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  • Michelle Halliwell

Religion and the Propaganda of the Secular State

The greatest challenge that the atheist can make against any church is that the message of Jesus Christ as taught by contemporary religious organizations is a dying mythology. In Jospeh Campbell’s landmark work, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, he wrote:

The universal triumph of the secular state has throne all religious organizations into such a definite secondary and finally ineffectual position that religious pantomime today is hardly more than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, while business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week.

Recently, the politics of the secular state have made significant progress in further subordinating religion. Both Catholic and Protestant clergymen have sided with the right wing to such a degree that Christian and Conservative are coterminous. The issue that led to this has been procreative rights. Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, I heard multiple homilies from various priests asserting that because we are pro life, it is my spiritual duty to vote for Donald J. Trump.

Immediately, I wondered how my spiritual duty could be to vote for any political candidate, because agreeing with Jesus on a single issue; no matter how important that issue may be, does not purchase my spiritual duty as a Catholic. That election made it clear that at least some in the Church were subordinating Christ’s message to a “definitely secondary and finally ineffectual position”. The gospel of patriotism and business ethics of Monday through Saturday have now usurped the homilies of Sunday, for nothing stands for patriotism and business ethics more than the right wing.

Yet the principles of politics and religion often do not harmonize. For example, as a pro life activist, the hardest pro choice argument to address is when the left says that the right is not consistently pro life. Here is the usual accusation. “You only care about the baby until it is born; then once it is, you’ll cut its food stamps and starve it, given half the chance.” That isn’t true of me and may not be true of you but we have to admit that the right wing has a business ethic that seeks to eliminate the welfare queen to force everyone to work, often rendering single mothers unfortunate victims. How do you argue with that without losing many of your conservative friends?

So I have realized that subordinating the principles of my faith to the principles of partisan politics often makes a mockery of my faith. In this case, doing so would change me from ‘pro life’ to ‘sometimes pro life’. Now can you imagine what a political party might stand for if it truly adopted the idea that we are all created in the image of God? If my priest cannot find a leader who truly believes that, he should refrain from leveraging my spiritual duty to coerce a vote for the lesser man.

The most flagrant propagandists in the world are the members of the Chinese Communist State media (CCTV). Here is how a prominent editor of their prime times news show explains propaganda. Propaganda is using the truth to support your perspective (regardless of its veracity). Here is his example.

The Chinese want the basketball player Yao Ming to succeed, so here’s a game we covered. Yao took 25 shots and only made 4 of them, causing his team to lose by 30 points. Our segment on this train wreck of a game showed every shot he made, never mentioned his missed shots, and completely ignored the final score because we wanted to report how Yao was showcasing his talent to make China proud.

If you had watched that game, you would have drawn a vastly different conclusion than those who had watched the CCTV news segment. That is how propaganda is powerful. It can utilize facts and appearances to mislead you to adopt a point of view that you would never agree with if you understood the whole story.

What if your clergymen were doing the same thing under your church’s good name? When it comes to living up to the teachings of Jesus Christ, our politicians are missing many more shots than they are making. Any homily or sermon that promotes a political candidate who does not truly live up to Christian standards is not being more honest than communist propagandists. They are, actually, transforming your Christianity into propaganda to benefit the secular state.

If our churches continue to behave this way, they deserve to be relegated to Sunday mornings only. As long as religion subordinates itself to politics, churches will merely wax and wane as politics allows. If religion prostitutes itself to the role of political propagandist, it may die the slow death of a mythology that is being eclipsed by the passing of time.

There is an alternative, of course. Instead of subordinating Christianity to business ethics and patriotism, we could subordinate business ethics and patriotism to Christianity. To do so would mean to assert that the truths of Jesus Christ transcend Sunday mornings. It is to teach that Christ is our Savior on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as well. From where we are now, that will prove to be a steep climb, a glorious journey to an undiscovered country, but I know the first step. Stop being pundits and open up your Bibles to reread all of the red words.

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©2019 by Michelle Halliwell