In a chilling treatise on the nature of propaganda, 20th-century French sociologist and theologian Jaques Ellul emphasized the ultimate goal of the propagandistic state, in particular the Soviet Union:
The ultimate was achieved by Soviet propaganda in the self-criticism of its opponents. That the enemy of a regime (or of the faction in power) can be made to declare, while he is still the enemy, that this regime was right, that his opposition was criminal, and that his condemnation is just—that is the ultimate result of totalitarian propaganda. The enemy (while still remaining the enemy, and because he is the enemy) is converted into a supporter of the regime.
Jaques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, 11-12. [Emphasis in the original]
According to Ellul, the triumph of the Soviet propagandist (or any propagandistic endeavor) is complete when the enemy of the propagandist’s position admits their own guilt and affirms the justice of the regime’s condemnation of them. This is done even though they, the propagandized, may not really be on board with the regime’s agenda. They become supporters of the regime because they no longer have the will to resist its unceasing messages and endless activism. Even though they still retain a form of their traditional beliefs, they now see the regime as just and themselves, their views and their fellow compatriots as unjust. The propagandized now act as tacit supporters of the regime and its political project.
Christian Leaders and Their Apologies
For decades the Evangelical church in America has fallen under a sustained attack from its enemy, an explicitly anti-Christian intellectual movement that can be traced back as far as Rousseau and the French Enlightenment. More recently, this movement derives its social force from the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s. In the 1980’s, 90’s and even early 2000’s, Evangelical churches, seminaries and universities resisted this emerging message of socialized justice, group identity and the commensurate demand for total sexual liberation from any semblance of a biblical sexual ethic. Now, however, that resistance is no more, it has completely withered. The propaganda of a radically leftist social movement that now also acts as “the faction in power,” has infiltrated every corner of evangelical Christian thought: in our schools, our pews, in our private thoughts and our public deeds.
For evidence of this very thing, one need go no further than the now commonplace public apologies made by well-known pastors and Evangelical figureheads. Like athletes and politicians before them, Evangelical leaders must now make public atonement to the cultural elite for exactly that which they admit to believing (perhaps unlike the politicians in this sense). Admissions of guilt by ordained ministers like Max Lucado for giving sermons on the sanctity of marriage, or the distancing of oneself from fellow believers by public intellectuals like Tim Keller, provide concrete examples of the influence of propaganda on even the “best and the brightest” of the Christian firmament. And then there are “hit pieces” like these that simply dress up elitist propaganda in Christian garb.
Downplaying one’s Christian identity or attenuating one’s biblical convictions so as to be viewed by totalitarians as acceptable “converts,” shows how totalizing propaganda has been upon us for quite some time and how it is having its effect in the more intimate corners of our lives. It has seeped into the minds of those called to shepherd God’s flock and it will continue to influence the soul of His church.
Keller (someone I greatly admire) even goes so far as to suggest that it is Christians who have acted like Nietzscheans, while at the same time excusing those who have dominated culture through entertainment, economic influence and persistent disinformation, allowing them to appear as victims of Christian ire and oppression. However, the “stop repressing me dude” schtick is a canard as old as Shelley, Blake and Byron; even if their fulminations were far more urbane than those of today’s pop-star poets and political spin-doctors. But, we can go much further back than even the Romantics to see how this spirit of the age exerts itself. Tacitus put this worldly sentiment most bluntly when reporting about Nero’s propaganda against early Christians in Rome:
Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts, whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular. Therefore, first those who admitted to it were arrested, then on their information a very large multitude was convicted, not so much for the crime of arson as for hatred of the human race.
The Annals, Book 15.44 [emphasis added]
While there is always legitimate criticism of Christian behavior, today’s propagandists, like those in Nero’s court, still consider Christianity to be little more than a “deadly superstition” and “hatred of the human race.” Paul himself forewarned the Church, roughly at the same time as Nero’s persecution, that the “smell” of the Christian would be like death to the non-believer (2 Cor 2:14-17).
Pitting Christian Against Christian
This demonstrable fact of insidious self-critique, or self-flagellation, by Christian leaders has made it nearly impossible for some Christians to argue against the reigning social and political order without getting criticized by fellow Christians. This is yet more evidence that Ellul’s description of propaganda rings true indeed. Just to be a member of the Southern Baptist Convention today who actually speaks out, even if mildly, against any form or manifestation of Critical Race Theory, Transgenderism, Same-Sex Marriage, Abortion Rights, Feminism, or Marxism, will immediately be met with an avalanche of criticism from within the church– far more than from outside it.
After all, why should propagandists outside the church exert pressure on church members to acquiesce to the program if there are enough successfully propagandized leaders within the church to do the job for them? Moreover, this phenomenon is not restricted to Evangelicalism, but finds its counterpart in Roman Catholic enclaves, where homilies like this one are exceedingly rare and where popes apparently commend pro-abortion politicians.
One can produce additional examples of the effects of propaganda. In a recent book of “prayer,” theologian Chanequa Walker-Barnes, prays that God would give her a desire to hate white people and to see them as irredeemable sinners, holding them in everlasting contempt. This is not a joke, it is a serious petition by a professing Christian minister! Walker-Barnes, who has spoken fairly recently at schools like Biola University, prays the following in her sadistic psalm,
Dear God, Please help me to hate White people. Or at least to want to hate them. At least, I want to stop caring about them, individually and collectively. I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist.
Walker-Barnes, “A Prayer of a Weary Black Woman” in A Rhythm of Prayer
With prayers like this being offered from “within” the church, is it even necessary for the explicitly anti-religious to bother with Christians anymore? Who needs a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens as enemies (although today one might see both ironically as allies), when you have a pastor like Walker-Barnes hunting inside the sheepfold?
If you thought that a cherubic Black woman could not be as aggressive a predator as an alpha male like Dawkins then you yourself have “drunk the kool-aid” of contemporary propaganda. The idea, of course, is that people who look a certain way cannot be evil, while others that look another way must be.
It will take men and women of unique courage, a deep sense of history and an uncanny power to resist suggestion to stand up to today’s levels of propaganda. Perhaps more men like Artur Pawlowski, who have lived behind real Iron Curtains, are needed to shepherd the flock in today’s social media jungle. Men who have broader chests than their pseudo-intellectual counterparts and who, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, will stand their post even to the third hour of the bombardment. After all, intellectuals have not had a great track record of being resilient in the face of tyranny. As Ellul also points out in the book, it is intellectuals who are most susceptible to propaganda. Konrad Kellen highlights this point in the Introduction to Ellul’s treatise:
Ellul follows through by designating intellectuals as virtually the most vulnerable of all to modern propaganda, for three reasons:
- They [intellectuals] absorb the largest amount of secondhand, unverifiable information;
- they feel a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question of our time, and thus easily succumb to opinions offered to them by propaganda on all such indigestible pieces of information;
- they consider themselves capable of ‘judging for themselves.’
Konrad Kellen, “Introduction” in Propaganda, vi.
The Totalizing Nature of Propaganda & The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes was written in 1965, long before computers were available to the public or the internet was invented. Then there was only the evening newspapers, television and radio. Now, the stakes are higher as the media through which propaganda flow are inescapable. Moreover, the propagandist himself never rests:
It is a matter of reaching and encircling the whole man and all men. Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes, in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life. It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides him with an incentive to action. We are here in the presence of an organized myth that tries to take hold of the entire person.
There is only one “organized myth” that we should allow to take hold of our “entire person.” That is the true myth which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is good news which has been given to us sufficiently within the boundaries of His revealed Word, the Bible. To allow any other myth to dominate our “whole man” could spell the end of Christ in us as well as any semblance of unity in His Body the Church.
But, the enemy’s means for “reaching and encircling” us with his lies are now manifold: big business, professional sports, Hollywood, television, radio, social media, government and public education. All work together in a grand matrix of spin, never devoid of all truth, but increasingly adept at tweaking the facts to serve untruth. After all, where is there any semblance of a Christian worldview rooted in our institutions or cultural domains? Are our airlines given over to Christian thought and values? Is the NBA imbued with Christian charity? What about our public grade schools and high schools? Hardly. Christian truth is not found there, nor has it been for decades. If we take revelation seriously, then our recourse to culture as a means to guide our lives has lessened dramatically in the last few decades.
To assume our mega-churches, our seminaries, our colleges and childrens’ classrooms have successfully warded off the attacks from these cultural domains dominated by propaganda is at best naive. The first step we must take to stop this brainwashing is to quit apologizing for Christianity. While Jesus certainly offered Himself up to His enemies, He did not perform the acts of torture Himself, nor did He deny His identity as the Messiah or commit suicide. If we are to follow in His footsteps, then why would we do such things? Jesus also didn’t He commend the Romans, the Scribes and the Pharisees for a job well done.
Neither should we.