The Bible has religious propaganda within its pages. Some friends of mine will say it is nothing but religious propaganda. But that stretches the meaning of the words too far. The best example of what I am talking about is found in Acts 19:21-41. Before getting to this text let me clear up a common misconception. Propaganda is not about big lies. Few people are persuaded by total fabrications. However, a majority of people may be persuaded by half-truths and loose logic.
Propaganda of the Silversmiths
“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Luke deliberately understates the issue. “A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans.” The narrative continues with Demetrius getting these people and other silver smiths together. He explains the threat Paul makes to their income. But what! There is more. An even greater danger is involved. The “temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” While it is about the bottom line for all of them, Demetrius is clever enough not to leave the matter there. What else will happen if the “great goddess” is not worshipped as she should be?
The great statue of the goddess was given directly to the people of Ephesus. If such a divine gift is not treated with proper respect, then all the blessings may be removed and the city destroyed. The people could have ignored Paul. Now they are frightened into not ignoring him.
The fundamentalists threaten the rest of the country with divine wrath and total destruction. God is patient. But God will not be patient forever. The Old Testament prophets make these same threats against the people by drawing lessons from the destruction of other peoples and empires. The existential threat is devastating to our mental well-being. The Cold War was sold to the American people in this way. Many people still believe the same “communist/Marxist” threat is there. But that is not the greatest threat a propagandist makes.
Loss and Propaganda
Demetrius is obviously a wealthy person to whom people will listen. The artisans are not told “you will lose.” They hear “we will lose.” The artisans and other smiths are given their identity in the crisis. When American Christians are threatened with loss, we immediately respond to protect what little we have. “They’re coming to take your guns.” Is another way of threatening the loss being able to protect what little one has. The wealthy person’s possessions become as sacred to us as if they were our own. A greater immediate loss than that of possessions is threatened.
Are our children in danger? When we hear people claiming to represent “the faith community,” we are told a half-truth. Child sex-trafficking is real. Some teachers cross boundaries with their students. Children learn lots of things their parents would they rather learn later. But the claim teachers are “grooming” all children for these things is a threat against children as well as teachers. Grandparents and parents who receive a steady diet of such propaganda are continually reconditioning themselves to take in more of the same.
The Desire to Believe
American officials once labeled a very religious people as “godless Russians.” Modern schooling in the US has a major failing. We learn just enough about any subject to believe we know all there is to know. We believe that we know. People tend to work hard to believe something that is not true.
Recently, I watched the film The Pope’s Exorcist starring Russell Crowe playing Father Gabriele Amorth. Fr. Amorth was an exorcist for the diocese of Rome who wrote books on Demonology. From there the movie moves into complete fiction beyond those elements Fr. Amorth claimed as facts. A strange claim is made in the film (spoiler alert). A demon-possessed friar began the Spanish Inquisition. How many people would love to hear that? The leaders of the present day church could claim, “The devil made them do it.” The film went on to suggest the child-abuse scandal was something similar.
The desire to believe causes people to ignore uncomfortable truth. Place all evil on the devil’s shoulders, and we never have to think about how we got into the mess.