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.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday, April 4th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

The lit cross is visible again on ‘A’ Mountain, most likely due to the upcoming Christian holiday of Easter (the vernal equinox, and thus Ostara has already past.) It was visible around the same time last year as well. A decoration that counts probably about sixteen feet in height, made of a series of round-white lights fashioned in a cruciform. The holiday will occur this upcoming weekend on April 12th.

Also creating a different atmosphere on the Ave happened to be the Tempe Music Festival.

At around 9:30pm some of the Way of the Master evangelicals were congregating around Mill’s End café talking to Korky and Cindy; when suddenly they scattered upon some unknown signal. Totally disappearing from where they were previously crowded handing out pamphlets. A mere minute later, Gadfly and Kazz arrived from across the street. The evangelical group had Al, Suzanne, Richard, and a few others—most of whom did not reappear that night.

Omar set up in front of Urban Outfitters for most of the night and used the amplification system of the Resistance to talk to passersby; he also had one of his new signs that reads, “EVOLVE LOVE.” There, a few of the Resistance stopped to talk to random components of the WoTM evangelicals—like Richard, who got himself caught in a long discussion with Strawberry Joe, a street rat who’s been around Mill for a two years or so.

Evidence shows that Jonathan’s group were possibly out earlier in the afternoon and night at the Tempe Music Festival. However, they were not in that position later on in the evening nearing 11pm.

The cap on the entire night was the arrival, once again, of Jeremiah who took advantage of the groups moving between the Tempe Music Festival and Mill Ave proper. As soon as he appeared the Resistance moved to siege him as they usually do—primarily out of a desire to see him because he’s well known, partially out of sheer entertainment.

The encounter with Jeremiah went predictably. Between arguing points out of Christian mythology and doctrine from their holy book he vacillated between poorly supported and ignorant positions on scientific issues like the Theory of Evolution and Global Warming. Parroting unknown propaganda that wasn’t taken well by the Resistance. Rocco, Joe, Gadfly, and Kazz took their measure of him as he tried to talk to passing crowds on these various subjects—Joe coined a speech out of his refutations: “Jeremiah, why don’t I just record the proper responses to these things that you have to say so that they can just be played back when you say the same thing without having researched it…I wouldn’t even have to be here to prove you wrong.”

Roosevelt Resistance Reports: Friday, April 3rd 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

Art Walk had a showing of the Way of the Master evangelicals on their usual spot at the Roosevelt triangle. Some people who haven’t been seen in a while joined Al and Edwin, mostly in the forms of Erin and Richard. The Resistance arrived with a great deal of people and set up amidst them sometime around 7:30pm—Todd, Rachel, Gadfly, Rocco, Kazz, among others.

The other groups lacked this time, nobody set up across the street in the opposite corner as sometimes happened in the past.

Art Walk pulled down a pretty fair number of people this round, sending them past that corner at a decent rate, possibly nearing fifty to sixty people or more a minute. The evangelicals had two separate amplification systems set at opposite sides of the corners and quite a few pamphleteers of varying stripe.

Discussions and argument this night weren’t well observed, but it appeared that Rocco spent a lot of his time managing one side with Kazz on the other.

Small knots of evangelicals from different groups were spotted out amid the Art Walk itself near Conspire and other regions, such as Trevor, and eventually Vocab’s group near night’s end.

The Phoenix Anonymous kept the Scientologists company across the street with their protest against the Scientology Corporation displaying glowing signs that read “CULT” and the Church of Scientology Corporation held their usual personality test tables upside their building—no tent set up today. As the Resistance don’t really connect themselves with the Phoenix Anonymous nor do they take notice of the Scientology protests little mingling happened there.

Rumors were that there was another group of preachers somewhere on Art Walk but they could not be found.

On Debating Specifics

I often state that religion can be defied on reason alone. Simply put, if there is no evidence for it, there is no reason to believe it. There is also no reason to disbelieve it, though if evidence can be brought against it, the claims become increasingly absurd and defy Occam’s razor to the point of ridiculousness.

Thus, it’s often seemed silly to me that so many of us are forced to argue the specifics of Bible passages and the like in order to make our point. The thing is, though, that many of the people we’re debating against are willing to make great rationalizations for what they believe. They’re incredibly forgiving with the book. They variously condemn us for taking a phrase too literally or, alternately, not literally enough.

And yet they say that their book is not open to interpretation, that it is concrete and infallible. I find this disturbing; they accuse us of living our lives without a guiding code, but it is they who are willing to mold their scriptures to reflect whatever they like them to. And they still claim infallibility, and promote that their own interpretation is the only way. All others are not the *true* followers.

Of course, so many people won’t listen unless we know the specifics of their particular faith (usually varying forms of Christianity). They’ll call us on these specifics when what we’re arguing is for reason. It’s like discussing bad slash-fiction with a middle-aged basement dweller: none of it ever happened, none of it will ever happen, and yet you’re arguing over specific plausibility like it really matters. It’s not about the specifics. It’s about fundamental concepts of rationality. They’re large, large enough that it seems people can’t see them so often, preferring to pick over smaller things.

It isn’t about the smaller things. It’s about the things required for faith in their God: deep solipsism, the relinquishment of personal responsibility, suppression of the questioning intellect, and the acceptance of personal unworthiness and helplessness that are necessary to be “saved.” All of these things are, to my mind, unhealthly in any person looking to improve the state of things. These are the mentalities of downtrodden slaves, not of thinking human beings.

Little is accomplished by going down the list of contradictions and conflicting interpretations in the Bible, of which I understand there to be many. But it would seem that we will never be listened to if we cannot play their game. With any luck, by showing proficiency with their texts, they become more willing to listen to what it is we have to say: that reason and rationality should not be suppressed, and that religion is a prime enemy of the intellect. I hope that one day people will listen to reason, rather than arguing empty, truthless scripture.

JamesRandiFoundation YouTUBE Account Suspended

Editor’s note: The JREF YouTUBE account has been restored, news and information here, James Randi Speaks: YouTUBE Suspension.

I don’t know how to respond to this – primarily because I have no clue why it happened – but all I can say right now is that this is stupid on the face of it. James Randi is an amazing illusionist (it’s right there in his stage name) and he’s also an excellent resource for looking into the false claims of psychics, scam artists, con artists, and televangelists who claim faith healing and other unproven and grossly bogus activities.

And now his channel has been suspended by YouTUBE. It is not uncommon for people like the above to run false flagging campaigns, to misuse the DMCA, and to otherwise abuse the law and other resources to attack venues like YouTUBE in order to suspend their detractors. And YouTUBE, following the DMCA law and their own policy in a fashion bereft of actual wisdom—suspend on whim.

TO HELP COMPLAIN TO YOUTUBE ABOUT THIS

http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/static.py?page=troubleshooter.cs&problem=account&selected=asked_to_login&ctx=account_asked_to_login_55755

Scroll to the very bottom and click on “new issue” Select “suspended account” from the options and express your opinion.

The mediafire link is:

http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=4d77967b07dff9ac8c9e7c56ba37815f99433de67f37e9e4

Thank you

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday, March 28th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, March 28th 2009.

Once again, Mill Ave is shut down due to the visitation of the Tempe Art Fair. White tents take up the center of the road, leaving the street open to all comers and passersby. The Resistance was sparse today but thick enough to entertain themselves on the preachers who came out to do some speaking. As usual, they found them set up in the middle of the intersection at 5th and Mill Ave—the diagonal between Urban Outfitters, Coffee Plantation, Hippie Gypsy, and American Apparel.

The Resistance consisted of Rocco and Gadfly, with a visitation by Kazz and Spyral.

Amazingly, the old-school core components of the Way of the Master evangelical group made it out! The preacher crew turned out to be Al, Jeremiah, Richard, and one other new individual of unknown disposition. This created an unexpected reunion of evangelical preachers who haven’t been out in a very long time. It’s been several months since either Richard or Jeremiah have been seen by the Resistance. Much to the amusement of all, Jeremiah took the stand later in the night and delivered his usual speeches—the rest didn’t really spend much time on their amps for the time people were out there to listen.

The notable event of the night didn’t involve the street preachers at all; although the night did end with Rocco and Gadfly with Jeremiah in front of the Brickyard.

It is reported that, earlier in the night, an itinerant busker took exception to one of Gadfly’s signs, set down his guitar, took it from her, tore it in half, and smacked her across the face with it. The sign in question was a rendering of the “BUTTSEX 4 JESUS” whiteboard-and-black-marker that originated at the protest against Brother Jed. He says that hitting her with the sign wasn’t intentional. This particular busker—an itinerant man, with a guitar, sporting a heavy, rounded dark beard of about an inch, usually sits between Hippy Cove and the Mill Avenue Jewelry store—has been on the Ave for possibly a little over a month. I haven’t gotten his name yet but I’ve spoken to him a few times about his guitar playing.

The evening wound down with Rocco preaching the gospel of the “Cookie-dough Dragon” at Jeremiah—and he even threw in some of his own criticism of contemporary Christian mythology and doctrine based on interpretations of their holy text, the Bible. I will try to paraphrase Rocco’s claim as I understood it:

The argument seemed to revolve around a prophecy from the Old Testament of the Bible which included a mortal patrilineal lineage for their messiah deity, Jesus. An event that wouldn’t make sense if the virgin birth also occurred, because therefore mortal Jesus would have no mortal father and therefore no possible patrilineal line to speak of.

FURTHER RESOURCES

  1. Gadfly herself has a narrative about what happened the night of Saturday, March 28th on her blog that I invite everyone to check out.

Welcome U of A Students

A couple of our members followed traveling university preacher Brother Jed down to the University of Arizona yesterday, and they passed out some of our tracts while they were there. If you got one and you’ve made your way here, feel free to post comments, join the forum, or just read through the archives to get an idea of what we’re trying to do here.

There is a particularly busy thread of comments on our post refuting silly Creationist theories about the Recession of the Moon, and if you post a question in the forum then we’ll make sure to give you some answers.

This has been an odd week, and we haven’t kept up our post-a-day pace we’ve had since the beginning of the year, but we should be getting back on track and putting up some good new stuff next week, so please come back and check it out, and participate if you’ve got anything to say.

Last chance to see Normal Bob Smith

It’s been a pretty fun week so far with Normal Bob Smith, Brother Jed and a few of the crazy local preachers thrown in for added ridiculousness, but sadly Normal Bob has to go back to New York this weekend and he won’t be here for the last day of Jed’s stay.

Tomorrow though promises to be a crazy day, much like today. This time Jed’s wife “Sister Cindy” and two of their daughters were out, and Cindy is just as crazy as her husband. Between them and the locals, there was pretty constant action all day, and although we had a pretty good crowd dealing with them, these people can’t have too many hecklers. So if it sounds fun or interesting to you then tomorrow would be a good day to show up.

One of the most amusing events of the whole week happened today, and may continue tomorrow. One of Brother Jed’s own converts (who seems to have surpassed Jed in his study of the Bible) got into multiple animated close-up shouting matches with him, to the great amusement of the masses. We’ll try to get some video of the events posted soon for those of you who missed it, but you may still have a chance to see Jed get the smack-down for his “porno preaching” from Monty if you come out tomorrow.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday, March 14th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

The Resistance didn’t see much in the way of anything to resist when they put foot on the Ave. They congregated for a while at different restaurants and mingled. It took them a while of wandering around the Ave before they eventually found a single, lone preacher way out by the now closed Borders. That would be Al.

Rocco held a sedate discussion with Al most of the night about civil justice. The crux of the argument hinged on how positive law and social justice work and how harm is involved. The usual assertion involves something to the end of “any transgression against an infinite god is therefore an infinite crime deserving of an infinite punishment.” Except that social justice is a system based on harm. Thus the suggestion of transgression suggests two things (1) that the Christian god can and must be harmed for a transgression to happen and (2) that harm is comparable to “infinity.” It seemed interesting that someone decided to take an argument about justice to this particular quote rather than the obvious argument by definition: “a finite harm to an infinite object is infinitesimal, a harm that approaches nothing.” Although, this did have a stake in Rocco’s argument as well as sidebar.

Most of the replies smacked of special pleading—claiming that one justice was different from another but failing to demonstrate why to any sufficient extent or dismissing the need to show sufficient cause. After a long period of responses that Rocco found inadequate, Al fell back on, “You don’t understand it because you don’t believe.” Quoting a passage from the Bible making a reference to “making fools of wise men.”

The rest of Mill remained totally empty of anything the Resistance would have noticed.

So they spent most of their time clustered around one of the inner flanges of the Borders’s building, letting Rocco intermittently talk to Al. Until he finally left around 11:30pm. Rocco did also have a lengthy discussion with Maurice—a writer who makes some money selling poetry on Mill Ave (and he also possesses a particularly Mark Twain aesthetic.)

Tonight proved pretty much to be a social excursion for the Resistance and lacked much activism.

Probably giving them a calm day before the storm of Brother Jed who is coming to bring his carnival act to ASU all next upcoming week.