The Day the World Changed

The emergence of the modern propaganda campaign

On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists attack the United States. A small cadre of outspoken atheists use this crisis as an opportunity to promote the idea that all religion is inherently violent and that unless it is suppressed, it will kill us all. These new atheists hijack the old no-popery history, Whig history, and conflict myths of the past, changing them from their original intent (anti-Catholicism anti-dogmatic Christianity) to anti-theism. It is no longer just Catholicism, but all religions that promote ignorance, superstition, and violence. Now secular atheism is the promoter of enlightenment, progress, and peace.

Although the new atheistic enterprise uses no-popery myths to poison, disparage, and insult its opponents, it does so without proposing any substantive arguments. It proposes instead that all religion is ridiculous because it can be ridiculed. Ridiculing a position, however, is not the same as refuting it. Unfortunately, the collapse of religious instruction and catechesis had cleared the way for the remarkable success of this kind of propaganda, and, seemingly overnight, atheism and irreligion take a leap forward in credibility.

Bias Confirmation, Fake News, and Conspiracy Theories

The desire for bias confirmation makes people more susceptible to fake news and disinformation

When ridicule is substituted for refutation, a belief no longer stands on evidence. Rather, it constantly needs to be reinforced by emotional reaffirming content. This niche had already begun to be filled by the invention of infotainment in the 1980s, when “news” programs were designed to promote a one-sided viewpoint. The proliferation of these curated bias-confirming outlets created a market that looks similar to the ideal environment for Protestant church-shoppers, who seek out places of worship that agree with what they think Jesus taught. Now individuals pick what version of the news fits what they believe.

Social media, driven by bias-confirming content, further atomizes communities into factions, isolated by their own curated information silos or echo chambers. Discussions are reduced to slogans, cliches, name-calling, labels, and the promotion of an us versus them tribal mentality.

The desire for bias confirmation makes people more susceptible to fake news and disinformation: baseless stories designed to make the implausible appear plausible. It works along the same line as the propaganda technique of Hitler’s big lie:

The broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down. 

The Original “Fake News”

Fake news has been with us throughout history, beginning with the serpent’s lie in Genesis 3

Fake news offers an alternative explanation for the world around us. Even after it is debunked, it still “leaves traces behind it”—perhaps there may be an element of truth there!

We encountered fake news throughout history, beginning with the serpent’s lie in Genesis 3:

In the account of the first sin, the tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true. . . . After listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of fact, the woman was misled. . . . The tempter’s “deconstruction” then takes on an appearance of truth. 

The result is a proliferation of conspiracy theories, inside knowledge, and unverifiable assertions, claiming to enlighten us as to what really is going on. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is found in Catholic outlets along with secular ones.

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