Part 2: Propaganda's Tools of the Trade

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

Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and then reading a series of articles such as this can cause a great deal of concern when reflections take place of one’s approach in the field ministry or the varied approaches in the literature to Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike. Writing a response to the articles seemed the logical thing for me to do, because it would then allow me to express myself to myself while making efforts to be objective about the information that I was either already familiar with or had just read in the article.

Since in the organization it is the policy of Witnesses to speak in agreement with one another, and thus in agreement with the Society’s leadership which issues any policies or doctrines, I feel confident in using cited information from the publications in making my points that are forthcoming. Out of respect for the time and effort spent by the writers of the organization, I will endeavor to give appropriate credit to the name of the publication used as well as page referred to, and publication date, if necessary. This will be done through the endnotes, in a fashion similar to the previous section.

Tackling the subject of propaganda by the Society may very well prove to be one of the most important discussions to take place, and is certainly being set upon by the opposers of the organization known worldwide as Jehovah’s Witnesses… for better or worse only time will reveal. My first impression as I read the articles was “Do they realize what they are saying? Do they realize that we Witnesses engage in the very things that they are writing about?”

I thought first of James’ words that are now quoted above, because it spoke so well of the individual who is faced with their reflection of reality, then steps away from the reality, forgetting what they saw, as if it was of no consequence. Of course, James was speaking about those that hear the Word of God, see what it is in themselves, but do nothing about it. But the verse is just as applicable to truth itself, since God’s Word is truth. So, to put it in simpler terms, if we are faced with a truth, and realize that we are not acting in accordance with that truth, but rather go off with the things we are more comfortable with or familiar with, then we are just like that man that peered, then went off and forgot, are we not?

So, as Witnesses, we have an obligation to not just stand and speak words such as are contained in the articles discussing propaganda, but actually take the time to look at ourselves as we say them, and decide if we have been just as guilty of propaganda as we view others to have been… and then take steps to correct the situation if we do come to that conclusion.

There will be no such suggestions as to what to do within this paper’s contents: that is up to the individual. As the magazine pointed out on page 9,

Education shows you how to think. Propaganda tells you what to think.

It would be improper and unchristian of me to tell anyone what they should do since we shall all be held accountable before Jehovah God for what we do. I am, therefore, only presenting the information, and my own feelings and views as they relate to me.

On page 6 of the magazine, one of the subheadings is titled “Playing on the Emotions.” There, we see the following statement made:

Even though feelings might be irrelevant when it comes to the factual claims or the logic of an argument, they play a crucial role in persuasion.[1]

One of the emotions found to be appealed to by “some propagandists” is pride. The article points out:

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.[2]

One of the most reliable tools available to Witnesses out in the field ministry is the publication titled Reasoning from the Scriptures. Contained therein is a plethora of information about Witnesses’ beliefs as well as something called “Introductions For Use in the Field Ministry.” These allow a Witness to persuade a person to listen to field point, and come highly recommended by the Society.

The following introductions show how some experienced Witnesses begin conversations. If the introductions you are now using seldom open the way for conversations, try some of these suggestions.[3]

Here are some that caught my eye, with the emphasis placed in conjunction with the “Playing on the Emotions” portion of the article:

We’re visiting our neighbors to find people who are deeply concerned…’’[4]

We’re speaking with people who are truly concerned…’’[5]

I was hoping to find someone like yourself who has an interest in spiritual things.’[6]

Then I’m sure you will appreciate the seriousness of…’[7]

Still, as the article brought out, fear is often the emotion appealed to when it comes to propaganda, and this appeal is quite evident in the literature. In fact, every year there are several issues of the Awake! and Watchtower which feature fearful situations on the cover, meant to grab immediate attention and play upon the emotion of fear.

While it’s clear that the Society publishes articles and publications that use the tool of “Playing on the Emotions,” I have to personally agree that sometimes that is the only way to grab the attention of people. Subjects such as abortion, nuclear warfare, and tobacco usage have themselves engaged in such methods, as have campaigns against drunk driving. In and of itself, this approach, while propagandistic in nature, does not make it negative.

To determine to what extent Jehovah’s Witnesses engage in propaganda, we must look further, using the three-part article as our guide.

Returning to page 6, we want to examine two subheadings together: “Lies, Lies!” and “Making Generalizations.”

The reason why we must examine these two tools together is because they are often so interwoven that it becomes difficult to differentiate the two. A generalization can be a lie in many cases, but is worded in such a way that it is difficult to see it for what it truly is.

There are too many instances of the usage of this two-fold method by the organization to discuss here. However, to demonstrate how it is used by the Society, we shall examine one particular instance here, and then another later.

The first is the Society’s consistent reference to all other Christian religions apart from Jehovah’s Witnesses as “Christendom.” This actually also comes under the tool “Name-Calling,” mentioned on page 6 of the Awake! Magazine, and possibly the “Slogans and Symbols” category on page 8.

To the Witness, Christendom is the most heinous of all organizations, next to Babylon the Great, which encompasses all other religions apart from Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to practice the only true religion. Through the use lies and generalizations, the term Christendom takes on a life of its own in the minds of Witnesses.

Mentioned by the writer in the article, Martin Luther made sweeping accusations of Jews in Europe in 1543, along with a “treatment plan” to resolve the problem. The Society today, too, makes similar sweeping accusations about Christians of other groups and religions through the use of generalizations that make no effort to differentiate between those groups that do engage in a doctrine called into question and those groups that do not promote such doctrine, leaving the listener or reader with the impression that all other groups besides Jehovah’s Witnesses teach such doctrines. Only those individuals with personal knowledge about any given group will identify the error.

One such generalization can be found in the publication Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989 edition, where this is a suggested conversation point on page 16:

Frankly, the churches are not making this world a safer place to live, are they?

Another, located on the next page (page 17) is offered:

That is one reason why we are calling--because the churches have not told people the truth about God and his wonderful purposes for mankind.

By use of the generalization “the churches” rather than “many churches” or “most churches” or “some churches,” the Witness thus implies that every other church has somehow failed in telling people about God and his wonderful purposes for mankind. But is this true, or do we have a case of “Lies, Lies!” and or “Making Generalizations”?

Calling it a successful tactic of propaganda, the magazine points out that

Generalizations tend to obscure important facts about the real issues in question, and they are frequently used to demean entire groups of people.[8]

It is beyond the scope of this discussion to evaluate each religion’s creeds and doctrines, but any local library will usually have a copy of Religions of America or any other work similar to that which can give a reliable overview of practices of other groups. In my personal experience, the actual groups targeted by such generalizations are the older religions such as Catholicism and Protestantism, and their varied sects. But I have also found that there are numerous groups which practice in nearly the same manner and hold to nearly the same beliefs as Witnesses, but since they are not mainstream religions, and thus people are not able to recognize them or are not otherwise aware of said groups, this generalization “the churches” does a great deal of harm to the actual truth of the situation.

In spite of this, however, the fact remains that through its use of generalizations which do not necessarily mirror the truth, the Society is able to promote propaganda to the masses outside the organization. And, as we shall soon see, the same is being done to the masses within the organization.

In closing Part Two of Propaganda, I want to return to the article we’ve been examining.

The final subheading, “Slogans and Symbols,” deserves to be more closely observed, for there, on page 8, we read the following:

For example, in times of national crisis or conflict, demagogues may use such slogans as “My country, right or wrong…” But do most people carefully analyze the real issues involved in the crisis or conflict? Or do they just accept what they are told?… such symbolisms as… the mother church are valuable tools in the hands of the shrewd persuader.[9]

It seems fair that we substitute Witness-specific terms into the statement above to keep the scales of justice balanced (the mirror mentioned at the outset). This is the result of our mirror, with the key changes noted in boldface type:

For example, in times of organizational crisis or conflict, the Faithful and Discreet Slave may use such slogans as “My organization, right or wrong…” But do most Witnesses carefully analyze the real issues involved in the crisis or conflict? Or do they just accept what they are told?… such symbolisms as… the mother organization are valuable tools in the hands of the shrewd persuader.

As I shall discuss in Part Three, such an approach is a dangerous one for the individual Witness within the organization, but there are ways to protect one’s self from propaganda, even from the Society.

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

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

[3] Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 9 (1989 edition)

[4] ibid, page 13

[5] ibid., page 13

[6] ibid., page 18

[7] ibid., page 19

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

[9] ibid., page 8

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