. This is often seen in controlling pastors who are unwilling to ever accept blame for his or his family’s mistakes. The blame is placed on others in an attempt to discredit them, and at the same time, proclaim the “innocence” of the actual guilty party. The flip side is that the same controlling, manipulative pastor, without even batting an eye, will take full credit for the fruit of someone else’s labor. Both of these forms of transference were used by our former pastor for years.

5. Name-calling - This can be direct or indirect. Indirect name calling is used when the direct approach would antagonize the audience. It is not as obvious as openly naming names, but is heavy on insinuation. Sarcasm and ridicule are employed with this technique. Indirect name calling is seen most often in controlling churches. This technique was a favorite of our former pastor. It is now obvious that the people he called names were the ones who intimidated him the most.

6. Card stacking or selective omission - This is the process of picking and choosing from a variety of facts and only using those which support the propagandist's purpose. This was often done publicly as well as one-on-one in our former church. If you were one of the lucky ones who had to meet privately with the pastor or one of his family members, you became quite familiar with both of these techniques. Assumptions and decisions regarding your fate were made on their part prior to the meeting regardless of what the actual facts were. And forget reasoning or logic. Anything you had done right was selectively omitted and all that you had supposedly done wrong was stacked against you. It was always a no win situation for you. By the time you left the meeting you were completely annihilated. Another example of this technique was a particular "healing testimony" that the former pastor often shared about someone he prayed for while they were in the hospital. He talked about how the man felt so much better the next day that he asked someone to bring him a fish sandwich. This occurred so many years ago that most of the church members did not know who he was talking about. But there were several of us who knew exactly who he was referring to. The story always implied that complete healing was received. What was selectively omitted was the all-important fact that this individual died two weeks after the pastor prayed for him. He told this story for years as though it were one of his best. Apparently he didn't have too many authentic success stories. And for sure not many hospital visits.

Joseph Goebbels once said, "The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it." Always be watchful and guard yourself and your family against all forms of propaganda. It is already an overwhelming task to sift through what we are exposed to in the media. It is another matter entirely when propaganda is used in a church setting. Keep these techniques in mind when you are uncertain about the information you are receiving. Taking advantage of people's spiritual vulnerability is the most vile form of manipulation. We know from experience that when you utterly succumb to this form of propaganda, you truly do place yourself in a position that is extremely difficult to escape.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Kingdom of Wordland (Chapter Five)

The Aftermath...

At the close of the last chapter, many loyal subjects had departed Wordland. This was due to much greed and avarice displayed by the King and his Royal Family. For years, this family took the tariffs from their subjects and spent much of it on themselves. They purchased lavish castles and drove the finest chariots. They were always bedecked in opulent clothing and accoutrements. They traveled on many luxuriant journeys and consumed sumptuous gastronomic provisions. Their loyal subjects took note of this spending for many years, but were always instructed to give their total obeisance to the King and all of his proclamations. It was expected of them to approve of his lifestyle even though it was far above anything that most of them could ever imagine. The King instructed them that everyone who admired his possessions could envision having it all for themselves as well, but that this would cost them a portion of their wages. Many tried to do this but were still unable to achieve what they saw. There were some who sacrificed much while gaining nothing. Some even suffered great loss.

Then, there was the Great Banquet, which was also described in the last chapter. The King’s family desired that great honor be bestowed upon him, but at a high price for the loyal subjects. This and other blunders on the part of the King led to the Enlightened Exodus of the Masses. Many of those who had dwelled in Wordland scattered to remote areas. Those who left the kingdom developed a close camaraderie, and were now afforded an easy sociability and familiarity with one another, which they had been unable to experience while they were under the stern and watchful eye of the King.

After the Enlightened Exodus of the Masses, much nonsensical tripe and babble was spoken by the King as well as others who made proclamations from his platform. Belittling remarks were made with great frequency in attempts to discredit those who had been brave enough to venture outside his Kingdom. Many such remarks were also made by the Duke and Duchess of Falsehoods who reigned in the West. There were numerous grave references made regarding the former Wordlanders, comparing them to excrement and predicting their untimely deaths. This brought fear into the hearts of many of the subjects who remained in the Kingdom, but much amusement to those who had left. They were well aware that the statements were made by those with expertise in fraudulent predictions. Words of warning were also spoken by the King’s family members, with instructions to shun all those who had left the kingdom. Lady Tamira of Walkenshire, who had been a supportive and faithful subject for nearly a quarter century, left the Kingdom with her family after being treated rudely by the King. Since that time, she approached members of the Royal Family on several occasions with gestures of friendliness, only to be shown a great lack of courtesy. Others were treated in a similar manner when they attempted such kindness. This family also began to try to pronounce curses on the former Wordlanders. Where was the love and kindness on which the Kingdom of Wordland had first been established? Did greed and selfishness overtake and destroy it?

The seemingly vast riches of the Kingdom began to dwindle. Much was expected of those with great wealth. Many appeals were made for additional gold, silver, pounds, and shillings from all the loyal subjects who remained in the Kingdom of Wordland. The King had taught many lectures on how to attain wealth and possessions, but it seemed that when it became necessary to put his own royal principles into practice, he failed to do so.

Now all of the palatial dwellings of the Royal Family are up for transfer of ownership and title to the highest bidders. The former dwelling of Prince Devoid was declared to be in default due to nonpayment of the tariffs and taxes needed to keep it. It has also been said that the Royal Castle for the Kingdom of Wordland is up for transfer of ownership as well. What could be the purpose behind this? There has been much speculation, but for now it remains a mystery...

- V/G