John 7:24 “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
Appeal to pity, like an appeal fear is just a propaganda technique. Often we will see this in advertisements. Propaganda in its various forms can be very powerful. In one sense there is nothing wrong with propaganda if it is used rightly, like in advertising about our product.
Propaganda is any strategy for spreading our beliefs or ideas. Writing these articles and sending them out to subscribers as my weekly letters or putting them on Facebook I am using propaganda in the sense of spreading my ideas.
Propaganda can be found in political speeches, TV commercials and shows, movies, radio, newspapers, advertisements and many other places. There is nothing wrong with propaganda if we do it honestly. The problem is that many times people buy into a product or idea because it appeals to emotion instead of to clear thinking.
For example: A truck dealer might try to get us to buy his truck because it looks tougher, not necessarily because it is tougher. The lawyer in the court room will try to persuade the jury to feel (emotion) that his side is right. Even the evangelist or preacher tries to persuade the audience through emotion rather than challenging them to think things through clearly. Not that our emotions necessarily are bad and incorrect, but when making decisions it is always good to have clear thinking.
Manipulative propaganda is used when someone plays with our emotions in a way designed to make us agree with him without thinking through the matter carefully.
We have already seen the “appeal to emotion through fear,” but now through the “appeal to pity.” This pity appeal is when someone tries to get us to do something because of pity for the person or something that he is associated with.
The “appeal to pity,” like the appeal to fear is an appeal to our emotions, our sense of compassion. This appeal is trying to get us to accept something, do something, or believe something based upon our emotions instead of good and careful reasoning.
When it comes to giving money we often see the “appeal to pity.” We might see starving children, homeless people, or areas where a storm might have swept through and left many homeless. Since this is a technique that is often used by con-artists we need to be able to think clearly and concisely to ensure that this is a legitimate need and the one appealing to our emotions is a reputable person or organization.
As Christians we have to be careful because an “appeal to pity” can counteract another Biblical principle like TRUTH. In other words, we are to “love our neighbor,” but not at the expense of truth. An example of this is found in the following verse: “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.” (Proverbs 6:30-31)
Might God give us clear, critical, Biblical thinking in these days when “truth and error walk the same highway,” as A.W. Tozer so eloquently said. ‘We live in days of great deception and discernment is a great need.’