Modern Propaganda / Junk Science. etc.

Propaganda, deception, myth, junk science, can you distinguish the truth?

Notice the title carefully. It describes the subject. I will be using some examples of things that might fall into the categories above, but please remember that the examples are not the topic, the topic is about being deceived vs. discerning the truth.

We are bombarded with messages from television, newspapers, magazines, movies, radio, schools, the web. Even our friends share their opinions and beliefs with us. It is easy to accept what our loved ones tell us. Children are especially susceptible to believing what parents tell them. I believe this is God's design. He want children to learn from their parents, and He wants parents to teach their children. While the most important subject that a parent can teach a child is about a loving Creator/God and His plan for redemption, it is not the only thing. We who are parents, are responsible for training our children in ethics and life skills, and from my observation, I think many are doing a poor job. Of course, it is not easy, the same things I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, are bombarding our children as well.

This is not about parents and children though, it is about everyone, so let's look at some examples of challenges we face.

Example 1 - Emotional Manipulation in Media

Let's take global warming as one example. I am not here to debate the validity of either side in that debate, but I want to show one way that information is used to sway our opinions.

The image to the right has become very famous. It is used in magazine and articles on the web, documentaries etc. It depicts a polar bears on a small piece of ice. Often, the accompanying test or commentary will say something to the effect, that this polar bear is drifting out so sea on this little chunk of ice, because man made global warming is melting the polar ice caps.

Now, is global warming real? Maybe. Is it caused by man? It is possible we are contributing to it. But let's examine what the picture is, how it is used, and what it is said to be of.
Polar Bear threatened by global warming?

First off, you will notice that the photo I put here, has the iStockphoto watermark. iStock is the source of the picture, they are a stock photo agency that licenses buyers to use their pictures (without the watermark). If you were to go to the iStockphoto website, and locate this picture, you will find the text:

"A polar bear managed to get on one of the last ice floes floating in the Arctic sea. Due to global warming the natural environment of the polar bear in the Arctic has changed a lot. The Arctic sea has much less ice than it had some years ago."

Sometimes, that quotation accompanies the picture in articles. What you would also see at iphoto, is this:

"(This images (sic) is a Photoshop design. Polarbear (sic), ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now)"

In case you have not guessed, this last part is usually not quoted, maybe it never is.

So what do we have here? We have people knowingly using a contrived picture, and implying that this is one of the last ice floes, and somehow, this lucky polar managed to find it. This is designed to arouse your emotions, feel sorry for the polar bear, and generate real concern about this disappearing ice floes. This could be expected to work on children, but it has also seemed to work on adults.

Again, I am not debating global warming here, I am demonstrating manipulation. One might think that is is a good thing to do something like this, because it is an important cause which needs to be promoted. I say fine, if global warming is real, then sell it with facts. Will the people who use this kind of tactic bother to tell you that there are 5 times as many polar bears today as there were in 1950? I doubt it. Will the mention that DNA genome studies indicate that the polar bear has survived previous global warmings? Not likely. Do they mention that polar bears can swim 60 miles? Seldom. Do they mention that polar bears can live on land, without any ice? You get the idea. While the ice may be thinning, and the polar bear's normal habitat may be shrinking, they are manipulating information and images to manipulate your emotions. Resist emotional manipulation, recognize it when it is happening, and look deeper into things. Don't believe something, just because it tugs your heart strings, believe things because facts back them up. Remember, even people we trust, who would never lie to us, can also be deceived.

Example 2 - Email Urban Legends

I got an email one time, one of those chain emails that people forward to their friends. Fortunately, I do not have many friends, so i do not get these often. This one was talking about some woman who purchased a large potted cactus, and put it in her home as a decoration. Without going into all the details that builds the story up, the cactus later explodes from the pressure of growing baby tarantulas inside it, and the house is filled with the little critters. 

Now I read this, and had a huge laugh, because the story is so ridiculous. Where do I begin? Cactus are not house plants, they need sun. Tarantulas do not lay eggs in cactus. The babies, in order to grow, would have to have a food supply, they eat insects. If there were enough insects in the cactus to feed them, would not the cactus have already exploded from their volume? Cacti are not hollow, there is no place for all of this to even happen. Cacti are stronger that fragile spiders, if the pressure were that great, the spiders would have been squished. There are so many levels that point this out as an urban legend, but as obvious as it was so to me, apparently it was not obvious to the friend that forwarded it to me.

If you receive this sort of email, do a little research before passing it on. Think also, of what the consequences of passing it on might be. For example, there are often emails forwarded about some new way criminals have come up with to get their victims. I won't go into examples, and I would not forward these. Most of the time, they are not true. Some of the time, the tactics might even be clever. By forwarding these around, the will eventually fall into the hands of criminals, who believe it or not, also have friends with email. Why give them clever ways to victimize people?

There is one of these that surfaces once in a while about Madalyn Murry O'Hair, telling of here successful effort to remove Bible reading and prayer from schools, and her plans to get the Federal Communications Commission to ban the gospel from broadcasting. It urges Christians to petition the FCC. It also says that Madalyn is campaigning to remove Christmas songs and programs from public schools.

I have no problem with Christian activism. What saddens me, is that people just assume that these sorts of emails are true, after all, it was forwarded to them by a trusted friend, so they forward it to people that trust them. So, is there any truth to the claims in the email?

Ms. O'Hair never petitioned the FCC on the topic, nor does the FCC have the authority to ban religious programming. Those who know me, know that I believe that we need to be ever vigilant though, as the Federal government has had a track record of overstepping it's constitutional bounds. Never-the-less, petition number RM-2493, to which the email refers, had nothing to do with Ms. O'Hair and was not about banning religious broadcasting, it was about  preventing religious organizations from obtaining broadcasting licenses on channels reserved for educational purposes, and then using them for other purposes.

It was defeated in 1975, yet the FCC still is receiving petitions to stop Madalyn (who had nothing to do with it) from having her way. Now, if someone were to read this email, and then just look up Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the would discover that she went missing in  1995, and her remains were discovered in 2001, so you can rest assured that she is not a danger to your religious liberty. There is a newer version of this email floating around out there, that has president Obama as the villain.

Scare Tactics

Did you notice that in all the cases above, that those who were perpetuating this disinformation, did so one the basis of fear? You have heard all of the dire predictions of the result of global warming, the stripping of your religious rights, how scary would it be to have a house full of Tarantulas? If you read something, and it induces fear, that is a good time to take a deep breath and say "Wait, is this really true?" If you can get the fear out of it, you can more clearly think rationally, let fear grip you, and you will focus on the fear, and stop looking for the truth. Fear paralyzes, truth empowers. This tactic of employing fear is wide spread. We see it in politics - vote for us, because our opponents want to send your babies to war, and feed you parents dog food. I know, it sounds silly, but those have been used to mobilize opposition. For some reason, we are willing to believe our guys when they lie to us, and are ready to believe the worst of "the other guys". Don't fall for it, both sides lie and use fear in politics.

It is true in day to day advertising as well. If you have dandruff, bad breath, tooth decay, wrinkles, you will not be happy. If your laundry is not a white as can be, if your car doesn't get 40 miles to a gallon of gasoline, you will be ostracized or you are not a responsible world citizen.

Some of this stuff isn't even public advertising, some of it is just word of mouth rumor. Years ago, in a discussion on Worthychat, the topic of artificial sweeteners came up. One person contending that Aspartame (NutraSweet, and Equal) had formaldehyde in it, and could lead to cancer and brain tumors. Now, I am immediately skeptical of such claims, because our food an drug administration is fairly cautious, so cautious that you could make a valid case that thousands have died, as a result of being denied medications that could have saved their lives, because they have not passed the stringent FDA guidelines that allows release to the public. We sometime have to wait a decade or more, for the release of a drug in the U.S., that has been successfully employed in other countries. There is no way around this, we can either be cautious, and lose people, or we can be reckless, and lose people. My point is, that it is doubtful that the FDA would approve something, that it knew caused cancer and tumors.

I did not challenge the chatter's assertion that Aspartame contains formaldehyde, because I just did not know the the facts. I did however, look it up in the next few days. What did I discover? Aspartame does contain formaldehyde, well sort of. Under certain conditions of temperature, a small amount of formaldehyde can form in aspartame. How much? Let's put it this way. If you drank 500 cans of soda sweetened with aspartame, you would be ingesting about as much formaldehyde as is contained in a single orange.

A similar one, is that in some countries, they have all but ceased using sodium lauryl sulfate. What is that? It is the main ingredient in many if not most shampoos. It is rumored to cause cancer. Big surprise, most 'dangerous' things are using the cancer scare. It is said, that it is a powerful detergent, used to clean garage floors. Now, there is some truth to that. The properties that make for a good garage floor cleaner, would be that is is able to clean, dissolve oil and grease, be water soluble, and not be too dangerous. These are the same properties that we want in a shampoo, the ability to clean, break down grease and oil, and dissolve in water. Furthermore, since it is going down the drain, it cannot to too toxic, or we put the environment at risk. Bio-degradibility is what we need. This type of substance, is known as a biodegradable anionic surfactant. We usually refer to them as detergents. While there are others, they all do the same thing. Any ingredient that will clean your hair well, will also clean a garage floor. There are two types of people who will attempt to scare you about sodium lauryl sulfate - those who are ignorant, and those who willfully deceive in order to sell you an alternative. Use what you want, but don't be fooled by urban legend hype. How did this get started? The cancer scare and shampoo started in the early seventies, because shampoo contained nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are known carcinogens (cancer causing substances). What is odd though is that bacon contains nitrosamines, and we eat that. We were afraid to put nitrosamines in our hair, but not too afraid to eat them. Go figure.

There is one ingredient commonly used in industry, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands. It is commonly dumped into our oceans lake and streams, and there is some in every household. An analysis of your blood, would show it's presence. It is not only in the chemical solutions of cleaning products that we use, it is even used in food preparation and even as an ingredient in the food itself. This dangerous chemical compound, is Dihydrogen Monoxide. according to the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division :

Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydronium Hydroxide, or simply Hydric acid. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components of DHMO are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.

Petitions have circulated in the U.S., but to date, no legislation has been enacted to ban or curtail it's use. New Zealand, however, had been on the cutting edge of fighting DHMO. In 2001 a staffer in New Zealand Green Party MP Sue Kedgley's office responded to a request for support for a campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide by saying she was "absolutely supportive of the campaign to ban this toxic substance". In 2007 Jacqui Dean, New Zealand National Party MP, wrote a letter to Associate Minister of Health Jim Anderton asking "Does the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs have a view on the banning of this drug?"

 You have probably heard of this dangerous substance before. In the U.S., we usually refer to it as water. That is how normal, ordinary things, can become something to fear. Nothing said about water above, was untrue.

Of course, when there is a fear, it is an opportunity to sell the antidote - to sell hope. We fear cancer, so we will but things that offer us hope of prevention. I know someone who spent $500 on what amounts to a blender with colored LEDs. Supposedly, you put water in this, swirl it around, and you get hexagonal water, which prevents cancer. I wish you could see me roll my eyes.

However, just because there is no science to back up claims of health from certain practices and substances, doesn't mean they won't work. Look up the placebo effect sometime.

What is the point of all this? I'll bet you thought I would never come to that. The point is that we are easily and readily deceived.

Deception

What all of the above have in common is deception. Deception can be done to us, or we can be self deceived. The worst kind of deception by far, is religious deception. The are thousands of  religions and cults offering differing world views and ideas. Atheism and related dogma (like evolution as an example), while not properly religion, are practically religion, because they are based on faith and offer alternative thought to traditional religion. Let's be clear about one thing, if there are ten ideas which contradict each other, no more than one of them can be correct.

Some may question why I said religious deception is the worst kind. If it is true (and it is obviously true) that it is impossible for two or more contradictory statements to all be true, then we have to compare religious claims, and their implications. The bible tells us that mankind is too flawed to enter in to eternal life in Heaven, and that we need a savior to deliver us from the consequences of our sins. The Bible presents Jesus as that savior, and the only way that we may enter Heaven. That claim is either true, or it is false. If it is true, then we must follow that faith, or suffer eternal consequences. If it is false, then we should not go about being self deceived and deceiving others. This is of such vital importance, that we should spent to most effort possible, to arrive at what is true. To fail to do so is to risk eternal damnation for ourselves and for others. Nothing can possibly be more important.

Much of what I discussed above, involves what many call "junk science". I would like to propose, that there is also "junk religion". Junk religion, is similar to junk science and urban legends. It plays on fears, exploits false hopes, and like junk science, can be exposed with a little research and a willingness to yield to the fact, if we can get past our emotions. Some might argue that  playing on fears and emotions, offering false hope is exactly what religion does. That is true. Since it is true that no more than one religion can really be true (I am not talking about denominations, but truly different religions), then that means that all but perhaps one, is a junk religion, However, if there is one that is true, we need to find that one and avoid all others, and discourage others from getting involved in false hope with eternal consequences. we need to avoid all of them but one, if even one is true.

I am haunted by something Penn Gillette said:

"How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?" Pretty convicting words coming from an atheist. Whatever else you may think about Penn Gillette, I do believe truth is important to him. He just has not discovered it yet. Never-the-less this foul mouthed entertainer and skeptic, has done much to expose a lot of the junk science that is out there, one can only hope and pray that one day he will receive a blessing from God and use his sharp mind and investigative skills and apply them to the religious issue.

We as Christians, are aware that forces of deception exist, but being aware of them is not enough to be free of their effects. We need to be vigilant in our pursuit of the truth, ever on the guard for religious deception, even from within our own ranks, perhaps especially so. Dr. John Warrick Montgomery wrote an interesting book called "Damned through the Church", it is worth a read.

From within the ranks of those that call themselves Christians, we have seen doctrines emerge which appeal to our base instincts. The prosperity gospel, for example. Some have come to believe that God wants us all healthy, happy and rich. He wants us content in our circumnstances, but that does not mean that He wants our circumstances to cause our contentment.

As usual, I have not set about to write this blog, knowing exactly where I am going, so it should not surprise you to learn, that I do not know when and where to end. So, having grown weary of writing by now, I will leave you with the following verses to ponder:

2 Tim 2:15
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.
NASB

1 Tim 6:3-10
3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
NIV

2 Tim 4:3-6
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
NASB

1 Peter 3:14-18
14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
NASB

Be content!

Content in your circumstances photo from freakingnews.com

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