Thursday, May 18, 2006

Da Vinci Propaganda

Christianity is under an unprecedented assault from every direction. This weekend's launching of The Da Vinci Code movie is just one example. Harnessing the forces of the media has proven to be a most effective tool to change public opinion, and alter the faith of many people.

The evangelical response to this has been characteristic of the new way of doing Christianity -- the movie is seen as a new gimmick with which to market the neo-evangelical brand Christianity. Note the marketing language inherent in the following comments from Outreach Magazine:

"Although people may not buy into all of Brown's claims or believe the book's theories to be absolute truth, chances are they will examine their plausibility, especially in a world of postmodern thought where, for some, one reality is just as good as another." [emphases added]

Marketing and media are now seen as tools to "advance the kingdom." The dangers inherent in mass manipulations are no longer acknowledged. Rather the business/leadership gurus of neo-evangelicalism use these very techniques to change the beliefs and worldview of the people in the pews. A good example of this is found in the same Outreach Magazine article, referencing a quote by Brian McLaren of the Emergent Church, who sees this movie as the opportunity to deconstruct orthodoxy:

". . . Author and pastor Brian McLaren thinks that people's questions surrounding The Da Vinci Code offer clues to the Jesus people are searching for.

"'For all the flaws of Dan Brown's book, I think in some ways he's suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that's true,' says McLaren. 'I think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code is telling us that a lot of people don't find the image of Jesus that's portrayed by the dominant Christian voices genuine, so they're looking for some-thing that seems more real and authentic.'

"Mix this skepticism with Hollywood's power to create high-quality, believable films, and the movie is likely to pack quite a punch." [emphases added]

Truth or Propaganda?

An interesting quotation about the power of the media to manipulate public opinion can be found in an excerpt from Dr. Dennis Cuddy's Secret Records Revealed: The Men, The Money & The Methods Behind the New World Order (2nd ed., Hearthstone, 1999). In an entry for the year 1928, Dr. Cuddy explains that William Paley who began the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), hired "Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, as his chief advisor." Dr. Cuddy then quotes from a book entitled Propaganda authored by Bernays and published that same year:

"Those who manipulate the organized habits and opinions of the masses constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of the country. . . . It remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons. . . . It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world. . . . As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented." [emphases added]

Dr. Cuddy observed that:

"According to Bernays, politicians and businessmen should take "a survey of public desires and demands' in order to say, 'I must lead the people. Am I not their servant?'"

Comparing these statements to those of Brian McLaren above, it is clear that The DaVinci Code represents a powerful new media tool -- both within and without the evangelical church -- to create a more "real and authentic" Jesus. Will this be done through marketing tools, public opinion surveys and focus groups -- the same methods that are used to more effectively sell new brands of toothpaste? In many churches these same techniques are being used to generate "discussion" about the movie and its contents. For dumbed-down, purpose-ridden evangelicals starved for meat, these focus groups present a unique opportunity to re-manufacture and re-market new versions of Jesus and the Gospel. As the Outreach Magazine article observed, "The Da Vinci Code's popularity has already exposed a dearth of knowledge about Church history among regular churchgoers."

The Old Jesus

"At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Evan so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:25-30)