Jacques Ellul Quotes
“Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.”
“Enclosed within his artificial creation, man finds that there is "no exit"; that he cannot pierce the shell of technology again to find the ancient milieu to which he was adapted for hundreds of thousands of years. . . . In our cities there is no more day or night or heat or cold. But there is overpopulation, thralldom to press and television, total absence of purpose. All men are constrained by means external to them to ends equally external. The further the technical mechanism develops that allows us to escape natural necessity, the more we are subjected to artificial technical necessities.”
“We must be convinced that there are no such things as 'Christian principles.' There is the Person of Christ, who is the principle of everything. But if we wish to be faithful to Him, we cannot dream of reducing Christianity to it certain number of principles (though this is often done), the consequences of which can be logically deduced. This tendency to transform the work of the Living God into a philosophical doctrine is the constant temptation of theologians, and also of the faithful, and their greatest disloyalty when they transform the action of the Spirit which brings forth fruit in themselves into an ethic, a new law, into 'principles' which only have to be 'applied.”
“To the extent that propaganda is based on current news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. A man caught up in the news must remain on the surface of the event; be is carried along in the current, and can at no time take a respite to judge and appreciate; he can never stop to reflect. There is never any awareness -- of himself, of his condition, of his society -- for the man who lives by current events. Such a man never stops to investigate any one point, any more than he will tie together a series of news events. We already have mentioned man's inability to consider several facts or events simultaneously and to make a synthesis of them in order to face or to oppose them. One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones. Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but be does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man's capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandist, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks. Moreover, there is a spontaneous defensive reaction in the individual against an excess of information and -- to the extent that he clings (unconsciously) to the unity of his own person -- against inconsistencies. The best defense here is to forget the preceding event. In so doing, man denies his own continuity; to the same extent that he lives on the surface of events and makes today's events his life by obliterating yesterday's news, he refuses to see the contradictions in his own life and condemns himself to a life of successive moments, discontinuous and fragmented.
This situation makes the "current-events man" a ready target for propaganda. Indeed, such a man is highly sensitive to the influence of present-day currents; lacking landmarks, he follows all currents. He is unstable because he runs after what happened today; he relates to the event, and therefore cannot resist any impulse coming from that event. Because he is immersed in current affairs, this man has a psychological weakness that puts him at the mercy of the propagandist. No confrontation ever occurs between the event and the truth; no relationship ever exists between the event and the person. Real information never concerns such a person. What could be more striking, more distressing, more decisive than the splitting of the atom, apart from the bomb itself? And yet this great development is kept in the background, behind the fleeting and spectacular result of some catastrophe or sports event because that is the superficial news the average man wants. Propaganda addresses itself to that man; like him, it can relate only to the most superficial aspect of a spectacular event, which alone can interest man and lead him to make a certain decision or adopt a certain attitude.
But here we must make an important qualification. The news event may be a real fact, existing objectively, or it may be only an item of information, the dissemination of a supposed fact. What makes it news is its dissemination, not its objective reality.”
“Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man's very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. He must adapt himself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which he was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. He was made to eat when he was hungry and to sleep when he was sleepy; instead, he obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. He was created with a certain essential unity, and he is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.”
“To be effective, propaganda must constantly short-circuit all thought and decision. It must operate on the individual at the level of the unconscious. He must not know that he is being shaped by outside forces...but some central core in him must be reached in order to release the mechanism in the unconscious which will provide the appropriate - and expected - action.”
“If man--if each one of us--abdicates his responsibilities with regard to values; if each one of us limits himself to leading a trivial existence in a technological civilization, with greater adaptation and increasing success as his sole objectives; if we do not even consider the possibility of making a stand against these determinants, then everything will happen as I have described it, and the determinates will be transformed into inevitabilities.”
“Those who read the press of their group and listen to the radio of their group are constantly reinforced in their allegiance. They learn more and more that their group is right, that its actions are justified; thus their beliefs are strengthened. At the same time, such propaganda contains elements of criticism and refutation of other groups, which will never be read or heard by a member of another group...Thus we see before our eyes how a world of closed minds establishes itself, a world in which everybody talks to himself, everybody constantly views his own certainty about himself and the wrongs done him by the Others - a world in which nobody listens to anybody else.”
“Prayer is not a discourse. It is a form of life, the life with God. That is why it is not confined to the moment of verbal statement. The latter (verbalization) can only be the secondary expression of the relationship with God, an overflow from the encounter between the living God and the living person.”
“For when man is faced with a curse he answers, "I'll take care of my problems." And he puts everything to work to become powerful, to keep the curse from having its effects. He creates the arts and the sciences, he raises an army, he constructs chariots, he builds cities. The spirit of might is a response to the divine curse.”
“Despite the conviction that our era is revolutionary, we must also recognize that under the appearance of movement and development we are in fact living in complete stasis. There is undoubtedly much chaos and violence, there is technical progress, there are social and political experiments. But in reality our world is static, because its structures remain absolutely fixed and its development unfolds along a completely expected rather than revolutionary path.”
- Date of birth: January 06, 1912
- Died: May 19, 1994
- Born: in Bordeaux, France.
- Description: Baptised Catholic, Ellul became an atheist and Marxist at 19, and a Christian of the Reformed Church at 22. During his Marxist days, he was a member of the French Communist Party. During World War II, he fought with the French Underground against the Nazi occupation of France.
Educated at the Universities of Bordeaux and Paris, he taught Sociology and the History of Law at the Universities of Strausbourg and Montpellier. In 1946 he returned to Bordeaux where he lived, wrote, served as Mayor, and taught until his death in 1994.
In the 40 books and hundreds of articles Ellul wrote in his lifetime, his dominant theme was always the threat to human freedom posed by modern technology. His tenor and methodology is objective and scholarly, and the perspective is a sociological one. Few of his books are overtly political -- even though they deal directly with political phenomena -- and several of his books, including "Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes" and "The Technological Society" are required reading in many graduate communication curricula.
Ellul was also a respected and serious Christian theologian whose 1948 work, "The Presence of the Kingdom," makes explicit a dual theme inherent, though subtly stated, in all of his writing, a sort of yin and yang of modern technological society: sin and sacramentality.