Who Molds Your Thinking?
“NO ONE tells me what to think! And no one tells me what to do!” Saying that so emphatically usually means that you have great confidence in yourself and in your own judgment. Is that how you feel? Understandably, no one else should make up your mind for you. But is it wise to reject so quickly what might turn out to be good advice? Can no one at all ever help you to make wise decisions? Anyway, can you really be sure that someone is not, in fact, molding your thinking, without your even being aware of it?
Prior to the second world war, for example, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, took control of Germany’s film industry. Why? Because he realized that this would give him an extremely powerful weapon with which he could “influence people’s beliefs and hence their behaviour.” (Propaganda and the German Cinema 1933-1945) You are probably aware of the chilling effectiveness with which he used this and other means to manipulate ordinary people—normal, rational people—to follow Nazi philosophy blindly.
The fact is that how you think, and hence how you act, is always influenced in some way by the feelings and views of those to whom you listen. This need not be a bad thing, of course. If these are people who have your interests at heart—like teachers, friends, or parents—then you will get great benefit from their counsel and advice. But if they are people who have only their own interests at heart and who are themselves misled or corrupted in their thinking, “deceivers of the mind,” as the apostle Paul described them, then beware!—Titus 1:10; Deuteronomy 13:6-8.
Thus, do not become complacent and think that no one could ever influence you. (Compare 1 Corinthians 10:12.) Most likely it is already happening—more frequently than you might care to admit—without your even noticing. Take the simple example of what product you decide to buy when you go shopping. Is that always a purely personal, rational decision? Or do other people, often unseen, subtly but powerfully affect your choice? Investigative journalist Eric Clark thinks they do. “The more we are bombarded by advertising,” he says, “the less we notice, and yet, almost certainly, the more we are affected.” He also reports that when people are asked how effective they feel advertising is, “most agree that it works, but not on them.” People tend to feel that everyone else is vulnerable, but they are not. “Alone, it seems, they are immune.”—The Want Makers.
Squeezed Into Satan’s Mold?
Whether you are influenced by everyday advertising may not have serious consequences. There is another influence, however, that is much more dangerous. The Bible clearly shows that Satan is the master manipulator. (Revelation 12:9) His philosophy is basically the same as the thinking of one advertising agent who said that there are two ways to influence customers—“by seducing them or by conditioning them.” If propagandists and advertisers can use such subtle techniques to mold your thinking, how much more skilled Satan must be at using similar tactics!—John 8:44.
The apostle Paul knew this. He feared that some of his fellow Christians might let their guard down and become victims of Satan’s deceit. He wrote: “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) Take that warning seriously. Otherwise you may be like those people who believe that propaganda and conditioning do work—“but not on them.” The fact that satanic propaganda does work is clearly seen all around us in the brutality, depravity, and hypocrisy that characterize this generation.
Paul, therefore, begged his fellow Christians to “quit being fashioned after this system of things.” (Romans 12:2) One Bible translator paraphrased Paul’s words this way: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” (Romans 12:2, Phillips) Satan will try anything to force you into his mold, like the potter of old who forced the clay into an open mold to pick up the markings and characteristics he wanted to impress on it. Satan has the world’s politics, commerce, religion, and entertainment geared up to do that. Just how pervasive is his influence? It is as widespread as it was in the apostle John’s day. “The whole world,” John said, “is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4.) If you have any doubts about Satan’s ability to seduce people and corrupt their thinking, remember how effectively he did this to a whole nation of people, Israel, who were dedicated to God. (1 Corinthians 10:6-12) Might the same thing happen to you? It could if you leave your mind open to Satan’s seductive influence.
Know What Is Going On
In the main, such insidious forces will influence your thinking only if you let them. In his book The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard made this point: “We still have a strong defence available against such [hidden] persuaders: we can choose not to be persuaded. In virtually all situations we still have the choice, and we cannot be too seriously manipulated if we know what is going on.” That is also true of propaganda and deceit.
Of course, to “know what is going on,” you must keep your mind open and receptive to good influences. A healthy mind, just as a healthy body, needs to be well nourished if it is going to function properly. (Proverbs 5:1, 2) Lack of information can be just as lethal as misinformation. So while it is true that you need to protect your mind from misleading ideas and philosophies, try not to develop a jaundiced and cynical view of all advice or information offered to you.—1 John 4:1.
Honest persuasion is not the same thing as hidden propaganda. The apostle Paul certainly did warn the young man Timothy to be on the lookout for “wicked men and impostors [who] will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.” But Paul added: “You, however, continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them.” (2 Timothy 3:13, 14) Since everything you take into your mind will influence you to some degree, the key is ‘knowing from what persons you learn things,’ to be sure that they are people who have your best interests at heart, not their own.
The choice is yours. You can choose to be “fashioned after this system of things” by letting this world’s philosophies and value systems govern your thinking. (Romans 12:2) But this world does not have your interests at heart. “Look out,” therefore, warns the apostle Paul, “perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.” (Colossians 2:8) Being squeezed into Satan’s mold in this way, or being ‘carried off as his prey,’ takes no effort. It is like passive smoke. You can be affected simply by breathing the polluted air.
Alternatively, you can avoid breathing that “air.” (Ephesians 2:2) Instead, follow Paul’s advice: “Be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) This does take effort. (Proverbs 2:1-5) Remember, Jehovah is no manipulator. He makes all the needed information available, but to benefit from it, you must listen to it and let it affect your thinking. (Isaiah 30:20, 21; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) You must be willing to fill your mind with the truth contained in “the holy writings,” God’s inspired Word, the Bible.—2 Timothy 3:15-17.
Respond to Jehovah’s Molding
The need for a willing, obedient response on your part if you are to benefit from Jehovah’s molding influence was powerfully illustrated when Jehovah told the prophet Jeremiah to visit the workshop of a potter. Jeremiah saw the potter change his mind about what to do with one vessel when the product he was trying to make “was spoiled by the potter’s hand.” Jehovah then said: “Am I not able to do just like this potter to you people, O house of Israel? . . . Look! As the clay in the hand of the potter, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:1-6) Did that mean that people in Israel were just like lumps of lifeless clay in Jehovah’s hands for him to mold arbitrarily into one kind of vessel or another?
Jehovah never uses his almighty power to make people do things against their will; nor is he responsible for defective products, as might be the case with a human potter. (Deuteronomy 32:4) Defects develop when those whom Jehovah tries to mold in a positive way resist his direction. That is one huge difference between you and a lifeless lump of clay. You have free will. Exercising it, you can choose to respond to Jehovah’s molding influence or deliberately reject it.
What a sobering lesson! How much better to listen to Jehovah’s voice instead of arrogantly asserting, “No one tells me what to do”! We all need Jehovah’s guiding influence. (John 17:3) Be like the psalmist David, who prayed: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths.” (Psalm 25:4) Remember what King Solomon said: “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction.” (Proverbs 1:5) Will you listen? If you do, then “thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you.”—Proverbs 2:11.