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Propaganda Revisited 《Part2》:"Propaganda and Its Effects on Churches"

Propaganda Revisited 《Part2》:
"Propaganda and Its Effects on Churches”

[『Propaganda Revisited 《Part1》』は、後ほど wanted-sheep-found の方にアップいたします。 内容の関係上別blogにします。]

An Excerpt
-The Formation of Men's Attitudes-
Jaques Ellul


Vintage Books Edition,
New York
February 1973.
[ISBN 0-394-71874-7]


Propaganda and Grouping

I have selected this rather vague heading because I cannot undertake a complete study of the propaganda effects on the aggregate of all groups and societies. For that I would need a complete theoretical and experimental sociology. Besides, with regard to the propaganda effects, one must distinguish between the groups that make it and the groups that are subjected to it. Often, the two elements are closely related. This study will examine three examples: political parties, the world of labour, and the churches.


Effects on the Churches

Obviously, church members are caught in the net of propaganda and react pretty much like everyone else. As a result, as almost complete dissociation takes place between their Christianity and their behaviour. Their Christianity remains a spiritual and purely internal thing. But their behaviour is dictated by various appurtenances, and particularly by propaganda. Of course, a certain gap has always existed between “ideas” and “action.” But today this gap has become total, general, and deliberate. This widening of the gap, particularly its systematic widening, is the fruit of propaganda in the political or economic domain, and of advertising in the private domain.

Because Christians are flooded with various propagandas, they absolutely cannot see what they might do that would be effective and at the same time be an expression of their Christianity. Therefore, with different motivations and often with scruples, they limit themselves to one or another course presented to them by propaganda. They too take the panorama of the various propagandas for living political reality, and do not see where they can insert their Christianity in that fictitious panorama. Thus, like all the others, they are stumped, and this fact removes all weight from their belief.

At the same time, because of its psychological effects, propaganda makes the propagation of Christianity increasingly difficult. The psychological structures built by propaganda are not propitious to Christian beliefs. This also applies on the social plane. For propaganda faces the church with this following dilemma:

Either not to make propaganda – but then, while the churches slowly and carefully win a man to Christianity, the mass media quickly mobilize the masses, and churchmen gain the impression of being “out of step,” on the fringes of history, and without power to change a thing.

Or to make propaganda - this dilemma is surely one of the most cruel with which the churches are faced at present. For it seems that people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities, less and less suited for the autonomy of a Christian life.

We are seeing a considerable religious transformation, by which the religious element, through the means of the myth, is being absorbed little by little by propaganda and becoming one of its categories. But we must ask ourselves what happens if the church gives in and resorts to propaganda.

I already have asserted the total character of propaganda. Christians often claim they can separate material devices from propaganda techniques – i.e., break the system. For example, they think they can use press and radio without using the psychological principles or techniques that these media demand. Or that they can use these media without having to appeal to conditioned reflexes, myths, and so on. Or that they can use them from time to time, with care and discretion.

The only answer one can give to these timid souls is that such restraint would lead to a total lack of effectiveness. If a church wants to use propaganda in order to be effective, just as all the others, it must use the entire system with all its resources; it cannot pick what it likes, for such distinctions would destroy the very effectiveness for which the church would make propaganda in the first place. Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies or secular religions.

This can be seen happening throughout history. Every time a church tried act through the propaganda devices accepted by an epoch, the truth and authenticity of Christianity were debased. This happened in the fourth, ninth, and seventeenth centuries (of course, this does not mean that no more Christians were left as a result).

In such moments (when acting through propaganda), Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times, there appear innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.

Thus reduced to nothing more than an ideology, Christianity will be treated as such by the propagandist. And in the modern world we can repeat in connection with this particular ideology what we have already said on the subject of ideologies in general. What happens is that the church will be able to move the masses and convert thousands of people to its ideology. But this ideology will no longer be Christianity. It will be just another doctrine, though it will still contain (sometimes, but not always) some of the original principles and the Christian vocabulary.

The other consequence affects the church itself. When it uses propaganda, the church succeeds, just as all other organizations. It reaches the masses, influences collective opinions, leads sociological movements, and even makes many people accept what seems to be Christianity. But in doing that the church becomes a false church. It acquires power and influence that are of this world, and through them integrates itself into this world.

From the moment the church exposes itself to the conflict between sociological determinants and a contrary inspiration that comes from God and is directed towards God – from the moment the church uses propaganda and uses it successfully, it becomes, unremittingly, a purely sociological organization. It loses the spiritual part, for it now transmits only a false Christianity; it subordinates the essence of its being to sociological determination, it submits to the laws of efficiency in order to become a power in the world, and, in fact, it succeeds: it does become such a power. At that moment it has chosen power above truth.

When the church uses propaganda, it always tries to justify itself in two ways: It says, first of all, that it puts these efficient media in the service of Jesus Christ. But if one reflects for a moment, one realizes that this means nothing. What is in the service of Jesus Christ receives its character and effectiveness from Jesus Christ. The media that possess in themselves all their effectiveness and contain in themselves their own presentations and ends, cannot be put in the service of Jesus Christ. They obey their own rules, and this cannot be changed in the slightest, either by the content of their transmissions or by theoretical reasoning, despite what simplistic reasoning can make some people believe.  In fact, a statement by the church that it is placing the media at the service of Christ, is not a logical or ethical explanation, but a pious formula without content.

One tries to escape from this trap by saying that one cannot see why the church should be prevented from using such an instrument of dissemination or power, so long as it does not put its confidence in such instruments; for one recalls from the Bible that confidence in anything other than God is condemned.  But here it is enough to ask oneself: if one really does not believe in these instruments and really does not put one’s confidence in them, why use them?  If one uses them, one has confidence in their value and effectiveness; to deny this is hypocrisy.  Of course, in connection with all this, we are thinking of real propaganda, not of some limited use of press or radio to transmit a Mass or service.

At the end of this brief analysis we can conclude that propaganda is one of the most powerful factors of de-Christianization in the world through the psychological modifications that it effects, through ideological morass with which it has flooded the consciousness of the masses, through the reduction of Christianity to the level of an ideology, through the never-ending temptation held out to the church - all this is the creation of mental universe foreign to Christianity.  And this de-Christianization through the effects of one instrument - propaganda – is much greater than through all the anti-Christian doctrines.