Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: propaganda

Useful idiots

Russian Communism always had a throng of loyal and vocal supporters in the Western World. These were progressively minded people who endorsed the social experiment being carried out in Russia and who were blind to the brutality of the regime and the fact that conditions were not improving for the common man. They wanted so badly to believe that they were witnessing the dawn of a new age for mankind that they blithely explained away all news reports of what was actually going on.

Vladimir Lenin is said to have called them “useful idiots.” There is no documentary evidence that he actually used that term. Well, he wouldn’t have wanted those people to hear what he really thought of them, would he? There is no doubt that he found those supporters useful and kept them supplied with idealistic propaganda and financial support.

Looking at the present day propaganda wars, I am bemused by the seeming affinity between secular humanism and Islam. Could it be that each group regards the other as useful idiots?

Secular humanist governments welcome Muslim immigrants and use them as an excuse to suppress public manifestations of Judaism and Christianity. They claim that they have no anti-Jewish or anti-Christian agenda, but it just won’t do to offend Muslims by open manifestations of the Jewish or Christian faiths.

It’s highly unlikely that Muslims ever anticipated such co-operation on the part of the authorities, but they are taking advantage of it to promote their own faith and to invite people to convert to Islam.

The ultimate goals of each group are totally antithetical to each other, but for the moment they are feeding off each other to marginalize their common enemies: Christians and Jews. Which brings me to the main question: Why are these two groups so hostile to Judaism and Christianity? I believe there are two reasons.

First, while it is probably quite true that most people in both groups just want to go about their lives in peace, the leading elements in both groups cannot settle for anything less than unreserved endorsement of their principles by the general public. For the secular humanists these would be free access to abortion and euthanasia, endorsement of the LGBT lifestyle, and the belief that the state is primarily responsible for all children. For Muslims, it is unacceptable that any hint of satire or criticism should ever be voiced about Muhammad or the Qur’an, or that anyone should speak of God as having a Son.

Second, the Jewish and Christian concept of sin is anathema to both groups. While there is some difference between Jewish and Christian concepts of sin, both religions hold that sin is primarily and most importantly against God, and will be punished by God. For secular humanists and Islam alike, sin is primarily wrongs people do to other people. People will be judged by the balance of good and evil they have done in life. Both groups seem to have serious doubts whether people who do not endorse their beliefs are fit to inhabit this planet.

Now suppose that secular humanism and Islam were able to work together long enough to banish Christianity and Judaism from one country. Then the glaring differences between their beliefs would lead to total war between them. Anyone caret to predict who would win?

I’m starting to get all apocalyptic here. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get to that point. I’m just trying to point out what is happening in our world, and why it is happening Appeasement won’t work. May we beware of the temptation to buy peace through becoming useful idiots for either group.

The real answer is to unleash the power of the Christian faith. Jesus said “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” This is a power that transcends all political and military power. It is a power that works quietly and powerfully within the hearts of people to transform their lives. At this moment there are Muslims all over the world who are turning to faith in Jesus without the intermediary of organized missions.

The right and wrong use of statistics

[This is an article I wrote a year ago for The Business Bulletin.]

A few weeks ago I went into a small town branch of the Royal Bank of Canada with a cheque received for some translation work. The cheque was in US dollars and I asked the teller to convert it to Canadian dollars, give me $80.00 in Canadian cash, $20.00 in US cash (to include in a card I was sending to someone in the US) and deposit the rest to my account. I received friendly and efficient service and left without thinking any complicated thoughts about what had transpired.

A survey firm called a few days later, asking me to rate different facets of that banking experience on a scale of one to ten. I told him I couldn’t do it. I do not look at other people as machines and mentally rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I suspect the bank intended to use the survey results for publicity purposes, informing the public of the great satisfaction rating of the Royal Bank of Canada. How can anyone trust such a poll when the respondents most likely just pick numbers out of the air so the questioner will let them get back to their work?

Sometimes it is important to consider what the statistics are actually measuring. Do statistics of traffic violations by province measure the driving habits of the population or the enforcement habits of the police? Statistics on charitable donations per capita show Saskatchewan near the top of the list and Quebec near the bottom. These stats come from the receipted donations claimed on income tax returns. Is it possible that Quebeckers are more generous in giving spontaneously without needing a receipt? Do statistics such as these shape our opinions of the people of each province?

I believe it was Mark Twain who stated that there were three kinds of lies: lies; d****d lies; and statistics. That being said, I am a strong believer in the usefulness of statistics — when dealing with inanimate objects that can be measured or counted. I took numerous courses in statistics in preparation for writing the Certified Quality Engineer exam. I worked for many years with the practical application of statistical analysis in a manufacturing setting and I am convinced that this is the most effective way of determining what is going on in an industrial process.

We first need to understand some basic principles. The sample to be measured must be chosen completely at random, there is a margin of error to be taken into account in each sample, and an average of one time out of twenty the sample will not be representative of the actual process. In a manufacturing setting, samples are taken at regular intervals. If one sample does not fall within the range established by preceding samples it may mean that the process has changed, or it may be the one time out of twenty when the sample was not truly representative of the process. The way to find out is to immediately take another sample. If this one falls within the limits established by earlier samples, it means the former sample was not representative. If measurement of the resample gives results close to the former sample it is time to sound the alarm, shut down the process and find out what has changed. Statistical methods have done wonders in tightening tolerances and reducing waste in industrial processes.

Statistical sampling of opinion is fraught with much more complexity. First off, you are dealing with opinions, which are subjective and not amenable to precise measurement. Secondly, it is hard to obtain a truly representative sample, many people might be unavailable or unwilling to participate. Thirdly, there is no way of telling if a one time poll falls on the side of the 19 times out of 20, or the 1 time out of 20. Fourthly, many polls are conducted with leading questions designed to elicit a certain type of response. Another complicating factor arises when a newspaper eliminates the no responses and no opinions and calculates a percentage using only the remaining responses. That can raise the margin of error into the stratosphere.

I could phone a few hundred people at random with the following question: “The beautiful flowers of Purple Loosestrife are no longer seen in Saskatchewan’s wetlands. Do you think this is due to: a) global warming; b) excessive use of pesticides; c) lack of pollination due to honey bee die back; or d) a dramatic increase in the number of Canada Geese?” Many people will have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that Purple Loosestrife was deliberately eradicated ten years ago as an invasive species and will pick one of the answers supplied. I might come up with a statistic saying that 50% of Canadians believe that Canada Geese are destroying Purple Loosestrife in Saskatchewan, but such a result would be rubbish.

Too many surveys are conducted along similar lines, giving a choice of preselected answers on sensitive subjects such as abortion and gay marriage. Then the results are fed back to us as proof of what the majority of Canadians think on this particular topic. The newspapers report the results of these surveys with a slant that indicates that those of us who think otherwise are quite out of step with the times, perhaps even hinting that we are dangerous to the public good.

Such carefully manipulated polls are voices of the zeitgeist, pressuring us to think in the approved manner of our time. We should take a step back and look at what is really behind these polls, so we can think soberly and realistically. May we never be ashamed to express those sober and realistic thoughts, they may be a breath of fresh air for someone trapped in the stifling atmosphere of the zeitgeist.

We are men and women. It should not be possible for a propaganda machine to adjust and fine tune our attitudes as if we were machines.

The importance of being weak

Maria Braun was arrested in 1966 for teaching a foreign ideology to young children in the Kirghiz Soviet Republic. She had organized classes for preschool and older children to teach about faith in Jesus Christ. Another lady was arrested with her and at their trial the judge sentenced the other lady to five years in prison, but gave Maria only three years because of her young age. Maria demanded the same sentence as her friend, declaring that she was able to bear it.

In prison, Maria continued to be a zealous witness of Jesus Christ — for three years. Then she suddenly declared that she had been rescued from faith in Jesus Christ and now believed in herself.

What happened? Some have blamed prison conditions and the relentless Soviet propaganda. Fellow believers saw that she had been faithful during the three years of her original sentence and believed that her pride had led her outside of the shelter of God’s protecting hand.

When we express a desire to be strong Christians, do we understand what we are asking for? Do we realize the danger of believing that we are strong Christians? “I could never do what so-and-so has done. My faith is strong, I have had so much good teaching, I could never fall like that.”

In saying this we step out from under God’s protective canopy and dare Satan to do his worst. He will, and we will fall.

The apostle Paul understood this. “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). He got the message when God told him that His strength was made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

We cannot do great things for God. Yet when we acknowledge our weakness, He is able to do surprising things through us. May we be humble enough to allow God to surprise us.

We are not machines

A week ago I went into a small town branch of the Royal Bank of Canada with a $500.00 cheque I had received for some translation work.  The cheque was in US dollars and I asked the teller to give me $80.00 in Canadian cash, $20.00 in US cash and deposit the rest in my account.  (The $20.00 US was to go with a sympathy card for a young sister who was returning home, having just received word of her father’s death.)  I received prompt, friendly and efficient service and left without thinking any complicated thoughts about what had just transpired.

Yesterday I had a call from a survey firm asking me to rate different facets of that banking experience on a scale of 1 to 10.  I told him I couldn’t do it.  I am not a machine, I don’t look at other people as machines and go about mentally rating their performance on a scale of 1 to 10.  That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

I believe it was Mark Twin who stated that there were three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies; and statistics.  That being said, I am a strong believer in the usefulness of statistics — when dealing with inanimate objects that can be measured or counted.  I took numerous courses in statistics in preparation for writing the Certified Quality Engineer exam.  I worked for many years with the practical application of statistical analysis in a manufacturing setting and I am convinced that this is the most effective way of determining what is going on in an industrial process.

We first need to understand some basic principles.  The sample to be measured must be chosen completely at random, there is a margin of error to be taken into account in each sample, and one time out of twenty the sample will not be representative of the actual process.  In a manufacturing setting, samples are taken at regular intervals.  If one sample does not fall within the range established by preceding samples it can mean that the process has changed, or it may be the one time out of twenty when the sample was not truly representative of the process.  The way to find out is to immediately take another sample.  If this one falls within the limits established by earlier samples it means the former sample was not representative.  If measurement of the re-sample gives results close to the former sample it is time to sound the alarm, shut down the process and find out what has changed.  Statistical methods have done wonders in tightening tolerances and reducing waste in industrial processes.

Statistical sampling of opinion is fraught with much more complexity.  First off, you are dealing with opinions, which are subjective and not amenable to precise measurement.  Secondly, it is hard to obtain a truly representative sample, many people might be unavailable or unwilling to participate.  Thirdly, there is no way of telling if a one time poll falls on the side of the 19 times out of 20, or the 1 time out of 20.  Fourthly, many polls are conducted with leading questions designed to elicit a certain type of response.

For instance, I am sure I could compile impressive looking survey results if I were to phone a few hundred people at random with the following question: “The beautiful flowers of Purple Loosestrife are no longer seen in Saskatchewan.  Is this due to: a) global warming; b) excessive herbicide use; c) lack of pollination due to honey bee die back; or 4) a dramatic increase in the number of Canada Geese?”  Many people will have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that Purple Loosestrife was deliberately eradicated ten years ago as an invasive species and will pick one of the answers supplied.

The results of such a survey would be rubbish.  Yet too many surveys are conducted along similar lines, giving a choice of pre-selected answers on sensitive subjects such as abortion and gay marriage.  Then the results are fed back to us as proof of what the majority of Canadians think on this particular topic.  The newspapers report the results of these surveys with a slant that indicates that those of us who think otherwise are quite out of step with the times, perhaps even hinting that we are dangerous to the public good.

Such carefully manipulated polls are voices of the zeitgeist,  pressuring us to think in the approved manner of our time.  Christians should be listening to a different voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit.  He will set us free to think soberly and realistically.  May we never be ashamed to express those sober and realistic thoughts, they may be a breath of fresh air for someone trapped in the stifling atmosphere of the zeitgeist.

We are men and women, not machines.  It should not be possible for a propaganda machine to adjust and fine tune our attitudes as if we were machines.

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