About Carmina

Computer programmer and robotics expert extraordinaire!

Propaganda 101: Which square is darker? (Living Waters Tract)

living-waters-which-square-is-darker This propaganda tract outlines several optical illusions like the one seen on the cover. Both squares, A and B, happen to be the same color; but the human eye registers them as different shades because of comparison processing in the optic-nerve used to provide contrast between different shades. The pamphlet includes mirages, the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, and finally this:

3. Then there’s the illusion that the sky is blue, when it actually has no color.

This statement is false; it’s an example of the equivocation fallacy. The “sky” that we refer to as being blue is in fact the visible blueness of the canopy of atmosphere overhead. To refer to the blue sky in the same manner that we refer to the “sky filled with stars” or the sky being the region of air that clouds and aircraft travel through is to conflate different conceptions incorrectly. The sky’s azure hue is no more an illusion than a reflection in a mirror is an illusion.

These sort of sensory perceptions don’t really matter, because they don’t have any serious repercussions. However, there is one that is a very serious deception. It’s the mistake when they think that they get into Heaven on the basis of their own goodness or by their own good works.

That’s not an illusion…it’s mythology.

Illusions at least come from a reasonable superficial model of sensory perception—mirages look like water because the heated air ripples and refracts light; the sun appears to move across the sky because the Earth rotates in relation to it; and the sky is blue because of something called Rayleigh scattering. Each of the above so-called illusions relies on a reliable set of accessible evidence—air rippling visibly, the sun crossing the sky, the sky being blue—but religious mythology about Heaven has no such foundation, it exists only as an ad hoc assertion and a just-so story.

If you were mistaken, wouldn’t you like to be told, or would you prefer to stay deceived when it comes to such an incredibly important matter.

Here the pamphlet author goes back to the original statement that these other illusions “don’t really matter” and indicates that this is because they don’t have any serious repercussions. We can set aside that this ignores the potential plight of desert nomads whose knowledge of the mirage illusion would save lives. The rest of the sentence asks if you’d rather be told about a thing or be wrong about a potential illusion—in this case the ad hoc Heaven mythology.

How exactly do we know about the other illusions? We’ve tested them. The mechanics behind mirages, why the sun appears to be in motion, and why the sky is blue teach us more about the reality we live in. They are real manifestations that anyone can encounter and verify the effect of. The Christian mythology referred to in the pamphlet, however, has absolutely no method of external validation, it is not manifest, and therefore cannot tell us anything about the reality we live in.

The Bible warns that if you are guilty on that [Judgment] Day you will justly end up in Hell.

Of course, for any good propaganda, what is a reference to Heaven without it acting as a stalking horse for its ideological cousin the Threat of Hell. This is just an appeal to another ad hoc mythology to enforce obedience or evoke fear in the reader.

The artwork inside of the pamphlet is actually quite beautiful. Most of them are portrait illusions involving skulls that appear from the intersection of detail and overarching design. Sadly, none of the images are appropriately sourced.

What do Mill Ave’s Creationists and Avatar: The Last Airbender have in common?

Turtle_ducks Turtle-ducks.

Almost six-months ago, Al, one of the street preachers who dispenses his wares on Mill Ave arrived with an odd replica animal that appears to be a mythological hybrid between modern ducks and modern turtles. It’s difficult to tell if it has a turtle shell instead of wings, but it definitely has turtle-flippers instead of webbed duck feet. And, I should point out, two of the limbs grow out of what would be mid-ribcage on humans, a skeletal location that neither avian nor reptile skeletons support.

We see hybrid animals from a lot of ancient mythology: the gryphon (lion and eagle), the chimera (lion, snake, and goat), harpies (human and bird), etc. The origin of the turtle-duck, however, is not from modern Creationist folklore—although, it would be very amusing if this subculture would generate its own mythological creatures—but instead from a contemporary Japanese animé Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Al uses the turtle-duck from this cartoon as part of his ignorance about a strawman form of biology. It’s the sort of sideshow freak-animal that might have convinced backwoods yokels during the 19th century as a circus traveled around rural areas—and, when it comes to Avatar, it’s an adorable fictional animal imagined by an artist to up the cute factor. Al, however, vacillates between claiming it’s “faked evidence” or at least an expected organism according to his strawman biology. If Al had actually done any observing of modern biology, he wouldn’t be professing such an obviously inaccurate assertion. He has been overheard claiming that people believe it’s a “transitional form,” but when pressed for the names of actual biologists who have made this claim he deflects.

The reason is obvious: no credible biologists have ever made this claim. Turtle-ducks are not used as evidence for biology; they’re part of a children’s Japanese animation fantasy cartoon.

The meat of one of his claims is that the Avatar animé turtle-duck represents a transitional form between turtles and ducks as it contains components of both modern turtles and modern ducks. Actual students of biology would probably immediately object at this point based on the fact that it contains fully-formed structures from two modern animals belonging to genera separated by millions of years. No known transitional fossils ever do, and anyone with even one class in modern biology under their belt would be able to explain why one will never emerge.

Let me introduce everyone to an actual transitional fossil: Tiktaalik roseae. It’s species lived during the late Devonian period, approximately 375 million years ago, and it represents a transition between fish and tetrapods. As you can see, it has almost no highly complex, fully formed features represented in modern species—but it does have similar basic structures that modern species build their complex structures on. Like all species, Tiktaalik is fully formed in of itself, but differs both from ancient fish from which its species descended and ancient tetrapods into which its species branched and evolved.

For those of you who don’t study comparative anatomy, you’ll also see that unlike Al’s turtle-duck, even Tiktaalik doesn’t have its upper limbs growing out of the middle of its ribcage.

There’s a problem here and it’s not an issue of just sheer ignorance; it’s that Al is deliberately ill educated and he wants you to be just as ignorant as he is. Look at him, he’s walking around with a cartoon animal, claiming that biologists would find it as credible evidence for a transitional form, failing to support that statement with any actual biologists, and when pressed he retreats into himself.

He’s a fool, proud of his ignorance, and he wants you to accept his "real science", taken from theologians rather than reality, so that you will be just as ignorant and misinformed as he is.

Someone should let Al know that Avatar: The Last Airbender also has turtle-seals, wasp-vultures, pig-sheep, ad nauseam…the list goes on. Maybe he’d like to bouquet his ignorance with some other hybrid cartoon animal from the series in the future.

Propaganda 101: God Loves You (Fellowship Tract League Tract #110)

Please do not resent us for giving you this tract. We love your soul, and we want to tell you that if you have never been born again, you are on your journey to a place where you will burn forever and ever.

By now all of my dear readers know exactly how I’m doing to dissect this line, so let me get this list out of the way: appeal to fear, false altruism, appeal to Hell threat, mere messenger stratagem. First paragraph and already propaganda epic fail. The difference between many of the others here is that the tract is starting out with a lot of jargon that might confuse those who aren’t culturally Christian. For example, what exactly does “never been born again” mean to someone who has never heard this phrase?

Notice especially the high density of personal pronouns present in this paragraph. “your soul,” “to tell you,” “if you have never,” “you are on your journey,” “where you will burn.” This strategy is designed to resonate with the language parsing capability of the human brain, which gives personal pronouns higher priority than other words. Each token usages of the second person pronoun acts as a prod at the reader: you, You, YOU!

You see, the human race began when God created the first man, Adam. Adam was created sinless, yet he was also created with the ability to choose whether he would accept or reject God’s rule. God commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in that day that he ate from the tree, he would die.

Another appeal to mythology! The tract goes on to continue to retell the story about Adam…but it neglects to mention Eve. In fact, she seems to have nothing to do with this instantiation of the story, just Adam. After making demanding tones and asserting that all people have been tainted with “sin” it makes another threat of Hell.

Perhaps it’s just me, but maybe this tract is directed towards males. If I recall correctly Eve had a very important role in the Christian Genesis mythology and her absence from this story makes me wonder what the purpose was. Certainly, they have only a particular amount of ink to put onto this page, but they had to deliberately excise portions of their own myth to come up with this lean-mean-Hell-machine version. Perhaps it’s my own bias as a woman to see this as an obvious entendre reflecting the culture of the editors.

Jesus loves you. He loved you even before you were born into this world. […] God’s love for you is greater than all human understanding. By sending His Son, Jesus, to earth to die for sinful man, He prepared the way of salvation to keep you and I from this lake of fire.

Normally I would not include this sort of statement, but one line in particular caught me and I realized that I haven’t yet exposed this propagandist fallacy. “God’s love for you is greater than all human understanding.” This statement is a particularly fragile expression of an appeal to authoritative ignorance—I have seen far better abstractions of this in my studies of World War II propaganda. Ones that aren’t self refuting. If in fact anything is greater than all my understanding, then how exactly are you capable of communicating to me that it exists?

An appeal to authoritative ignorance works something like this: “I have access to information that you don’t, so believe me when I tell you this.” The implementation above is most frangible because it fails to even attempt to present how the writer of the tract came to gain this special knowledge, what extent their special knowledge covers, or why we should even trust in their special knowledge.

The rest of the tract rests its entire foundation on the earlier appeal to mythology, threatens the reader again with Hell, and then goes off into the usual spiel with little differentiation from other tracts.

Propaganda 101: YOU ARE HERE (Living Waters Tract #254)

This photograph causes a cringe to tighten my spine. Reading the tract informs us that they added the…Earth…to this image in order to give a sense of scale…what it doesn’t say is that the distance is totally wrong. In fact, this tract would be ridiculously long in order to actually display the proper distance and scale of Earth vs. Sun. Being the geek that I am, I decided to take a moment and point out exactly how far off “YOU ARE HERE” is.

The diameter of the stellar body on this photograph fudges to about 8 inches (I measured it by matching the curvature to a similar object, in this case a ceramic plate.) The planet Earth has an elliptical orbit around the Sun varying in distance according to its position in that orbit, the mean distance between Earth and the Sun is 14,960,000 10^6 km; the mean diameter of the Sun is 1,392 10^6 km. That means that the Earth should be placed 8,5977 inches away! That’s 2,388.25 yards…for those Americans in my audience, let me lay this one out. To display appropriate scale of Earth to Sun the tract would have to be a length of over 23 football fields.

YOU ARE NOT HERE.

Did you know that the earth could fit into the volume of the sun over a million times? Think of it… what sort of Being could create the sun?

I don’t know if this is a red herring or a testimonial. Whatever it happens to be it’s a bunch of irrelevant hand-waving. The tract author is attempting to assert the presence of a “Being”–which is probably the Christian god–by begging the question with this thinly veiled “think about it” line. Occam’s Razor: Star formation is an observed phenomenon and is sufficiently explained by natural forces. Unless this tract is going to demonstrate a star making Being, there is not sufficient evidence to believe that the Sun was made by one.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever made a god to suit yourself (within your mind)? There is one God, and you have to face Him. Alone. On Judgment Day. That’s a scary thought.

You are making an appeal to fear. Ever done that? At this point the tract descends into the usual appeals to mythology, glitters with generalities, assertions, and more threats.

Go to [our website] and click on ‘Save Yourself Some Pain.’

More pandering.

The hook of this tract is entirely in the false visual on the front of the tract. It then uses the bad visual in order to deliver truthful but irrelevant information. This strategy is used by propagandists to create a false sense of wisdom so that they can set up the question that begs the existence of a Being that created the sun. Also: a photograph is a tangible fact–something that mythology is not. The propagandist is attempting to create a positive bias by correlating the supernatural “Being” with the observable sun. That way the reader is thinking about this Being when they enter into the parts of the tract that appeal to fear and mythology. A critical examination, however, would make it necessary to point out that’s fairly obvious that stars can form without the presence of any beings.

This tract is cute in that it attempts to include some knowledge generated by empirical science. It uses a photograph taken by NASA, which is an excellent empirical data point about our sun. (If you ignore the Photoshopped Earth being in the wrong place.)

Propaganda 101: THE BLOOD (Fellowship Tract League Tract #172)

This tract has a slightly different layout than others. It punctuates pages with center, bold, ALL-CAPS headings, and numbered lists.

MAN’S GREATEST NEED

Sin has separated man from God. To be separated from God at death means to spend eternity in Hell, because God will not excuse sin, and sin must be punished. Man is sinful, but God is holy. The blood of Jesus Christ is God’s way of meeting man’s greatest need.

Wow. The jargon density in this paragraph is amazing. Of course, it doesn’t quite explain what “man’s greatest need” is after all, does it? It just threatens the reader with Hell right up front and center and…that’s it. I open this tract and immediately it’s pointing at gun at me, “You need something! The blood of Jesus Christ fulfills this need!” A person who is at least culturally Christian will fill this void of explanation with their own experience, but anyone else is going to look at this with a bemused stare and put it down again.

So, this tract is about blood. Excuse me, I mean, this tract is about BLOOD. So let’s look at the numbered list in the section that tells about this BLOOD. Specifically the blood of Jesus Christ. (For the sake of clarity, I omit the Bible references from these outtakes; often they are superfluous noise anyway.)

WHAT WILL JESUS’ BLOOD DO?

  1. The blood washes and cleanses you from sin.
  2. The blood pays for your forgiveness.
  3. The blood makes peace with God.
  4. The blood saves you from God’s wrath.
  5. The blood opens the way to Heaven.

Oh ho! Check it out! Is this the very first tract that I’ve read that actually mentions the Christian concept of Heaven? I could be mistaken, but I think that so far most of them have been threatening me with Hell over and over and never mention the reward scenario. So this is a singularly interesting specimen of propaganda for us right here.

To put this tract into context, I’m sure you can see that the cover is a two-tone image of a hand, pierced with a large spike, through the carpal bones (someone needs to study their anatomy!), with blood pooling down to form the color space around the word BLOOD. This is attempting to appeal to empathy—that looks like it hurts! And it ensconces the imagery of blood and bleeding in the mind of the reader before they start parsing the text.

I wanted to talk about the offer of Heaven, but the tract never defines it anywhere. The Bible quote that goes along with that line isn’t even helpful, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19.)” I guess that we’re supposed to take the writer’s word that this is referring to Heaven. Boldness? Holiest? I guess that this tract doesn’t actually go the last mile and offer Heaven as an alternative to Hell except in the barest sheen of cultural Christian reference.

The most foretelling portion of this list, I can see, happens to be that four out of the five list items are all about avoiding the threatened beat-down. Only the very last one is some sort of reward; the rest are mere escape from horrible punishment. Perhaps the Heaven reference just got thrown in there as an afterthought. Oh yeah, and there’s also Heaven, by the by.

This is interesting.

YOUR GREATEST DECISION

Jesus shed His blood, was buried, and rose again the third day. At this moment He stands ready, able, and willing to save you. The choice is yours. A song says, ‘If the blood of Christ is sufficient for God, it is surely sufficient for me.’ It is the blood that satisfies God. Why not put your trust in Christ’s finished work, and call on Him for salvation now?

The tract is quoting a song instead of the Bible here. This is an aberration! To my disappointment, I was unable to determine what song this paragraph refers to. I would like to know if anyone can help guide me to the proper resources, or if they are familiar with the lyric enough to simply fork over the data.

This paragraph is typical of these tracts. The tract spent a while setting up a house of cards series of bald assertions culminating in this: “You’re in trouble; I know the only solution; here’s that solution; take the solution or suffer horribly.” The theme here is just that God is a vampire and the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to slake his bloodlust for you…

God does not drink…wine.

Propaganda 101: 101 of the World’s Funniest One Liners (Living Waters Tract)

This tract is a giant fold-out with a yellow cover, four internal pages, and four external pages (including cover.) Inside pages have white backgrounds and the external pages have yellow backgrounds. As the title suggests, it has one hundred and one one-liners of varying humor, with some Christian snipes at atheism and science mixed in:

48. National Atheist’s Day: April 1st.”

69. The Big Bang Theory: God spoke and BANG! it happened.

70. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

97. Evolution: True science fiction.

And so on.

Although, this one-liner is just weird:

43. God made mankind. Sin made him evil.

The tract part is a tiny little part called an editorial on the third internal page.

This tract manages to provide its message with only one singular Bible cross-reference and one paraphrased line.

“Probably the most thought-provoking one-liner is ‘Eat right. Stay fit. Die anyway.’ It’s sad but true—no matter what you do, you will die.

Basic appeal to fear.

One of the next lines is particularly weird. “Jesus said, ‘Whoever looks up on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already with her in his heart.’” I look at other females quite often to lust after them, to this date I have not suddenly become male. I am not an amphibian or fish, I am a mammal. Unlike amphibians and fish, mammals have never demonstrated spontaneous gender changes. (Perhaps this tract is only meant for the boys and I just don’t know that it this line means it doesn’t apply to me.)

You know that you will be guilty, and end up in Hell.” The threat of Hell canard once again. I am going to take a poll here, my readers, who wants me to come up with a series of categories for grading and I’ll tick them off when I dissect one of these tracts. Certain themes do crop up again and again, I hypothesize that their frequency will match the relative strength of any given dogmatic meme in the religion. Threatening people with Hell is one of the most frequent and across-the-board. Demonstrating Hell exists isn’t.

In fact, I don’t know that I’ve read a single religious tract that manages to demonstrate Hell in any meaningful fashion. Insofar the threat only appeals to Christian mythology. This is another example of the Big Lie propaganda mechanism combined with the appeal to mythology. Not only is this threat repeated over and over, it relies on the reader of the tract to never attempt to discover or unveil the lack of evidence for any Hell.

Please do that today…you may not have tomorrow.” This is a favorite line spoken by life insurance salesmen in movies. I don’t know about how they sell life insurance in the real world, but making creepy assertions about the possibility that you might not survive the night is another appeal to fear.

At least a few of the one-liners were actually funny.

Propaganda 101: Is Jesus Christ Your Savior? (Fellowship Tract League Tract #118)

Yes, the following really is the first line.

My friend are you saved? Saved is a Bible word, not a term thought up by man.” There are a cornucopia of errors in this single line. Saved is an English word, from Middle English via Old French sauf, from Latin salvus, safe. The Bible’s early manuscripts are written in Hebrew and Greek with some Aramaic translations. Pay attention class: see English anywhere in there? German? Anglo-Saxon? Or anything in the direct ancestry of English? No.

“Saved” is certainly not a Bible word.

It also seems to want to claim that something that is a “Bible word” is not therefore a term thought up by man. To assess this claim, however, I need an instantiation of a “Bible word” to examine. Since no definition is provided, and the only example is patently bogus, I suspect this phrase has no meaning.

Maybe the author of this tract is referring instead to the specific jargon he’s applying to the word “saved” according to usage in the Bible. If so, he really put his foot in his mouth that time.

I have been a Christian for almost twenty years, and I find that most people still do not have an understanding of God’s message of salvation.” Bad editing here, this sentence isn’t even a separate paragraph, yet it has absolutely no transition or context connection to the previous line. Except maybe that the word “salvation” happens to be a cousin of that Latin word salvus.

Plato, Aristotle, or Einstein could only think as far as their finite minds were able. They could not even solve the problems of this life, such as sickness, disease, pain, hunger, and death, let alone know anything about eternity.

And the author is about to claim that he himself has these answers? No, wait, he is but a mere messenger.

God knew we needed something to go by, so He put everything there is to know in His Bible.

Like Cre recombinase and Tre recombanaise—recently discovered enzymes used to combat HIV. No? No mention of it? Perhaps this isn’t part of “everything there is to know” or maybe it has nothing to do with “sickness, disease, [and] pain.” In the world of propaganda this is known as a glittering generality—it’s also an example of a Big Lie. To effect the Big Lie propagandists spread a particular false belief into the population, “the Bible includes everything there is to know,” repeating it ad nauseam until a large enough portion of the population believes it to be true.

The tract does not go on to clarify what it means by the above statement so we can take it at face value: it’s simply asserting a bald falsehood expecting the reader to swallow it.

So you and I, like our father, Adam, are born sinners. We have not obeyed all of God’s commandments.

This is an appeal to mythology. First time I’ve seen this specific instance! Adam is a figure in Biblical mythology touted as “first man.” Except that Adam wasn’t born a sinner, so this sentence isn’t actually consistent with Biblical mythology after all.

Your guilt as a sinner is shown by the fact that you will eventually die.

And Germans are evil because of the fact that have large noses and speak a different language. As a proud citizen of the USA you should buy war bonds to aid our soldiers in fighting the German scourge! This sort of false assertion attempts to bond two things that have no causal connection. According to this logic: plants and animals are also sinners shown by the fact that they will eventually die.

And, of course, if all else fails end the tract by threatening the reader using an appeal to fear:

Please hear this. People do not go to hell for their sins. They go to hell for rejecting Jesus Christ as their Sin Bearer, their Substitute, and the One who died in their place for their sins.

Propaganda 101: HEAVEN or HELL (Fellowship Tract League Tract #115)

So: HEAVEN or HELL, which do you choose?

Ah, false dichotomy, how long has it been since we last danced? It seems but yesterday I held you in my arms, as you whispered sweet nothings; but I have so many dance partners and you imagine yourself the only one.

Are you going to heaven or to hell?” asks the first line of this tract. “The Bible teaches that many seemingly good people are going to hell, because … Sin has a price. You might be wondering what happens to people when they die in their sins.” And so on. The parts that I’m skipping are lengthy references to the Bible that don’t mean very much to the message that’s being demonstrated here. Except maybe the bit where it mentions people being “cast into a lake of fire.”

Does anyone else find it strange that the word “hell” in these doesn’t have a capital letter? To me this is a weird modification of English grammar; here I thought that Christians considered Hell to be an actual place—or at least a proper noun. Heaven doesn’t get a capital in this tract either, so maybe it’s a style issue.

The tract goes on to say, “The Bible tells us God desires to save everyone. … Do you want to be saved? The Bible teaches that there are several things you must do in order to be saved.

The propagandist here makes several assumptions that haven’t been addressed. The first: the reader may not believe in the concept of sin. Without sin this threat is totally moot. Can’t die in your sin if there is none. It also assumes that Heaven and Hell are meaningful places to the reader. As if they don’t believe in Olympus, Valhalla, Elysium, any other afterlife–or none!

I’ve been looking at a lot of these tracts and this type seems to be directed at other Christians.

The way to be saved is so simple! Yet many refuse to be saved. They will not accept Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin and its penalty. They refuse to believe that Lord Jesus is powerful enough to save them by Himself. Do you?

Or, Mr. False Dichotomy, maybe there isn’t a Jesus.

Parsing this tract gives me a unique segue into something that I’d like to talk about, not just false dichotomies, but the implementation of “conversion by threat.” To instantiate such a piece of propaganda first I must set up a paradigm that includes the elements that I am going to threaten with: in this case Heaven and Hell. Then I set up a balance between them by exploiting the human reaction to threats: explicit focus.

When presented with danger or stress things get really simple: safe and not safe. So, I set up something extremely dangerous, “Eternal torture in Hell!” and on the other side of the proverbial coin, I put something extremely safe, “Eternal bliss in Heaven.” Although, oddly, neither Heaven nor Hell are described in this entire tract, so really it’s not offering Heaven except in the title, only being rescued from the threat of Hell. Saved.

Once I’ve got that threat up, and I have my audience hooked on it, I sell my solution. At this layer of abstraction the human mind sees the two necessary elements of a stress action and, of course, chooses the case that doesn’t involve the serious danger. Threatening people with eternal torture to get them to agree must be one of the most cynical mechanics that I have ever seen in Christian propaganda.

“Do as I say or this bad thing will happen.”

In the parlance of my academic peers this is called an appeal to fear. It works by instilling fear, in this case via threat, in the reader and then feeding on that in order to make the rest of its case. This appeal is particularly fragile in that it has no depth to it. Appeals to fear require that the reader not examine the appeal too deeply, in this tract, not to question the assumptions made in the tract:

If there is no Heaven or Hell then this threat is moot.

Propaganda 101: I.Q. TEST (Living Waters Tract #209)

This little gem is published by Living Waters Publications and portrays a very simple, albeit headache inducing, visual phenomena that involves the way that the brain processes glyphs. The front has a highly stylized word that may take a few moments to decipher.

“The answer is ‘Eternal Life’ (‘Eternal’ is hidden in the ‘L’ of Life—see Romans 6:23).” I guess it is, as you can see in the scan of the card the actual word hidden on the inner curve of what is an “L” upside-down and an “h” if oriented otherwise. We have to trust the message on the back as to what exactly those blobs say, their font is so small that they greek into the ink bleed. Does this mean that it reads “Death Lanrete” when right side-up?

Then the propaganda starts.

First, the reader is subjected to what in propaganda jargon could be called a “framing sentence.” The point of this is to set the frame of mind of the reader to the singular context that the propagandist wants: “Here is another intelligence test.”

What follows isn’t exactly what it says on the tin.

“Answer Yes or No OUT LOUD: 1/ Is there a God? 2/ Does God care about right and wrong? 3/ Are God’s standards the same as ours? 4/ Will God punish sin? 5/ Is there a Hell? 6/ Do you avoid Hell by living a good life?”

At this point the savvy reader will realize that this is not a test of intelligence. It’s not even a proper test of knowledge. It is a memory test for the particular dogma of the Living Waters Publications editor who prepared this text. A person who answers most of these differently than the answers given immediately afterwards is no more or less intelligent than anyone else for their answers.

Here the propaganda makes the assumption that the reader knows what it’s talking about. It’s reaching out to someone who is culturally Christian. Mostly in the phrase “Is there a God?” I find myself bemused by the phrase. It’s a lot like saying, “Is there an Elaine?” The question is pandering, but only with its capital letter—I guess that “Is there the God?” just doesn’t have the same ring, we just don’t speak that way; and they wanted to avoid saying “Is there a god?” or “Are there gods?” This goes back to pandering to assumed knowledge. A pagan, Hindu, or other polytheist would snicker at this line.

The “correct” answers are, of course, amusing in of themselves. There is a God who cares about right and wrong; but doesn’t have the same “standards” as we do… Invocation of threat of Hell. I understand they’re working under a lot of pressure to fit this 10-point font paragraph onto the back of a business card, but I’m not impressed.

“You can’t afford to be wrong. Find out the truth – ask God to forgive your sins, then trust in Jesus Christ. He took your punishment by dying on the Cross for you. Then He rose from the dead. Read the Bible daily and obey what you read… God will never let you down.”

Another feature of religious propaganda is the use of designed jargon; these are often words coherent only to the culture of the religion. First there’s elements from Christian mythology: the Cross, Jesus Christ, death and resurrection of the former. Then there’s the jargon word “sin” which is only meaningful in the frame already set up based on the assumptions of the Living Waters dogma.

Did anyone else notice that the word “Cross” got a capital? Symbolism and semiotics lay at the heart of a lot of social propaganda but are also central to cultural context. In this case the tract editor is trying to connect with the implied cultural Christianity of the reader by using a shared symbol. It’s not just any mundane crucifix used by the Romans to torture and murder people, no, it’s the specific device used to torture Jesus.

Is it just me who felt their skin crawling when they saw “Read your Bible daily and obey what you read”? Do the people who edit these tracts actually read their Bible? I only have one thing to say to this: What is an Amalekite and if I ever meet one must I really murder him or her? Who in their right mind in this day and age would obey such a command?

Further: Obey? Bob the Angry Flower “Submission Channel” much? SUBMIT. SUBMIT. SUBMIT.

And finally, my favorite part of this review. The very last line of the tract:

“God will never let you down.”

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

Propaganda 101: Investigator

Hello everyone, my name is Elaine Hadaly Mercer, and it looks like I’ll be joining you all for a while. I’m not a member of the ASU Secular Free Thought Society or the Mill Avenue Resistance, but I have seen you guys out there—I am the Secretary at Arms of the Godless Society of ASU. I study Computer Science and Engineering and it is my intent to give scrutiny to propaganda gathered from campus and local venues via the route of language as code.

I am going to be critiquing propaganda pamphlets published by religious forums and collected from around campus. So if you have anything that you’d like me to lay a discerning rational eye on, please send it my way and I will vivisect its still-wriggling corpse for your entertainment!

Psycholingustic code works at a very primal level in most propaganda; it hijacks various emotional responses from readers in order to suspend disbelief and critical examination, and spreads through general credulity and confirmation bias in both would-be believers and the undiscerning. I expect that most pamphlets that I examine will spend most of their time using jargon and special slang, and metaphor singular to the culture that is prostytizing. I will do my best to define the jargon as used by the propagandists and elaborate on the effect and intent.

I may end up doing similar pamphlets over and over as I receive more of particular types. For example, there are almost twenty dollar-bill style tracts released by different publishing houses. To keep these examinations relevant and entertaining, after comparing each to every other I will try to add some other appeal to the resources of my study.

Bring one. Bring all.

No unfortunate propaganda or scurrilous cant will be rejected.

I have my red pen and my debugger. Let’s do some damage.