Bleeding Hearts and Propaganda:
the Fall of Reason in the Church
In this chapter:
PASSION MUST SUBMIT TO REASON
THE ROOTS OF ANTI-RATIONALISM
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
JUNKYARD DOGS AND BROWNSHIRTS
CHRISTIAN HIT MEN
REASON AND REVELATION OR PASSION AND PROPAGANDA
Reason and Scripture or Passion and Propaganda
Wrong ideas are dangerous ideas. Beliefs carry consequences. What we believe will direct what we do. If our beliefs are dangerous, our actions can be dangerous. Not all wrong ideas have the same consequences; bad ideas can lead to uncomfortable yet benign lumps, or to evil cancers. Different acts lead to different consequences. For instance, leaving the keys in your car can cause a lot of pain, especially if you don't have insurance; but leave a loaded revolver on the kitchen table in a home with small children and someone might die.
Powerful people promote dangerous ideas today. America grows and distributes propaganda as a consumer product. Everybody has an agenda-the politicians, the press, and even Christian leaders.
This book is about ideas. It is about how we think-or rather-how we fail to think. It is about how we process information and arrive at conclusions. Today, I believe, we are leaving loaded guns around in the form of bad ideas. Even Christian leaders have been seduced by the world's foggy thinking. There is a mist in the pulpit and a fog in the pew.
Consider abortion. In the United States we abort 1.5 million fetuses each year-tens of millions since abortion became legal. The belief that justifies this activity is that the fetus is not a human being. It is simply organic tissue until it is born. The mother is human and has rights, but the fetus is inhuman and has no rights. However, if this cardinal assumption about the fetus is wrong-if the fetus is human-then killing it is murder. In that case, being wrong about the fetus makes someone dead. Of course, killing the fetus cannot be murder if it is not human. It is therefore vitally important to classify the fetus properly.
Amazingly, we seldom even debate the humanity of the fetus anymore. So-called pro-life advocates don't discuss this critical issue in-depth with their pro-choice adversaries. It seems both sides of this issue have given up on ever convincing the other. We have given up the philosophical debate, and have, instead, chosen to battle politically.
Certainly there are good reasons for waging political war. For one thing, the courts have legalized abortion. Pro-lifers hope to spare millions of lives by persuading the courts to outlaw abortion or by stopping women en route to abortion clinics.
The political arena is therefore a very important arena of advocacy. But it isn't the only arena. Frankly, I am surprised the Church has done so little to explain exactly why the fetus is a human being. Pro-lifers seem to assume all Christians understand that point, when in fact, they do not.
We often abandon the philosophical debate because we think we cannot persuade the opposition to see our point. They will never "get it." Instead, we concentrate all of our energies in amassing popular support for our position. I believe we err by failing to argue the primary point. We err when we give up the philosophical debate. Also, by becoming political at the expense of rational, we fail to give our own foot-soldiers the encouragement and support they need to continue the battle. Correct information is the key to enthusiasm. Truth is empowering.
In addition, when Christians abandon the rational and become exclusively political, they dangerously enthrone passion over reason. They equate popularity with power; truth must remain power, not popular opinion.
Those who pursue truth exclusively by passion and power, at the expense of reason, eventually wind up advocating the use of propaganda to make their arguments. Propaganda flows out of enthroned passion. The fiery rhetoric of Adolf Hitler captivated a huge audience, but his propaganda machine consolidated power at the expense of truth.
This book is about the cost of allowing passion and propaganda to overrule reason and scripture in the Church. Christians must avoid the temptation to win the world using the world's tools. For us, the world's basic methodology is flawed:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (II Cor. 10:3-5 NIV)
PASSION MUST SUBMIT TO REASON
Passion is not always wrong. We need to be passionate about truth; passionate in our defense of the plight of the poor and the oppressed; passionate in our hatred of sin; and passionate in our attempt to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.
However, we cannot allow our passion to be the foundation of our actions. We cannot ground our decisions in our feelings. I, for example, cannot fail to discipline my children because of my feelings of love for them. I must submit my feelings about disciplining my children to the truth that failure to discipline them brings even greater pain for them. What we stand for, as well as what we oppose, must be grounded in truth and reason, not emotion.
In 1938 the Western world had no desire to fight Nazi Germany-no passion for the cause. England, desperately trying to prevent war, tried to placate Hitler by essentially handing him the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland. Neville Chamberlain, after returning from a conference with Hitler in Munich declared, "We have achieved peace with honor." History bears witness that he achieved neither peace nor honor.
Winston Churchill, on the other hand, eyed Hitler clearly. He knew such an ego could never be placated; it was not a question of whether England would fight Germany, but when. England, as long as it developed foreign policy out of its feelings about war, set itself up for defeat. While England tried to appease Hitler, Churchill began gathering his own intelligence and developing his own war plans. Finally, at the last minute, England begged Churchill to save the country.
What drove Churchill? His knowledge of history. He understood aggressors are always on hand to take advantage of weakness. While Neville Chamberlain and great American power-brokers desperately tried to explain away the Nazi threat, Churchill faced the fact that evil can only be defeated, not placated.
Churchill did not lack passion, on the contrary, he was one of history's most passionate figures. His powerful rhetoric galvanized the world:
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Churchill was passionate, but his reason drove his passion, not the other way around.
THE ROOTS OF ANTI-RATIONALISM
Senator Barry Goldwater once said:
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
The only problem with Goldwater's remark is that men do not always agree on the definition of justice: vicious people convince themselves they are pursuing justice and liberty. The bloodiest conflicts occur when both sides believe God is on their side.
Think again of World War II. Hitler-and most of the German people-believed the World War I truce was unfair. (Most historians concur in that assessment, by the way.) Germans felt justified in righting past wrongs. But Hitler believed a Jewish conspiracy was in league with Communism to enslave Germany. His beliefs were evil-his passion made them no less so-and that passion infected the whole country.
We can easily see these are complex discussions. Whether in world affairs or in child-rearing, however, we must approach these subjects with careful reason. And it is the approach we are considering in this book.
From the earliest days of recorded history there have been at least two fundamental ways of considering conflicting ideas-Sophistry and Philosophy. These two terms date from at least as early as 500 BC, when Socrates and his primary disciples, Plato and Aristotle, established a system of looking at the world which survives to this day. That system is philosophy. Basic to the Socratic method is the idea that Truth, if not finally knowable, is at least pursuable. They believed it is possible to discover the Good in life; some ideas are better than others. Philosophers-in the true definition of the word-believe they can discover the way to live a better life. Lofty concepts such as justice and mercy can be understood, at least in some measure.
By contrast, the Sophists suggested truth is subjective; ultimate truth cannot be discovered. They argued that "man is the measure of all things." Therefore, they said, intellectual activity centers in generating evidence to prove what one believes within himself. Yesterday's Sophistry is today's Relativism: "My truth is not your truth."
The Judeo-Christian heritage maintains that objective truth certainly exists and centers in the primary truth that God created man and set moral boundaries for him. Further, God has communicated truth to humanity and preserved that communication in the Bible. Man may not be able to discover absolute truth without the revelation of God, but a wise man will pursue wisdom:
If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Prov. 2:3-5 NIV)
The Bible's unique picture of the philosophical struggle between Good and Evil is the story of the Fall of Man. In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted man to reject the counsel of God and (as today's New Agers say) "go within" for truth:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Gen. 3:1-5 NIV)
Judeo-Christian thought is, in some important ways, closely united with Classic philosophical thought: both systems are dedicated to the proposition that truth is objective-independent of man for its truthfulness-and to some degree knowable to man. (The Italian Christian poet, Dante, recognized the classic Greek's noble search for philosophical truth and, in The Inferno, placed the Greek philosophers in the "outer circle," a place outside the worst terrors of hell, because of their noble attempt to find God.)
Socrates taught that the Sophists did not qualify to be called philosophers because they were not interested in finding truth, but only in winning arguments. Unfortunately, the Sophists' tradition is alive and well today. Much of modern debate has lost the passion for the discovery of truth. Like the Sophists, many so-called modern scholars simply defend their own sacred cows to win arguments. Modern man is tempted to say "Opinion is everything."
Propaganda is the systematic effort to manipulate other people's beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols like words, music, and pictures. Propaganda is different from education because it selects information to manipulate opinions; education (ideally) presents information on all sides of an issue and attempts to induce the student to evaluate evidence for himself and reach informed conclusions.
Propaganda is closely associated with advertising and political communication. Advertisers desire to manipulate buyers; politicians and their spokesmen attempt to influence public opinion.
Propaganda has a history in the Church as well. In fact, the word propaganda derives from an organization of Roman Catholic cardinals founded in 1622 called Congregation de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagation of the Faith). Certainly the Church attempts to influence people to become Christians. Evangelism becomes propaganda when Christians distort truth to manipulate truth seekers. Cults rely heavily on propaganda to get and keep members.
Even Christians sometimes resort to propaganda to further certain doctrines. I believe it is always wrong to do so. Christians are sometimes tempted towards manipulation. When that happens, the Church, which promises freedom in Christ, produces slavery. Cults spring up within the Church when Christian leaders, greedy for power, manipulate the flock of God. the Bible warns us of this tendency:
There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresiesIn their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.(II Pet. 2:1-3 NIV)
Christians who resort to propaganda do so when their zeal carries them outside the prescribed bounds of preaching and teaching; specifically, when they claim to teach truth while being untruthful! When someone points out their actions, they will excuse themselves with variations of the argument that "The end justifies the means," or that their message is so important exaggeration is justified.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
Propaganda is especially tempting for the Church in today's highly secularized world. The Church is surrounded by those who are drowning in a sea of foggy thinking, where only the brashest messages get heard. We live in a culture that demands entertainment, not thought. Even certain news shows are "dramatizing" news. NBC News recently apologized for staging the explosion of a GMC Pickup. They taped a model rocket motor to the underside of the truck's gas tank and detonated it at the precise moment another car collided with it. They wanted "dramatic" footage.
The Church has been influenced by the surrounding secular culture. To some degree, we have been seduced to abandon scripture and reason for propaganda and passion. We have become too cozy with our culture; we have been sleeping with the enemy. We have adopted secular methodology in the pursuit of truth.
I see this seduction in two specific areas which I will identify before the close of this chapter. First, however, we should understand that all of us, at some time or another, give in to passion and propaganda.
Using propaganda is easier and more exciting than real discussion. Thinking is hard work. In generations past we honored thought more than we do now. We once held reason in higher esteem than we do now.
Parents, educators and political leaders once fought to pass the torch of learning to subsequent generations. A hundred years ago citizens would gather in the scorching sun to listen to political debates for hours on end. The Lincoln-Douglas debates, for example, lasted six hours-with only a break for supper.
Not so today. Political races are reduced to sound-bites and mud slinging. Where there is a "debate" it is little more than a sanctioned Crossfire, where the quickest, sharpest, and (often) cruelest debaters (not necessarily the most informed, astute, or reasoned) are declared winners.
Secular culture has spoiled education as well. Radical educators promote sociology in place of knowledge and revise history to promote their notions of "social justice." Education today is mostly about "fairness," not knowledge. So-called outcome-based education attempts to remake our children to some intellectually conceived notion, rather than to educate them.
Nobel Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow lamented education's failure to lead the pursuit for truth. He wrote that education was one of the "wildest thickets" which hinder the human soul in its search for meaning. Bellow made his comments in the foreword of a book by another critic of contemporary American education, the late Dr. Allan Bloom, a professor at Yale and the University of Chicago. Bloom's highly acclaimed 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind, snapped America to attention with its biting criticism of the educational process and the decline of genuine American intellectualism. Bloom wrote that "the culture leeches"-educators of the 1950's and 1960's-had begun a "great spiritual bloodletting" which he doubted could be reversed:
Today's select students [entering the university] know so much less, are so much more cut off from the tradition, are so much slacker intellectually, that they make their predecessors [of a generation earlier] look like prodigies of culture. The [cultural] soil is ever thinner, and I doubt whether it can now sustain the taller growths.
This cultural morass sucks in all of us, including-sometimes-our brightest Evangelical leaders.
Christians are immersed in secular culture. In some ways they are intimidated by it. This timidity was evidenced early in President Clinton's tenure when he invited a group of Evangelical Christian leaders to the White House. These ministers failed to challenge the President's pro-abortion stand and did not question his support of the homosexual agenda. They exited the meeting declaring their admiration for his sincere spiritual nature. They missed the opportunity to say something important to the highest office in the land. They chose placation over prophecy.
Such a scenario should serve as a warning to us. Spiritual leaders must necessarily offend a secular society. I do understand that evangelism is a dangerous business: if your message is too offensive to your audience, it can't hear you. But, if you are too inoffensive, you wind up having nothing to say. Some Christians have skated too close to the edge. The danger is that our compassion for them will compromise our will to confront them.
Regardless of their motivation, those who skate near the edge, sometimes fall through the ice. Consider the homosexual issue. Until about a decade ago, sociologists, psychologists and churchmen agreed homosexuality was a disorder; it was to be treated. Evangelical Christians, regardless of their empathy for the plight of those caught up in the homosexual lifestyle, pointed out that the Bible clearly denounced homosexual acts as sin.
Today, however, some well-meaning-but in my opinion mistaken-Evangelical Christian leaders have allowed their passion for (what they perceive to be) the mistreatment of homosexuals to distort their theology. They react passionately to the pain of homosexuals in a heterosexual society. In their passion they compromise reason and they abandon scripture. They forget God's mercy will not rob His justice.
When psychology reversed itself on homosexuality, some theologians quickly followed suit. By the 1990's some Christian opinion makers declared that the Bible had always taught homosexuality was acceptable. One denomination considered a proposal to endorse homosexuality as a "God-given" state and gay relationships as "holy, life-giving and grace-filled."(footnote)
JUNKYARD DOGS AND BROWNSHIRTS
Propaganda blooms in news media and advertising. It's only natural; advertising is an attempt to get people to buy your product or idea. Every newspaper and magazine, no matter how fair it attempts to be, has a mission. Political agendas birthed most newspapers. Some newspapers, particularly the smaller weeklies, still reflect their origins in the name of the paper: The Democrat-Reporter; The Basin Republican Rustler; The Los Angeles Independent.
In his new book, News and the Culture of Lying, Paul H. Weaver, former editor for Fortune Magazine, who has taught political science at Harvard, says newsmen and government officials inadvertently form an unholy alliance to deceive the public. They feel driven, Weaver writes, to convince us that we are in a constant state of crisis. This happens, he says, because reporters need urgent breaking news and politicians need publicity. These needs drive them to exaggeration, misdirection and misrepresentation.
Face it, people do lie and exaggerate to win elections, advance their cause, or defeat their opponent. Usually they don't think they are lying. They may realize they are stretching the truth, or exaggerating, or shading their meanings, but they don't think of themselves as liars. The opposition, of course, lies outright!
Paul Weaver describes the change in American journalism following the Civil War. Prior to that time, newspapers printed the full text of speeches by the President, Congressmen, and other government officials. People were required to read extensively if they were to be informed. In that era, people read, today they watch-there is a world of difference. Joseph Pulitzer developed the modern newspaper with its banner headlines, inverted pyramid story style, sidebars, and commentary. Journalists became opinion-makers.
The problems have become more complicated with the electronic revolution. Neil Postman makes this important point in Amusing Ourselves to Death :
The most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the 20th century [is]the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse
I know from personal experience the difference between print and electronic media. As a college journalism student, I worked full-time for Associated Press during one state legislative session turning newspaper stories into radio stories. There is a big difference between the two. In the first place, you can't look back up the page on the radio. Radio and television news races through our minds. On television, screens of information constantly replace new ones; on radio, news stories flow whether we are on track or not. Our minds sometimes cannot follow the flow.
For that reason, electronic media must constantly repeat itself. For example, the broadcaster must repeat the subject's name throughout the piece. The problem of tracking the flow of information hinders coverage of complex stories. It is difficult to report subjects which require several different topics, sub-topics, arguments, and viewpoints to be understood. People are capable of following complex arguments, but electronic media finds it very difficult to present it to them in a way people can follow. This forces newsmen to digest information and report abridgments. How can such reporting escape passing on the newsman's opinions?
Marshall McLuhan, the famous Canadian educator, coined the phrase "The medium is the message" because he saw these limitations. The way we communicate ideas, he said, limits what we communicate. McLuhan prophesied that the television age would radically alter the content of public communication.
Television's limitations can easily be verified by observing the content of what is broadcast. Most television is pap: sit-coms, soaps, Winfrey, Geraldo, and Donahue; and dramatized news shows and exposés.
Television's worst characteristic may be how good it is-beautiful, colorful, moving, entertaining, and intriguing. But therein lies its danger: it is so captivating and yet so intellectually handicapped. Postman says electronic media has "trivialized" communication: "Much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense."
Television's power, opinion, and temptation to shallowness make it a perfect vehicle for propaganda. Perhaps one of the most dangerous uses of television is MTV. I don't say that out of prejudice against heavy-metal music, but because I have given some study to MTV programming. The art and energy of the music videos are used to promote a fanatical anti-establishment mind-set. The establishment-MTV producers seem to think-is inhabited mainly by fat, lecherous tycoons, stupid priests, and squares. Rockers are the only cool dudes in the universe. The content of the videos regularly presents evidence which should convince kids that hopelessness pervades the universe. They should "go through the wall" into nihilistic oblivion.
Adolf Hitler again comes to mind. As he formulated his political philosophy, Hitler came to three conclusions. To influence people, one must first be able to stir up the masses with rhetoric; second, one had to use propaganda; and third, one must understand the value of what he called "spiritual and physical terror." When journalism fails to resist the siren-song of propaganda, intellectual terrorism results.
CHRISTIAN HIT MEN
Larry J. Sabato in his book, Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics, described the evolution of the press in the last half of this century by likening it to a lapdog under FDR, a guard dog during Watergate, and a junkyard dog today. Unfortunately, some Christians have learned too much from the secular media.
Many are succumbing to the temptation to use propaganda as a weapon. These men have not been seduced by secular ideology; they have been seduced by secular methodology. They fall into two groups:
·Christian journalists, and
Both types have the same goals in mind-to gain supporters for ideas or theology they believe in. Their zeal is commendable, their methods are not.
Christian journalists, like their secular counterparts, are influenced by their employers' biases. I do not mean to say they are simply hired guns; they doubtless agree-at least to some extent-with the magazines and newspapers they work for. Nevertheless, their publication has a direction and they have a responsibility to support it. That inclination is natural, to be expected, and isn't even wrong. It becomes wrong only when they begin to manipulate facts, select information unfairly or out of context, or draw unwarranted conclusions.
Pop-apologists are a relatively new phenomenon within Christendom. I believe I was the first to use the term pop-apologist, so I need to define it.
First, an apologist is simply a person who makes a reasoned defense for the Christian faith. Apologists have defended the faith since the very beginning of the Church. In a sense, all the New Testament Epistles can be said to be apologetic in nature.
Until about forty years ago, however, apologists were likely to be scholars in a formal sense-they were seminary theologians or pastors. The "pop" in my term refers to men (like myself) who address apologetics to the man in the street. Today hundreds of small ministries publish newsletters, do seminars, and print tracts in the area of apologetics.
My particular experience as a popular apologist began with my book, Beyond Mormonism: An Elder's Story, published in 1984 (Chosen Books). Although I was pastoring at the time, I began to devote much of my time to public ministry about Mormonism. With time, I broadened that interest to include other cults, the occult, and secularism. This is my seventh book on these subjects. I have also done hundreds of radio shows and numerous television shows. In addition, I have written for many of the better known Christian magazines on this subject. I am, therefore, a pop-apologist.
However, I will document that of the most flagrant ethical violations occur when pop-apologists, in a frenzy to make their points, adopt blatant propagandistic methods. I identified this issue in an earlier book, Heresy Hunters: Character Assassination in the Church. In this book I will revisit the heresy hunters to describe how their misguided passion pushes them to propaganda at the expense of reason and scripture.
REASON AND REVELATION OR PASSION AND PROPAGANDA
Mankind's highest hopes for human dignity are revealed by God in scripture; perceived in shadow by the Socratic philosophers; manifested fully in Christ; preached faithfully from pulpits; and understood eventually by all who truly seek to discover that dignity. One path leads to Revelation-genuine understanding of the universe and man's place in it. That way is straight, narrow, and costly. It is marked by deliberation, restraint, and a high regard for truth.
The other path leads to sophisticated Despair-false hope in man's ability to enthrone himself as ruler of the universe. It is broad, accommodating, and self-indulgent. It is marked by excess, impatience, and propaganda.
Christians will only fulfill their destiny as lights in a dark world as they choose scripture over passion, and reason over propaganda. Western Civilization, rooted as it is in the Giver of Law and interpreted as it is through the God-given rational mind, must prevail over fickle, emotion-driven whim.
Christian thinking is under assault. Values which Judeo-Christianity has held sacred for thousands of years are falling to sophisticated pagan reasoning. Sadly, many Christians-even Christian leaders-are being taken in.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Church is to resist the temptation to let the secular idea of Relativism infect the Christian view of Revelation-objective truth. Will Christians have the ability and tenacity to resist the siren-song of carnal thinking? Or will they fall for-and into-both Relativism and Propaganda?