As an LDS missionary in eastern Ukraine, my attempts to distribute pamphlets about our church were often met with the dismissive rejoinder, “Eto propaganda.” That’s propaganda.
We’re all resistant to the idea of being manipulated by potentially-false information. We’re wary of those whose helpfulness seems to mask an ulterior motive. Because the world around us is swimming with information–some true, some partially-true, and some flat-out false–we tend to adopt a defensive position when someone or something challenges our personal worldview.
But how have we formed that worldview in the first place? Haven’t we been surrounded by propaganda from the beginning–in advertising, in news and entertainment, and in the biased perspectives of those around us? We can try to arrange the puzzle on our own or sift through the haystack in search of a needle, but who’s to say if the puzzle is accurate or if the needle is any more important than the hay? If we reach out to others, can we trust that their judgement is sound? Who knows what is ultimately worthy of our time and our moral devotion?
In world that fluctuates wildly in a social, political, and economic sense (country to country and even decade to decade), there is an unchanging standard by which we can measure all other truths. God is the source of that Truth, and He alone can reveal things as they actually are. The world that we see around us is not, in fact, “reality”–it is an imperfect place full of imperfect people grasping at fragments of truth. Establishing a personal connection with God brings these fragments together and grants us a glimpse of the whole. Rather than clouding judgement, the religious life facilitates connection with the Divine and paves the way to clear thought and eternal perspective.
Knowledge received in this way must be experienced before it can be fully understood. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There is only one thing in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men. In this case we have, so to speak, inside information.” In terms of our personal connection with God, then, we are the primary source. We are in the know. We have the facts because we are the facts.
When God communicates Truth directly to our spirits, there are no dangerous detours along the way, no filters of opinion or judgement. Spiritual knowledge flows, purely and simply, from Father to child, from the source to the receiver. Our physical senses may play tricks or fall short, but the spiritual spark within each of us can be fanned until it becomes a flame that illuminates Truth and leads us to something eternal. (Unfortunately, the spark can also be ignored until it sputters and extinguishes.)
Many people, regardless of “religiousness,” have unconsciously discovered these truths about Truth. They adhere to a code of ethics because the result of honest living is happiness and a sense of security. They follow the teachings in the Bible because doing so fosters love and unity among family and friends. They have discovered, through action, observation, and the resulting feelings, that applied truth works. I testify that the gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed in its fulness to the prophet Joseph Smith, works, and that truth is not merely understood as an accumulation of facts.
Madeleine L’Engle proposes the following exercise: “Close your eyes and think about the person you love most. Do you really see him visually? Or don’t you see him on a much deeper level? It’s lots easier to visualize people we don’t know very well.” A feeling, then, can be truer evidence of fact than that which we discern only with our physical senses. Sometimes the most insidious propaganda is the propaganda we feed ourselves.
C.S. Lewis points out that “The more I resist [Christ] and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘my wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts. Propoganda will be the real origin of what I regard as my own personal political ideals. I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe.”
One last point: In our search for truth amid propaganda, we must acknowledge that Truth (with a capital “T”) does, in fact, exist. We can’t grocery shop for those truths (lowercase “t”) that best fit our personality and current situation because Truth applies to all people and all circumstances. Truth is not always easily applied on a practical level, but it’s the only way to lasting happiness. As Joseph Smith searched for the church that seemed “most correct,” he discovered, to his surprise, that the one, absolute standard of Universal Truth had yet to be restored.
I testify that, through the prophet Joseph Smith, this standard has been restored. The Book of Mormon provides a powerful promise:
“. . .and when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God. . .if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:3-5)
The next time we’re seeking clarity, knowledge, or direction in life, I hope that we’ll close the computer and, instead of turning to Google, fall to our knees. What a blessing it is to be able to communicate directly with the source of all Truth: our loving Heavenly Father! The opportunity is real, and God is waiting patiently.
He lives, He loves us, and that’s no propaganda!