By Annette Griffin, Crosswalk.com
The difference between a manipulator and a saboteur is that one is a conman and the other a hitman. Satan may use manipulative tactics, but his end game is always complete destruction. When it comes to media, Christian parents are usually diligent in monitoring the content we allow our children to view. But is it possible we’ve become lax in guarding our own hearts and minds against Satan’s schemes? Like the leaders of Issachar, we must make ourselves alert to the enemy’s tactics by “understanding the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
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Media’s Evolving Manipulation
Over thirty years ago American linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky, wrote about the manipulation strategies of the media. Instead of being outraged by Chomsky’s ten-point list, media hailed his assessment genius, and marketers have used his playbook ever since. Now, decades later, with free news and entertainment at our fingertips, Chomsky’s list seems like child’s play.
“Media manipulation exploits the difference between perception and reality,” says Ryan Holiday. And he should know; he’s a PR strategist for billion-dollar brands and bestselling authors. “My job was to use the media to make people do or think things they otherwise would not,” Holiday says in this Forbes article about media manipulation. Holiday has since written a best-selling book designed to expose media exploitation and the “people behind the curtain, pulling the puppet strings.”
Manipulation strategies have become big business in all industries. Behavioral science experts are hired by the media, the government, banks, department stores, pharmaceutical companies, etc. for the express purpose of predicting human behavioral patterns so that they can then “change behavior for a better world.”
The problem for Christians is this: we do not belong to this world. Nor should our behavior be determined by the puppet masters who desire to change it. Our Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and our Master is Christ Jesus, alone.
So how can Christians fight the fiery darts of the enemy launched at us through the media’s manipulation? We stand our ground, take up our armor, pray, and be on guard against the enemy’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-18).
To expose just a few of those schemes, here are four subtle ways Satan uses media to sabotage our spiritual walk:
1. Calling Good Evil and Evil Good
Remember the good ole days when superhero movies were full of good guys and bad guys, and we could easily spot the difference? Those days are fading fast, along with the line between good and evil. Even more disturbing is the fact that with the rise of origin story-themed movies, not only are moral lines being blurred, but the roles of hero and villain are being reversed.
You can’t help feeling sorry for poor Cruella, featured in Disney’s movie with the same name. Her childhood suffering and charming tenacity surely must earn the infamous dalmatian lover/hater the right to kill, steal, and destroy. Shouldn’t they? This is the subtle message being perpetuated through countless movies that are now painting classic villains in a sympathetic light, by spinning the tale of their tragic upbringing.
This seemingly innocuous form of entertainment is anything but. Satan first exercised this scheme, to flip-flop humanity’s perception of good and evil, when he met with Eve in the Garden of Eden. And he has repeatedly used the tactic throughout history. Adolph Hitler verbalized Satan’s favorite ploy when he said, “By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.”
Every time Christians watch a movie, television show, or video clip and find themselves inadvertently rooting for evil, you can be sure the content of that programming is working Satan’s age-old purposes into their subconscious. It seems the only thing that’s changed in our media-driven era is that Satan is no longer forced to masquerade as an angel of light to manipulate our ideals—a villain will do just fine.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)
2. Feel-Good Memes with Real Bad Theology
An internet meme is an image or video that conveys a brief message and is then shared through social media platforms. Most memes today are humorous, but some are motivational or poignant in nature. Whether they make us laugh, cringe, or cry, these little messages pack a powerful punch of persuasion, because they accommodate our short attention span and penetrate our thoughts through emotional stimulation.
Ideas like, “follow your heart,” and “love your life,” seem uplifting and encouraging at face value, especially if the sentiment is set to music, posted with love, and packaged in an appealing array of colors and adorable images. Who could ever find these positive messages offensive? There is One who does, and His truth exposes these beautifully wrapped ideas for what they really are—deception.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)
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3. Laughter as a Hallucinogenic Drug
Ever wonder why so many advertisements and television shows are humor-based? Laughter is a secret weapon when it comes to drawing in a target audience and disarming their preconceived notions.
Centuries after the writer of Proverbs 17:22 branded a “cheerful heart” as “good medicine,” science discovered that laughter delivers more than an over-the-counter dose of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins to the brain’s emotional reward center.
Matt Abrahams, professor of communication at Stanford Graduate School of Business, puts it this way, “Humor is like a Swiss army knife. It allows you to connect with your audience, diffuse tension, elevate status, and compel others to your point of view.”
Because humor has the ability to relieve tension and elevate happy hormones, it works like a powerful conduit between the ideas of the comedian and the ideals of the audience. This is why more and more politically-based programming is being aired in comedic format.
The media’s goal to sway political opinion through humor is not farfetched, considering they have already seen huge success from their efforts to change social norms through sitcoms.
“The situational comedy — the not-so-humble sitcom — has long acted as a bullhorn for social mores and a pop-cultural measuring stick for social movements,” says Tamy Burnett, assistant director of UNL’s Honors Program, and instructor in women’s and gender studies.
History attests to the staggering role sitcoms have played in social change. Traditional gender roles are now perceived as toxic, misguided, or irrelevant after years of comedy tropes that cast men as bumbling idiots and women as their saviors. The fear of God has been replaced with self-empowerment; the value of virtue replaced with enlightened sexual expression, and society’s idea of traditional marriage has become the biggest joke of all.
But here’s the thing: as destructive as sitcoms have been to Godly values, they are like a child’s July 4th sparkler compared to the atom bomb of social media. Countless internet platforms and social apps exist for the sole purpose of providing a quick laugh. These modern, mini sitcoms-on-steroids can administer a dose of humorous deception in less than a minute. And research indicates that the average American spends 145 minutes on these platforms, daily.
Should Christians laugh and have a good time? Absolutely. Is it okay for believers to tell jokes and watch funny programs and video clips? Of course. But if we’re watching and posting things that are contrary to God’s ways and truth because we think we’re immune to the enemy’s schemes—we’re deceiving ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Joy is a gift from the Lord. True delight can only be found in Him. Everything else that tries to take His place in our lives is a sham—a temporary fix for an eternal issue. Satan uses crude, cheap laughs to artificially appease our longing for true joy. When our defenses are down, He then takes advantage of our stupor to supplant God’s truth with falsehood.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 4:3-4)
4. Lighthouses Turned to Laundromats
Most Christians have been there. I know I have. You had a run-in with a rude customer service agent, a friend or family member treats you unfairly, someone in the church disappoints you, or you suffer injustice at the hand of an employer or agency. You try to pray about the issue, but still—your frustration reaches a boiling point, and you just have to… spew.
Social media provides the perfect platform for commiseration. Thanks to privacy settings, we feel safe to tell it like it is, within the confines of our friend groups. We pride ourselves in the exercise of transparent candor and relish the likes and comments that follow our pithy, one-sided rants against the ills of society. And that’s okay because, “my wall, my post,” right?
With every notification ding, we begin to feel better about life. We’re relieved to no longer bear our angst alone. But then—uh-oh! Did so-and-so really have the audacity to hijack our tirade and cash in their own two cents on our post?
Like ravenous vultures, friends and frenemies claw their way out of the virtual woodwork and begin to circle each other as prey. We had no idea half of them were listening until the war of the words began. Our original grievance is lost in the bloodbath, but even more devastating—our Godly witness is forfeited in the throes of battle.
Christ gave us His light so that it could shine through us and draw the world to Him. Our dirty laundry not only acts as a bushel for that light, but airing our dirty laundry online plays into Satan’s scheme to divide and conquer. According to a recent poll, sixty-four percent of Americans believe social media does more to divide than unite us, despite the claims of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
Zuckerberg insists that “By giving people the power to share, we're making the world more transparent.” He also predicts the emergence of a future “metaverse,” a virtual universe, where all peoples will socialize, work, and play in communal bliss.
Zuckerberg’s dream of a virtual universe may very well become reality. But as for the children of God, our universe and our community have already been founded by Jesus, and “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
How Then Shall We Live?
The purpose of this article is not to call a ban on all media, but to expose some of the dangers that threaten our daily Christian walk and witness. But praise God, it’s true; media has been used and still can be used by God as a powerful platform to spread His truth. My hope is that by diligently seeking Him about our media choices, and not being ignorant of Satan’s schemes, we can walk in this world as children of the light.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8)
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