Is the Gospel propaganda? | America magazine
A Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we call them the “Imist” poets: Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, William Carlos Williams. They sought to abandon highly structured, rhymed, and rhetorical poetry in favor of direct description. A poet should write as we speak, using clear, crisp words to create images.
Notice how many lines Hilda Doolittle, the poet and novelist known as HD, uses to summon sand to the shore in her poem “Hermes of the Ways”:
The hard sand breaks,
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.
Far on the leagues of this one,
Playing on the wide shore,
Stack of small ridges,
And the big waves
Break on it.
The First World War swept away an unimaginable number of human lives as well as an incalculable potential. HD’s poetry was just beginning to find a reception in the journals when
on Tuesday August 4, 1914, HD left the British Museum to join the impatient crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace. “We want war! shouted a member of the crowd; another replied, “We don’t.” At ten past eleven, King George V appeared on the balcony, armed to reassure his subjects. Minutes earlier, following a Privy Council meeting at the palace, Churchill had telegramed the fleet with orders to begin hostilities.
In Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars (2020), Francesca Wade writes:
The Golden Age, as HD will see it later, came to an abrupt end; his new coterie was disbanded. The candor that imagists cherished was undermined by a slippery public discourse of rumor and propaganda, while HD’s memories of happiness in Europe were erased by images of trenches and mud. The official mantra remained “business as usual”, but HD and [her husband Richard] Aldington could no longer find payment for his literary work; novels and poems were encouraged to take on patriotic subjects, and journals disappeared or were incorporated into propaganda outlets.
Strictly speaking, anyone who spreads ideas, good or bad, is propaganda. Preaching is propaganda. Saint Paul wrote propaganda.
The Latin root of “propaganda” only means to multiply or reproduce, but the English term is generally pejorative, applied to false information that is purposely disseminated. Strictly speaking, anyone who spreads ideas, good or bad, is propaganda. Preaching is propaganda. Saint Paul wrote propaganda:
For if by the transgression of one many have died,
how much more the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for many (Rom 5:15).
The propaganda itself is not the problem. Ideas are meant to spread; good ideas are meant to triumph over bad ones in a fair fight. Wars, real and metaphorical, are never fought without propaganda.
The problem is that the propaganda seems to have spread too far. We used to know when a voice had a vested interest. One chose his preacher or chronicler accordingly. In contrast, education and journalism pursued pure facts. Was Walter Cronkite a Democrat or a Republican? You would have to search for it. It was not obvious on the evening news. It wasn’t meant to be.
Can we escape propaganda today? Or has everyone embraced his tilt? Look at your Facebook feed. If you don’t see your friends leaning one way or the other, could your information flow be superficial, already too selective?
We live in worlds fashioned from words: things we say, terms we use. And, of course, the things we don’t say, the terms we avoid. And the images created by our words have never had such a capacity to hurt.
I hear the whispers of many:
“Terror on all sides!
Denounce! denounce it!
All who were my friends
are on the lookout for any missteps on my part (Jer 20:10).
Modern media is another example of technology overriding morality. Speed ideas have now! But our assessment of them is still so shallow.
Yet Christ tells us:
Don’t be afraid.
Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed,
nor secrets that shall not be known (Mt 10:26).
Our Lord does more than pretend to speak the truth. He says he’s the truth, the only one who really matters. We can take refuge in his word, which is fruitful and just.
All those who recognize me before the others
I will recognize before my Heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me in front of others,
I will deny before my Heavenly Father (Mt 10:32-33).
Call it gospel propaganda if you will, but believing it, or not, makes all the difference in the world.