Do Not Be a Victim of Propaganda!
“A fool will believe anything.”—PROVERBS 14:15, TODAY’S ENGLISH VERSION.
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. Often their real motives are not apparent. They sift the facts, exploiting the 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.
How can you protect yourself from the types of people that the Bible calls “profitless talkers” and “deceivers of the mind”? (Titus 1:10) 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. Here are some ways to do this.
Be selective: A completely open mind could be likened to a pipe that lets just anything flow through it—even sewage. No one wants a mind contaminated with poison. Solomon, a king and educator in ancient times, warned: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) So we need to be selective. We need to scrutinize whatever is presented to us, deciding what to accept and what to reject.
However, we do not want to be so narrow that we refuse to consider facts that can improve our thinking. How can we find the right balance? By adopting a standard with which to measure new information. Here a Christian has a source of great wisdom. He has the Bible as a sure guide for his thinking. On the one hand, his mind is open, that is, receptive to new information. He properly weighs such new information against the Bible standard and fits what is true into his pattern of thinking. On the other hand, his mind sees the danger of information that is entirely inconsistent with his Bible-based values.
Use discernment: Discernment is “acuteness of judgment.” It is “the power or faculty of the mind by which it distinguishes one thing from another.” A person with discernment perceives subtleties of ideas or things and has good judgment.
Using discernment, we will be able to recognize those who are merely using “smooth talk and complimentary speech” in order to “seduce the hearts of guileless ones.” (Romans 16:18) Discernment enables you to discard irrelevant information or misleading facts and distinguish the substance of a matter. But how can you discern when something is misleading?
Put information to the test: “Beloved ones,” said John, a first-century Christian teacher, “do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions.” (1 John 4:1) Some people today are like sponges; they soak up whatever they come across. It is all too easy to absorb whatever is around us.
But 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.
Ask questions: As we have seen, there are many today who would like to ‘delude us with persuasive arguments.’ (Colossians 2:4) Therefore, when we are presented with persuasive arguments, we should ask questions.
First, examine whether there is 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?’
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 this 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. The command given at Exodus 23:2 serves as a good principle: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.”
True Knowledge Versus Propaganda
Previously, it was mentioned that the Bible is a sure guide for clear thinking. Jehovah’s Witnesses unequivocally subscribe to Jesus’ statement to God: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) This is so because God, the Author of the Bible, is “the God of truth.”—Psalm 31:5.
Yes, in this age of sophisticated propaganda, we can confidently look to Jehovah’s Word as the source of truth. Ultimately this will protect us from those who want to ‘exploit us with counterfeit words.’—2 Peter 2:3.
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Discernment enables you to discard irrelevant or misleading information
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Test whatever you are reading or watching, to see if it is truthful
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Popular opinion is not always reliable
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We can confidently look to God’s Word as the source of truth