Part 1: Awake! Overview

For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. --James 1:23,24

The June 22, 2000, Awake! Magazine, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, discussed the topic of “propaganda” at length. The result was both informative and well-written. This response incorporates much of the discussion contained in the magazine, along with pertinent information so that the interested one might better understand whether this powerful tool is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses today by addressing the question “Is the Work of Jehovah’s Witnesses Propagandistic?”

The cover of the magazine features a balding, white-haired man dressed in business-like attire standing behind an array of microphones with his hand slightly extended in invitation. His demeanor appears to be sincere, his face clean-shaven and mouth formed into the hint of a smile or in mid-sentence. The caption below reads “Should You Believe Everything You Hear?”

The discussion begins on the inside of the cover, where a close-up of a man’s ear, hand cupped around, is pictured, along with the caption “Most of us are bombarded with information every day. What forms does it take? How can you sift the true from the false?” The discussion is to be elaborated in a three-part series, on pages 3-11.

Article One: Propaganda Can Be Deadly

The first article is titled “Propaganda Can Be Deadly” and begins with a quote attributed to Mark Twain which says:

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Pictured on the page, in the lower right corner, is a young child, thin and dressed in what appears to be winter clothing of the WWII era. The caption beside the photo reads “Propaganda was used to victimize Jews during the Holocaust. The article then discusses what first appears to be another case of anti-Jew persecution in a school involving a teacher directing her students to mistreat a seven-year-old student. But then it’s revealed that the student is not Jewish, but rather that he is the son of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The discussion then turns to the varied forms of propaganda that spread in Germany and nearby countries “some 60 years ago.”

Next, the writer mentions the open use of emblems of hate (i.e., swastika) in propaganda as well as the more subtle use (e.g. tasteless jokes). A key statement to Understanding Jehovah’s Witnesses: Propaganda is quoted below:

Its persuasive techniques are regularly applied by dictators, politicians, clergymen, advertisers, marketers, journalists, and others who are interested in influencing thought and behavior. [1]

As the writer admits, “propagandistic messages can be used to accomplish positive social ends, as in campaigns to reduce drunk driving. But propaganda may also be used to promote hatred for ethnic or religious minorities…” Researchers Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson are then quoted as having said:

“Every day we are bombarded with one persuasive communication after another. These appeals persuade not through the give-and-take of argument and debate, but through the manipulation of symbols and of our most basic human emotions. For better or worse, ours is an age of propaganda.” [Emphasis mine]

The first article closes with questions about how human thinking and actions have been affected by propaganda, how a person could protect themselves from it, and whether there is a trustworthy source of information, and then states that these and other questions will be discussed in the articles to follow.

It is the intention of Understanding Jehovah’s Witnesses: Propaganda to address just how the organization known worldwide as Jehovah’s Witnesses has been guilty of the very same propaganda as others are accused of, using the same techniques discussed within the magazine’s three-part series of articles.

Article Two: The Manipulation of Information

The second article begins by citing Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf:

“By clever and perservering use of propaganda even heaven can be represented as hell to the people, and conversely the most wretched life as paradise.”

The writer continues by pointing out that with the advent of today’s means of communication, the “flow of persuasive messages has dramatically accelerated.” [2] Because of the increase of information flow and the pressures thereof, the writer argues:

“Many respond to this pressure by absorbing messages more quickly and accepting them without questioning or analyzing them.

“The cunning propagandist loves such shortcuts… Propaganda encourages this by agitating the emotions, by exploiting insecurities, by capitalizing on the ambiguity of language, and by bending the rules of logic. As history bears out, such tactics can prove all too effective.” [3] [Emphasis mine]

Under the subheading “A History of Propaganda” the reader is introduced to the actual origin of the term that has such a negative connotation today. Having apparently come from the name given to a group of Roman Catholic cardinals that formed a committee that was established by Pope Gregory XV in 1622 to oversee missionaries, the term eventually came to be equated with “any effort to spread a belief.”

Of course, as the writer points out, the concept of propaganda has its history going clear back to ancient times, with the usage of various symbols (the writer cites the Egyptian pyramids as an example).

The era of WW1 saw the term “propaganda” take on the more familiar negative connotation that most recognize today. The writer draws attention to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels as “master propagandists.” [4] That era also saw a more active role played by the nations in promoting national policies, the article continues. Even today, the use of alluring advertisements for tobacco by the tobacco industry seems to downplay the threat to public health in order to gain sales.

The article then begins to address the various means used by those who engage in propaganda.

First among these is found under the subheading “Lies, Lies!”

Certainly, the handiest trick of the propagandist is the use of outright lies. [5]

The writer then mentions Martin Luther’s statements made in 1543 concerning Jews of Europe:

“They have poisoned wells, made assassinations, kidnapped children… They are venomous, bitter, vindictive, tricky serpents, assassins, and children of the devil who sting and work harm… Set fire to their synagogues or schools… Their houses [should] also be razed and destroyed.”

The next subheading “Making Generalizations” starts off with the pointed statement:

Another very successful tactic of propaganda is generalization. Generalizations tend to obscure important facts about the real issues in question, and they are frequently used to demean entire groups of people. [6] [Emphasis mine]

The subheading that follows, “Name-Calling” makes another valid point:

Some people insult those who disagree with them by questioning character or motives instead of focusing on the facts. Name-calling slaps a negative, easy-to-remember label onto a person, a group, or an idea. The name-caller hopes that the label will stick. If people reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative label instead of weighing the evidence for themselves, the name-caller’s strategy has worked. [7] [Emphasis mine]

As the writer points out, recent years have seen a tremendous growth in antisect sentiment, especially in Europe. To cite how the writer put it so succinctly:

Often “sect” becomes a catchword. “’Sect’ is another word for ‘heretic,’” wrote German Professor Martin Kriele in 1993, “and a heretic today in Germany, as in former times, is [condemned to extermination]—if not by fire…, then by character assassination, isolation and economic destruction.” [8] [Emphasis mine]

“Playing on the Emotions” is the next subheading. There, the writer states:

Even though feelings might be irrelevant when it comes to factual claims or the logic of an argument, they play a crucial role in persuasion. Emotional appeals are fabricated by practiced publicists, who play on feelings as skillfully as a virtuoso plays the piano.

For example, fear is an emotion that can becloud judgment. As, as in the case of envy, fear can be played upon. [9] [Emphasis mine]

Another example involving propaganda against Jehovah’s Witnesses is brought forward. In this instance, three girls had committed suicide in Moscow. The accusation was that that the girls were “fanatical followers” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The writer draws attention to the term “fanatical” in this instance, pointing out how fear became the motivation for people’s view of Witnesses afterwards, then reveals how the accusation was false, but that by then the information was already in the media to such as extent that the population certainly must have come to the conclusion that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a suicidal cult. It is because of being misinformed that the people would come to such a conclusion in light of such negative media, the writer alleges.

The article continues:

Hatred is a strong emotion exploited by propagandists. Loaded language is particularly effective in triggering it. There seems to be a nearly endless supply of nasty words that promote and exploit hatred toward particular racial, ethnic, or religious groups.

Some propagandists play on pride. Often we can spot appeals to pride by looking for such key phrases as: “Any intelligent person knows that…” or, “A person with your education can’t help but see that…” A reverse appeal to pride plays on our fear of seeming stupid. Professionals in persuasion are well aware of that. [10] [Emphasis mine]

The final subheading of the second article is titled “Slogans and Symbols.” There, the reader is told:

Slogans are vague statements that are typically used to express positions or goals. Because of their vagueness, they are easy to agree with. [11] [Emphasis mine]

The writer poses the question:

But do most people carefully analyze the real issues involved in the crisis or conflict? Or do they just accept what they are told? [12]

Follows is a strong point by the writer as the article comes to its close:

The propagandist also has a very wide range of symbols and signs with which to convey his message… Love of parents can also be exploited. Thus, such symbolisms as the fatherland, the mother country, or the mother church are valuable tools in the hands of the shrewd persuader. [13] [Emphasis mine]

The article ends by asking the question of how a person can protect one’s self.

Article Three: Do Not Be a Victim of Propaganda

The third and final article cites Proverbs 14:15 from Today’s English Version.

“A fool will believe anything.”

In the lower right corner of page 9 is a portion of a woman’s face, along with a caption that reads “Discernment enables you to discard irrelevant or misleading information.”

The article begins by pointing out the differences between education and propaganda:

There is a difference--a big difference--between education and propaganda. Education shows you how to think. Propaganda tells you what to think. Good educators present all sides of an issue and encourage discussion. Propagandists relentlessly force you to hear their view and discourage discussion… They sift the facts, exploiting useful ones and concealing the others. They also distort and twist facts, specializing in lies and half-truths. Your emotions, not your logical thinking abilities, are their target.

The propagandist makes sure that his message appears to be the right and moral one and that it gives you a sense of importance and belonging if you follow it. You are one of the smart ones, you are not alone, you are comfortable and secure--so they say. [14] [Emphasis mine]

The writer reassures the reader by saying that:

Once you are familiar with some of their tricks, you are in a better position to evaluate any message or information that comes your way. [15]

The first way to avoid becoming a victim, according to the article, is to “Be Selective.” Having a completely open mind is compared to a pipe that lets anything flow through it… “even sewage.”

Proverbs 14:15 is cited again, this time from the New World Translation, “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” Added to this is the writer’s own statement:

We need to scrutinize whatever is presented to us, deciding what to accept and what to reject. [16] [Emphasis mine]

At the same time, the writer continues,

…we do not want to be so narrow that we reuse to consider facts that can improve our thinking. [17]

By using the Bible as a sure guide, the Christian has the source of reliable wisdom. While being open-minded to new information, the article points out, the Christian’s mind “sees the danger of information that is entirely inconsistent with his Bible-based values.”

On pages 10 and 11 of the magazine, at the top, are four pictures. The first is of a well-dressed middle-aged man wearing a suit and glasses perusing a newspaper while sitting in a chair. The second is that of a cleanly dressed woman watching what appears to be a news broadcast. Below these two pictures is the caption “Test whatever you are reading or watching to see if it is truthful.”

The third picture is taken of a crowd of people walking to and fro, apparently in cooler weather or climate. That picture has the caption “Popular opinion is not always reliable. The fourth picture shows a Bible open to Mark with a well-manicured hand. The Bible is not in English. It has the caption “We can confidently look to God’s Word as the source of truth.”

Another way, the article goes on, is to “Use Discernment.” The writer defines “discernment” as “acuteness of judgment.” It enables a person to “discard irrelevant information or misleading facts” and “distinguish the substance of a matter.”

“Put information to the test” is another recommendation of the article. The writer acknowledges that “Some people today are like sponges; they soak up whatever they come across. It is all too easy to absorb whatever is around us.”

More importantly, the article endeavors to impress upon the reader that

it is far better for each individual personally to choose what he will feed his mind. It is said that we are what we eat and this can apply to food for both the body and the mind. No matter what you are reading or watching or listening to, test to see whether it has propagandistic overtones or is truthful.

Moreover, if we want to be fair-minded, we must be willing to subject our own opinions to continual testing as we take in new information. We must realize that they are, after all, opinions. Their trustworthiness depends on the validity of our facts, on the quality of our reasoning, and on the standards or values that we choose to apply. [18] [Emphasis mine]

The article then suggests that the person “Ask Questions.”

First, examine whether there is a bias. What is the motive for the message? If the message is rife with name-calling and loaded words, why is that? Loaded language aside, what are the merits of the message itself? Also, if possible, try to check the track record of those speaking. Are they known to speak the truth? If “authorities” are used, who or what are they? Why should you regard this person—or organization or publication—as having expert knowledge or trustworthy information on the subject in question? If you sense some appeal to emotions, ask yourself, ‘When viewed dispassionately, what are the merits of the message?’ [19]

The final suggestion of the writer is “Do not just follow the crowd.”

If you realize that what everybody thinks is not necessarily correct, you can find the strength to think differently. While it may seem that all others think the same way, does it mean that you should? Popular opinion is not a reliable barometer of truth. Over the centuries all kinds of ideas have been popularly accepted, only to be proved wrong later. Yet, the inclination to go along with the crowd persists. [20] [Emphasis mine]

The third article closes with the assurance that if we rely on the Bible, and God, who is the author of the Bible, we will not fall under the sway of propagandists.

Personally, I found the articles both informative and helpful. But I also found myself shaking my head as I reread the information and realized that even Jehovah’s Witnesses are both victims and unaware propagandists, myself included. Follows is my closer examination and discussion of Understanding Jehovah’s Witnesses: Propaganda.

[1] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 3
[2] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 4

[3] ibid.

[4] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 5

[5] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 6

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Awake! June 22, 2000, pages 6, 8

[10] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 8

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 9

[15] ibid.

[16] ibid.

[17] ibid.

[18] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 10

[19] Awake! June 22, 2000, pages 10-11

[20] Awake! June 22, 2000, page 11

Copyright (C) 2002, Timothy B. Kline, Pathways Online
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