Thursday, June 6, 2024

Pondering Propaganda

The most recent issue of The Atlantic is about “The New Propaganda War.” The cover story is entitled ”Democracy is losing the Propaganda War.” All the time I was reading it, I had the unsettling feeling that the article itself was as much propaganda as the examples the author cites. I wonder if any other readers were aware of the irony. In any case, it succeeded in getting me to ponder the ubiquity of propaganda. 

Several years ago I stopped watching television news because it was so sensationalized. Newscasts majored on the minors, while leaving many important stories untold. Now I read the news instead of viewing it. Aware that there is no such thing as perfectly objective and impartial journalism, I diversify my reading material. Just like a good investment portfolio is diversified, so is a good news portfolio.  

All the while I realize that I am not objective in my choices of news sources. I am biased. So are journalists. In recent years many journalists have become media influencers rather than news reporters. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” has became “Any News that Advances the Cause.” Everyone has an agenda. This is true of both right and left, conservative and progressive.  

I still think there is such a thing as objective truth, in the sense that there are historical facts. But "what really happened” is always placed within a narrative framework which spins the facts to advance an agendaWe all have unexamined and unseen agendas, which are hidden even from ourselves. For that reason I seek out views that challenge my beliefs and presuppositions.  

I did the same thing with my Christian religion a decade ago. Religious people are experts at propaganda. All religions do it, but Christians are especially good at it. We call it evangelism or apologetics. Combine the two – politics and religion – and the self-deception is complete. Religious nationalism is the most belligerent bully on the block. 

I spent over two years deconstructing my Christian theism and the worldview that stemmed from it. Religious deconstruction set me free from the theological assumptions and presuppositions I had blindly followed for decades. It set me free to see beyond the intellectual models that we mistake for truth.  

“What is truth?’ That is the question that Pilate rhetorically asked at Jesus’ trial. The Roman prefect did not wait for Jesus to answer. Instead he turned to the crowd and declared Jesus innocent of all charges. That was truth. Yet in the name of expediency he quickly bent to the will of the mob to crucify Christ.  

In the same way truth is crucified on the cross of political and religious agendas in our time. I believe in spiritual truth even more than I believe in historical truth. I know no way to discover truth, except to ask Pilate’s question persistently and ruthlessly until we glimpse unvarnished reality for ourselves. Then we must live the truth by faith. 


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