2016-09-15

About Vridar: On Politics, Religion and Propaganda

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by Neil Godfrey

If you are vain enough to think I am directing my posts about propaganda at you you are probably right. I am certainly revisiting my past and still preaching to myself.

Vridar was the fictional name Vardis Fisher use of the main character in his “autobiographical novel” The Orphans of Gethsemane. Vridar had been raised in a strict Mormon household and had to learn anew the fundamental lessons of life and love only after leaving that faith behind. I found myself identifying closely with Vridar in the novel.

Religion was only one part of what Vridar had to unlearn and come to understand. The same with me. My past experiences left me wondering how I could have been so completely wrong for so long about so many things in life.

As a significant part of my post graduate degree course in educational studies I found myself compelled (willingly) to investigate the difference between education and propaganda. The bizarre irony was that I remained true to my religious faith the entire time of my studies! How is such a double-bind possible? It makes no sense.

But it did happen and as I was breaking away in subsequent years from my faith I often thought back trying to identify how it happened.

I have also told before my disillusionment on leaving my faith cocoon only to find the same processes at work in others and the wider society that had, in concentrated form, led me into my “extremist” religion. The world was not immune. The same processes were all around me, everywhere. The difference being, fortunately, that in the wider world there is also more potential to exposure to opposing views, debate, and the processes that come together to radicalize some individuals are often (not always) in more diluted forms elsewhere.

Propaganda is a topic that is close to my own heart; it is a topic that opens one’s eyes to not only how the wider world works but also to how each of us works. I am no different from anyone else in that respect.

So let’s recap, and I am embracing here previous posts where I have set out a discussion of what Vridar is about:

Vridar is about attempting to understand religion, not simply bash and attack it.

It is about attempting to understand the origins of Christianity and other related faiths, especially the Bible, and is not on any crusade to undermine or attack them, either. Plenty of other sites do that quite effectively.

It is about trying to understand human nature, the way the world works, how our views are shaped, whether those views relate to religion, politics, human values.

It is about understanding anything else from time to time of special interest from history and science or wherever.

I am well aware many readers have left Vridar because of the non-religious topics, especially those relating to Islam and terrorism. That is sad, but inevitable. (Many mainstream religionists, both lay and scholar, have walked away, too.) I know that many people are not interested in exploring why the wider world “thinks” the way it does or how they have come to have the views they do. They are supremely confident that they understand all of these things very well. Just like I was confident that a post-graduate course exploring the nature of propaganda would not shake my faith, because I knew the sure grounds of my faith.

I have tried to make the most of the experiences that led to Vridar in the first place so that those earlier years could be somehow turned to something useful for anyone interested. I don’t claim to have definite answers, but I have learned some lessons and am very interested in learning and understanding, and sharing what I learn and come to understand here.

It is a shame that some readers are more interested in trolling, attacking, etc rather than discussing those things, but that’s how the world works.

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Neil Godfrey

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23 Comments

  • Beachbum
    2016-09-15 23:13:21 GMT+0000 - 23:13 | Permalink

    It’s not like religion is some overlay upon the essence of life, human history, or man’s inhumanity to man. It’s not a film or patina coaxed into existence by some unrelated and unaffected catalyst. It’s not like propaganda and its bastard brothers rhetorical ploys and sophistic manipulation is not the webbing tying religion to politics to governmental regulation and exploitation of the population. Religion is an integral part of a multifaceted system of coercion that turns humans into livestock: farmed animals, who, while feeling safe in a delusion that claims to protect them from an imaginary evil, are exploited for their energy and consumption.

    One of my favorite examples in this context is the New Testament. It is a bit of propaganda that effectively shut the door on the rebellious messianic Jews by fabricating a failed messiah who died in a long gone history and left only the message that the new covenant would demand that the remaining faithful turn the other cheek, endure servitude with a smile, and leave thoughts of revenge to their nonexistent deity during the life of some long gone generation. One can no more separate religion, politics, and the system controlling modern societies than one can separate disease, death, and biology. Oh, and by the way, two of my other favorite examples are the Qur’an and the Old Testament.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2016-09-16 00:55:25 GMT+0000 - 00:55 | Permalink

    More than once now someone has complained to me that Vridar has steered away from its original purpose or agenda of discussing biblical topics. As a corrective to that notion here is a list of the first eight posts on Vridar:

    #1 2006-11-20 Hezbollah not a terrorist organization

    #2 2006-11-20 In search of ancient Israel

    #3 2006-11-21 Jonestown: the power and the myth of Alan Jones / Chris
    Masters. (Allen & Unwin, 2006) Review

    #4 2006-11-21 The end of faith: religion, terror, and the future of
    reason / Sam Harris. (Norton, 2005) Review

    #5 2006-11-21 Australia’s blackest sporting moments: the top 100 /
    Stephen Hagan. (Ngalga Warralu, 2006) Review

    #6 2006-11-21 American theocracy: the peril and politics of radical
    religion, oil, and borrowed money in the 21st century / Kevin Phillips
    (Viking, 2006). Review

    #7 2006-11-21 The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical
    Christ? / Early Doherty. (Canadian Humanists, 1999). Review

    #8 2006-11-21 Facts about suicide terrorism

  • Hal
    2016-09-16 01:54:37 GMT+0000 - 01:54 | Permalink

    I find the range of subjects very much to my liking. It’s not as if the topics are hermetically sealed off from each other. If there is one over-arching theme in the variety, it is that propaganda appears in all of these areas and it is good to be aware of it.

  • les reed
    2016-09-16 03:39:43 GMT+0000 - 03:39 | Permalink

    Mate,
    it’s your blog and you can write about anything you want! My personal interest is in the evolution of the Jesus faith out of contemporary Judahist thought and the influence of the Hellenistic/Roman literary, religious and philosophical milieu in which it developed its own unique doctrinal orthodoxy. I am extraordinarily appreciative of your book reviews, analyses of contemporary and past scholarship and personal thoughts in this area. You don’t need to justify your interests. If a person values the quality of information they derive from reading just the items that interest themselves on your blog, then why they get huffy and decide to unsubscribe because of some other irrelevant (to them) comments you make is beyond me. A case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

    Les

  • Joe Formerly of BKLYN
    2016-09-16 10:48:27 GMT+0000 - 10:48 | Permalink

    There was a time (in college) that I worked as a referee in the low-grade basketball games that one group of dorm residents played against another. I was paid for it. I was totally focused on the game, getting the calls right, etc.

    After one game went by, a friend of mine — who was on the sidelines — asked me: “Didn’t you hear the names they were calling you on the sidelines?”

    Answer: No. I didn’t. I was focused. And maybe (even back then) had a bit of a hearing problem. I hadn’t heard a single insulting remark. Apparently, there were many! I was blind, fat, etc. And the onlookers were liberally using significant (very nasty) modifiers in front of each condemnation!

    If you blog regularly, you have to develop such blessed “selective deafness.” Ignore the comments. This goes for readers of blogs. Neil. I don’t read them, in any of the blogs I access. The only reason I’m down here today is your direct reference (“it is a shame….”) in the piece above.

    By the way: I continued to referee games after that one. And: I’m sure there were insults flying left and right in other games. I never heard them. There didn’t seem to be a point to listening for them: If I started slugging the people on the sidelines, (a) I’d probably get beat up (there were only 2 referees), and (b) the school’s athletic dept. would probably have stopped paying me.

  • junego
    2016-09-16 15:54:40 GMT+0000 - 15:54 | Permalink

    I’m sorry if others have left Vridar. I’m mostly interested in the causes of Christianity’s beginning and historical methods, but I read and enjoy (or at least learn from) every article you guys post. Sometimes from the comment section, too! Keep walking your own path.

  • Ken Browning
    2016-09-16 16:49:02 GMT+0000 - 16:49 | Permalink

    I am a former Pentecostal. Like you, I want to understand the wide range of mind/logic issues that led me into and out of that lifestyle. Thank you and please keep up the good work.

  • j f d'auria
    2016-09-16 16:52:07 GMT+0000 - 16:52 | Permalink

    A timely reminder of the ambit of Vridar…
    Tho I disagree , sometimes, with views at Vridar, many I agree with and it is telling that some feel they have to agree with everything in order to “follow” a blog.

  • Matt Cavanaugh
    2016-09-16 23:59:42 GMT+0000 - 23:59 | Permalink

    As a former marketing exec, I see this as a branding issue. You have two product lines: biblical studies/Jesus historicity; and everything else. You have two audiences (albeit with some overlap, but apparently not enough.)

    Create two distinct brands, two distribution channels. IOW, create two separate blogs.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-09-17 04:00:32 GMT+0000 - 04:00 | Permalink

      You are no doubt right and that would be the way to maximise readership of my bible content. I used to have two blogs, in fact, for that reason.

      But I have chosen otherwise because maximising readership for biblical content is not my agenda. Bible topics are not the most important interest in the world to me.

      Further, you also hint that there are three products here when you write “biblical studies/Jesus historicity” as a double. Vridar was welcomed in the field of biblioblogs and had prominent appeal there — repeatedly reaching the top 10 blogs each month — when the focus was on “biblical studies and everything else.” Even my “everything else” occasionally was singled out then for compliments.

      What broke the appeal of Vridar to that very large audience was the Jesus historicity product line. That led to the expulsion of Vridar from the biblioblogging community.

      Since then my perception has been that it is those attracted to my third product, Jesus historicity, who have often been the most offended by my other content. For some reason, perhaps coincidence, so many “mythicists” seem to be on the extreme far right politically and have come across as the most narrow-minded of all (even hostile) on issues outside their special interest.

      For better or worse, up until now at any rate, I have not felt comfortable with the idea of splitting up my products to maximise “sales” of any one of them. My income does not depend on it.

      • Matt Cavanaugh
        2016-09-18 04:30:38 GMT+0000 - 04:30 | Permalink

        I, for one, come here (quiet regularly) for the historicity discussion. I’ve dug into posts stretching back for years and am always fascinated. Were the content of Vridar to continue to shift to predominantly other topics, I know I would visit less often.

        The History Channel lost its original audience when it gradually became The Ancient Aliens Conspiracy Channel. There’s a local radio station that bills itself as “Today’s pop hits, without the hip-hop”. Because hip-hop might be popular, but it’s not Pop, and it was driving away loyal listeners.

        The beauty of blogs are, they promote the free exchange of myriad ideas and viewpoints. I do encourage you to opine on any and all topics on your mind. What sets Vridar apart from the crowd, however, is its historicity/mythicism research. IMO, what you folks are doing here is immensely important to mythicism, and often ground-breaking. Roger Parvus’s recent Simonian origin series, for example, was brilliant. However you choose to manage your blog, please don’t neglect your excellent & sorely needed work in this area.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-09-18 08:41:05 GMT+0000 - 08:41 | Permalink

          Appreciate the feedback. I cannot imagine biblical studies & religion will ever cease to be the dominant focus of Vridar. But I’m human and sometimes the need for a change does seduce me, especially given my doubts that the Bible and Jesus historicity are more important than anything else in this world.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2016-09-17 21:55:45 GMT+0000 - 21:55 | Permalink

      I have never thought of Vridar as a product. I think if it became a product, I would have to go somewhere else.

      Vridar, at least for me, is a labor of love, not a bottle of beer or a can of baked beans.

      • Matt Cavanaugh
        2016-09-18 04:06:01 GMT+0000 - 04:06 | Permalink

        product = content … not suggesting you all monetize this blog.

        • Tim Widowfield
          2016-09-18 23:42:25 GMT+0000 - 23:42 | Permalink

          I didn’t think you meant “monetize.”

  • Neil Godfrey
    2016-09-18 00:52:40 GMT+0000 - 00:52 | Permalink

    I do appreciate the supportive comments. They were certainly not expected. What hurts a little is not unknown people leaving the blog (they do that all the time and some of them I encourage to leave) but the occasional loss of a long-time friend.

    • Steve
      2016-09-18 19:43:12 GMT+0000 - 19:43 | Permalink

      “…especially given my doubts that the Bible and Jesus historicity are more important than anything else in this world.”

      You shouldn’t doubt it. These are important subjects. The Bible and Jesus are important to the American people. But if the people do not understand what they read, then what will be the fate of the nation, and the world?

      One can hardly divorce politics or propaganda from religion, because:

      2Co_11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

      Admittedly a “Manichean” view, but I can’t help but think that sometimes politicians and propagandists use religion as a means to the kingdom, and power, and glory of this world. And even when they don’t do that, nonetheless their understanding of religion is so naive as to put the nation and the world in danger.

      And that is a very important subject!

  • Zbykow
    2016-09-19 17:13:27 GMT+0000 - 17:13 | Permalink

    Topics related to Islam etc. are somewhat useful themselves.
    They demonstrate how difficult it is to find logical arguments in favour of Islam and religions in general.

    The thing is, mythicism, which makes sense for a change, appears in the same place.
    That’s an unfortunate association.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-09-20 05:17:15 GMT+0000 - 05:17 | Permalink

      What nonsense you keep spouting here.

      1. No one has been trying to argue “in favour of Islam” etc as you suggest.

      2. Most posts here are not about mythicism but that you like those posts suggests to me you are only interested in posts that tickle your prejudices.

      3. The posts on Islam, propaganda, terrorism are based on the same level and quality of research as are the posts on biblical topics. That is, they are all about getting to the original sources and adding respected scholarly analysis by specialists who as often as not are advisors to the leading counter-terrorism agencies in the world.

      But those posts run up against your prejudices and confront you with research analysis and evidence that you have no wish to know anything about — that fellow bigots like Harris and Coyne misrepresent clearly not having read any of it with any more comprehension than you have read anything here.

      • Zbykov
        2016-09-20 19:59:27 GMT+0000 - 19:59 | Permalink

        “No one has been trying to argue “in favour of Islam” etc as you suggest.”

        Are you trying to argue semantics again?
        You are defending Islam against arguments of New Atheists and the like, everybody can see for themselves.

        If you take your readers for fools, they might get the opposite impression.

        “Most posts here are not about mythicism but that you like those posts suggests to me you are only interested in posts that tickle your prejudices.”

        Interesting logic.
        Do you imagine all readers who like your posts about mythicism are prejudiced, or am I an exception?

        I support mythicism, and yes, I liked some of your posts on the topic, sorry about that.

        “The posts on Islam, propaganda, terrorism are based on the same level and quality of research as are the posts on biblical topics.”

        How many times I made myself clear I raise no objections to the quality of research, it’s your interpretations that are nonsense.
        We’ve yet to see you refer to a piece of research that would justify your attitude towards the critics of religion.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-09-21 01:12:14 GMT+0000 - 01:12 | Permalink

          We’ve yet to see you refer to a piece of research that would justify your attitude towards the critics of religion.

          You obviously have not read my posts with even minimal comprehension because I have simply been posting what the researchers themselves have to say in response to the ignorant bigotry of the assertions underlying the words of Coyne, Harris, Dawkins and their acolytes like yourself. You even forget that Coyne and Harris scoff at the same research without having even read it.

          I will no longer allow you to post any further responses unless you begin them with a clear demonstration that you have actually read and understood what you think you are kicking against.

          • Zbykov
            2016-09-23 19:08:52 GMT+0000 - 19:08 | Permalink

            So we’re to pretend we don’t realize,
            that the only reason you don’t expect me to reply in the same manner, calling you say, Atran’s fanboy, and that you want to be the only judge of mine and your own comprehension,
            is because it is you who’s holding the banhammer.
            No thanks.

            By the way, it was you who first turned my attention to Harris (what a fail).

            You might try to compare Atran’s narrative with the real thing now and then,
            random example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYSyoY4cRw4
            A rare occasion to hear what a suicide bomber has to say after the fact.

            The guy seems as brainwashed as it can get. Notice where he gets his ideas about matters of life and death, what life means to him, and what he believes comes after.
            There’s no place for the likes of him in Atran’s theory, he must be the only one of his kind, I suppose.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2016-09-23 22:27:11 GMT+0000 - 22:27 | Permalink

              Your supposed debunking of his arguments only demonstrates your own ignorance of Atran’s publications. Atran and others and I have addressed your supposed evidence many times. Harris and you remain blind to what is actually being argued and said. Your comments here have only demonstrated each time your failure to comprehend and tendency to mis-read others. It is pointless trying to hold a discussion with you unless and until you actually demonstrate that you do understand the arguments you are supposedly protesting against. You have said you refuse to sum up in your own words what you believe my own arguments to be, what it is you believe I am saying, ….. to do so would potentially change the entire direction of your comments.

              I have summed up your words and asked if I got it right. You do the same. Until then you are just shouting nonsense that only demonstrates your own ignorance of Atran and even the posts here that you claim to have read.

              By deliberately refusing to do that and instead swapping IPs to get around my threat to stop your posts until you do you are only proving yourself to be a troll.

              Hint: Of course religion is a primary rationale for Islamist terrorism. No-one — no-one — has said anything different. Atran himself has even said it is the motivator. Now go away and read what the real question is, what it is that the research and discussion is actually about, and what I actually write in my posts.

              Your replies have demonstrated repeatedly that you do have serious reading comprehension difficulties. You must have been aware of that since school days so I would suggest a little more humility on your part in making an effort to really understand the other party you are engaging with or taking up remedial classes.

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