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.

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: 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.