“Propaganda interdicts all witness to the Lord. The use of propaganda is contrary to the declaration of the gospel. Counter-propaganda cannot be used against the man who himself uses propaganda. The only way the church can take is that of silence. Silence and not dialogue!
“… There is a time for speech and a time for silence, says Ecclesiastes (3:7). We shall often have occasion to meditate on this.”
— Jacques Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man
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Noise is one of the biggest problems facing mankind today. And the most problematic thing about it is that no one thinks it’s a problem. On the contrary, modern people love noise. They seek it, embrace it, cultivate it, revel in it. Most of us seem to have forgotten how to live without it. Can you imagine sitting in a doctor’s waiting room for thirty minutes without muzak or driving two or three miles in your car without radio or phone? Even more terrifying is the thought of an entire evening spent alone without the incessant drone of the television. The world has indeed become a very noisy place.
What’s worse, all this noise isn’t just loud and noisy. It’s relentless and ubiquitous. It tolerates no margins and leaves no gaps. Like the tide upon the shore, it hammers and hammers without ceasing. It surrounds, assails, grabs, sticks, and pulls from every side. It’s there in the lonely watches of the night. It goes howling down the dark and echoing corridors of dreams. It neither slumbers nor sleeps. That’s partly because this noise is no longer merely audible. Madison Avenue, technology, and the electronic media have devised ways of producing visual, tactile, mental, emotional, and psychological noise as well.
This is a case of “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” There was a time when the Evening News came on at six o’ clock and left us in peace by six-thirty. Now it grinds away twenty-four hours a day. And that’s not all. Nowadays the TV set accounts for only the smallest fraction of a percentage point of our total noise factor. “Mobile devices” make it impossible (always with the voluntary consent of the user, of course) to escape all this “messaging.” Texts, tweets, and chats; Facebook posts, phone calls, and the constant pinging of ten thousand “apps;” billboards by the highway, pop-ups on the Internet, scraps of advertising crammed into every available crack and cranny of the material universe – all these things and more clog the inner and the outer spaces of heart and mind like unstoppable clouds of destroying locusts and infecting mosquitoes.
Under this perpetual bombardment there is barely a person left alive capable of thinking his or her own personal thoughts. Spiritual and intellectual freedom, in spite of the lip-service they receive, are mere relics of the past. From morning to night our consciousness is dominated without respite by the ideas, suggestions, and agendas of Somebody Else. There is only one way to describe such a state of affairs: we are all of us living under a regime of interminable propaganda.
This is yet another point at which the Pilgrim has to stand apart from the kosmos. In this he has no choice. He is driven to this course by his nagging awareness of the difference between the noise of the world and the distinctive music of the everlasting Word. He understands that, in order to catch this Word, one must pause and listen in silence. It is not to be found in the media vortex or the crashing sound and fury of world events. It comes like a whisper in the ear, spoken gently by a still small voice. Those who wish to receive it must learn how to elude the ever-present screens and speakers that line the walls of contemporary culture. They must shut out the violating yammer and babble that fill the airwaves, cloud the atmosphere, and hopelessly confuse the floundering brain.
But there is another sense in which the contemporary situation constitutes something of a conundrum for the Pilgrim. After all, he too is a man with a message: a message that sometimes begs to be shouted from the rooftops; a message for the saving of the world. Under the present circumstances, the temptation to jump on the bandwagon, avail himself of the advantages of mass communication, and blend the Word with which he has been entrusted with the general hubbub can be almost overwhelming. It is a temptation that must be resisted.
One cannot fight fire with fire. Neither is it possible to overcome noise with noise. To manipulate, finagle, or shove this message down the throats of needy men and women is to betray the One who is its source.
The message which the Pilgrim brings as he travels through this world is a message of deep meaning and quiet peace. As such, it can be communicated only from mouth to mouth and life to life.