OPINION: Religious propaganda is unethical


Megan Koch, Opinion Writer

Propaganda is a powerful and dangerous tool that has been used for millennia. From Uncle Sam encouraging us to vote to WWII Nazi propaganda, good or bad, it has historically been successful. The ethics of propaganda will forever be in question since it has the power to convince people who may not have been swayed on their own. These advertisements use the persuasive technique of partial truths or flat-out lies created to turn the public to a specific side. One of the most effective forms comes with a religious overtone.

Fear is an intense human emotion. When someone is gripped by fear they are more manipulatable by people that promise safety. Even one of our founding fathers, John Adams, wrote: “fear is the foundation of most governments.” Religion is not the same as a government but they are the most powerful when they work together. The separation of church and state is a relatively new concept that had its first appearance on Jan. 19, 1786. Although it has been addressed in many pieces of legislation throughout America’s history, it is easy to argue that the government and the Christian church hold each other’s hands. In fact, toward the end of Eisenhower’s presidency, staff would deny speaking engagements so his excessive religious references wouldn’t annoy the public.

There are more commonalities than differences when comparing religions. One thing they all touch on is death and the afterlife. This can be a touchy but unifying subject since it is likely we all experience the fear of death in some capacity. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “in this world, nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.” Since this is a universal feeling, it is a brilliant marketing strategy. If you were to sell something that would soothe the fear of heights, it would be a hit for that subgroup of people. Outside of that specific group it wouldn’t be a thought. Good examples offer a solution to a fear that is universal. Successful propaganda not only offers a solution but also intensifies fear. Religion in its entirety uses this to its advantage.

Jesus is probably the greatest CEO of all time considering he created a universally recognized product and has a following that will die in his name. If you were to take a deep dive into war propaganda, it is verifiable that both sides said they had God rooting for them. To take it one step further, the opposing side is typically painted as “godless” and inhuman. Even on a smaller scale, corrupt leadership has used the threat of God to sway people politically and financially. Words like liberal, socialist and progressive have all been labeled as “godless,” but who labeled them? Considering Jesus has been dead for 2,000 and some years, it is less than likely he understands this vocabulary well enough to make a stance. These accusatory words have been made up by powerful Christian individuals, not God.

Religion can be a beautiful thing filled with tradition and accountability. The problem is since its creation it has been used to control and dehumanize. There is no such thing as a religious group that doesn’t have blood on its hands. Heaven, nirvana, samsara, etc. exist to give people a piece of mind about the afterlife and to encourage them to live good and faithful lives. The fact that these beautiful places have been used to harm many innocent individuals should be embarrassing for the well-intentioned. The Bible, for example, has been used to justify slavery long before America even existed. During the middle ages, Catholicism used its iron grip on Europe to sell forgiveness and hold slaves. 

If corruption has been around for so long, why does it continue? As humanity has progressed so has our access to information. Before the internet, it took time for information to reach different populations, even propaganda had its limits. It was easier to keep people devoted but it also kept the ability to spread information to a select few. Today with the internet anyone can say whatever they want. This has been a great tool in giving people access to knowledge but it also gives anyone a platform to say whatever they want. The current fake news epidemic is the Walmart version of propaganda. Cheap, uneducated arguments are produced by people that need to read a book or something. Propaganda is no longer catchy slogans with cartoon characters, it’s aggressive and accusatory words and imagery meant to polarize different groups of people. One of the most commonly used threats today in America is the damnation to hell.

This is where things like the monstrosity on Sanford Mall come into play. This was a display of some of the most amateur and uneducated arguments. The problem is this is everywhere, people screaming outside of planned parenthood or pride parades with threats of eternal suffering. Seems dramatic. Not only are people soothing their anxieties about the afterlife, but they are also using this fear to harm the opposition. No religion can claim they are ethical when using similar propaganda tactics seen in WWII. If these tactics do work to convert a person then it is hard to believe they are there for the right reason. There is a difference between someone being a part of an organization out of love than out of fear. People are no longer trying to be good neighbors, they are just trying to guarantee a spot in heaven which sounds very unchristian. 

The big problem with these aggressive salesmen is that they are spending more time judging others than themselves. Corrupt politicians are running and winning on promises to “protect the constitution” and “keep God in the Senate.” What do these even mean? Considering these are the people taking away women’s bodily autonomy it’s easy to be curious if we are all reading the same constitution. They don’t care about the church, they just understand the historical tradition of using it to manipulate vulnerable people. It is highly unlikely that any of these guys can display a valid pro-life argument without name-dropping the Lord. 

The current Christian representatives are no better than the middle ages. The only difference is they have the media to spread misinformation further and quicker than ever before. This leaves us with the question: are these people well-intentioned or are they so deeply insecure they need to use fear to feel superior?