RLTV: What's Wrong with Conspiracy Theories?

 

  

 

By Michael Peabody

The other day some­one sent me a link to an “Antichrist Decoder” that has been posted online by an oth­er­wise rep­utable Chris­t­ian min­istry. You can type in anybody’s name and the pro­gram will cal­cu­late the value of the name in Roman numerals. 

After check­ing my name to make sure that I was not the Antichrist I looked at the other names that peo­ple had plugged into the decoder and learned that Barack Obama is not the antichrist, nei­ther is Barack Hus­sein Obama.  Ronald Wil­son Reagan’s name doesn’t add up to 666 even if you type in two “v”s to make the W.

Peo­ple were hav­ing fun with the decoder and for the unini­ti­ated it would be at home in a car­ni­val next to the “Love Meter” or “Magic 8 Ball.” Per­haps an “antichrist decoder” made the rounds on the county fair cir­cuit in years gone by, or a 666 Decoder Ring was the cheap plas­tic treat in the box of Cracker Jacks.

A con­spir­acy the­ory hits the same synapses as the Weekly World News or National Enquirerpro­vid­ing junk food for the mind that mas­quer­ades as a nutri­tious meal.  Just this last week while lit­tle Fal­con Heene was pre­sum­ably float­ing above Col­orado in a UFO-Shaped bal­loon, YouTube videos that his dad made about how Hillary Clin­ton could be a “rep­til­ian shape shifter” spiked in pop­u­lar­ity. And each night mil­lions tune in hear George Noory on Coast to Coast AMwhile he dis­cusses tun­nels under the pyra­mids and por­tals to other dimen­sions.  And every year seek­ers crowd churches to hear the lat­est inter­pre­ta­tions of Scrip­ture that spec­ify how mys­te­ri­ous polit­i­cal events are align­ing to bring the world to an end.  The prob­lem with the cheap thrill of side show con­spir­acy the­o­ries is that con­cern about legit­i­mate issues is even­tu­ally eroded as the car­ni­val callers “cry wolf” so often that the real wolves can count on a feast.

The Merriam-Webster dic­tio­nary defines “Con­spir­acy The­ory” as “a the­ory that explains an event or set of cir­cum­stances as the result of a secret plot by usu­ally pow­er­ful conspirators.”

Chris­tian­ity as a whole is planted on a con­spir­acy the­ory that one day the world will end and that there are forces at work right now among the “prin­ci­pal­i­ties and pow­ers” of this world that will effect that change and that res­cue is com­ing from outer space and that you can com­mu­ni­cate with tremen­dous pow­ers sim­ply through the power of thought.  We don’t often view it in these terms but that’s how it would sound to a Mar­t­ian if he hap­pened to walk into a church service.

In real­ity, some con­spir­acy the­o­ries are true and ver­i­fi­able, but oth­ers are not. It is impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between ver­i­fi­able or sub­stan­ti­ated truth and error because any error, even if it is meant well, tends to cor­rupt the entirety of the mes­sage. In the reli­gious world, peo­ple tend to take “judi­cial notice” of scrip­ture so speak­ing in har­mony with an estab­lished text is gen­er­ally accepted, but other issues require proven and reli­able evi­dence or they will, of neces­sity, be ques­tioned. Believ­ing that some­thing bad is afoot if it is not men­tioned in scrip­ture with speci­ficity must be backed up with sub­stan­tial evi­dence if lis­ten­ers are to take it seriously.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries that float around with­out sub­stan­tial ground­ing in truth present sev­eral seri­ous drawbacks.

First, con­spir­acy the­o­ries that do not come true affect your credibility.

“A good con­spir­acy is unprov­able. I mean, if you can prove it, it means they screwed up some­where along the line.” Mel Gibson’s char­ac­ter inCon­spir­acy The­ory (1997). 

Around the year 2000, the mil­len­nial con­spir­acy nut­cases (we call them now) came out and said that the world would end, planes would fall from the sky, and the elec­tri­cal power grid would crash. Then, fol­low­ing 9/11 George Bush was going to insti­tute mar­shal law and become dic­ta­tor for life. Today, the H1N1 vac­cine is a mind con­trol drug and amounts to bio­log­i­cal warfare.

Is there any truth to these con­spir­a­cies? Per­haps there is, but noth­ing has hap­pened in the first two, and I am pre­dict­ing that the vac­cine will not cre­ate a nation of zom­bies. Still there are peo­ple who email me tons of infor­ma­tion about FEMA con­cen­tra­tion camps, mass pro­duc­tion of body bags, and all kinds of fas­ci­nat­ing things. I usu­ally read them because it is fun to be afraid but each time it seems less and less likely.  There is too much “con­spir­acy” noise out there to dis­tin­guish the truth from the error, and unfounded con­spir­a­cies based on noth­ing more than the eye­wit­ness report of a “friend of a friend of a friend” are not persuasive.

Sec­ond, con­spir­acy the­o­ries can dis­tract you from present responsibilities.

“A Con­spir­acy!” cried the delighted lady, clap­ping her hands. “Of all things, I do like a Con­spir­acy! It’s so inter­est­ing!” – Lewis Car­roll, My Lady, Sylvie and Bruno (1889) 

There is an old say­ing that it is pos­si­ble to be “so heav­enly minded that you are of no earthly good.” You can also be so “con­spir­acy minded” that you are of no earthly good.

When peo­ple tell me about con­spir­acy the­o­ries I often ask them whether they have taken the time to learn more about their faith or do good in their com­mu­ni­ties. They may show me some pam­phlets they gave to peo­ple to “warn” them about what­ever they think is going to hap­pen but most of the time they haven’t done much more.

I do write this from a Chris­t­ian per­spec­tive and I’ve learned over time that we really do have a lot of free­dom in the United States and in Canada for the most part to speak freely about reli­gion or pol­i­tics, and to assem­ble. There are chal­lenges from time to time which can be addressed but we still have the abil­ity to address them. In a large sense, reli­gious lib­erty is a sup­port­ive min­istry that can be called upon when needed but does not nec­es­sar­ily need to be front and cen­ter unless there is a spe­cific need for it.

Reli­gious lib­erty min­istry is like a fire extin­guisher in a glass case. It must be charged up and ready to go. It needs to have all the resources to han­dle severe fires, but the sign says, “In case of emer­gency, break glass.” It can be used to inform peo­ple of cur­rent events but never to dis­tract from the main mis­sion of the church, which I believe is set forth in the Great Commission.

This segues nicely to the third rea­son I have a prob­lem with con­spir­acy theories.

Third, con­spir­acy the­o­ries can become the cen­ter of your faith.

“Our cause is a secret within a secret, a secret that only another secret can explain, it is a secret about a secret that is veiled by a secret.”  Ja’far as-Sadiq (6th Imam)

A while back there was a group of bor­der­line Seventh-day Adven­tists who decided to spread the gospel by talk­ing about the antichrist. They put up bill­boards all over the coun­try, reserved space in major news­pa­pers, and oth­er­wise launched mas­sive media cam­paigns. Most of the ads appeared to be miles of tiny text punc­tu­ated by dire warn­ings and a pic­ture of the pur­ported antichrist.

This would appear to be evan­ge­lism in the neg­a­tive – in other words, tell peo­ple about the bad in the world to teach them what’s good. It’s like for­mer rock stars and drug deal­ers turned reli­gious who tell sto­ries of their fas­ci­nat­ing lives. They had money, power, fame, man­sions, cars, planes, and every­thing else you could ever want in life. But then the sto­ries become far less inter­est­ing when they become Chris­tians and now live in their vans trav­el­ing the coun­try. I sup­pose it works for some peo­ple so I’m not going to knock it, but it’s usu­ally made me more curi­ous about their past than about what’s hap­pen­ing now.

I’ve met a lot of peo­ple who will tell all their friends about con­spir­acy the­o­ries think­ing that they are shar­ing their faith. I met one per­son who went around giv­ing out copies of Foxe’s Book of Mar­tyrsand would regale lis­ten­ers with sto­ries about extreme tor­ture. Enter­tain­ing? Weirdly so.  But effec­tive? Yes, in turn­ing peo­ple into atheists.

Lead­ing some­body to an under­stand­ing of 666 is not the same as shar­ing one’s reli­gious faith. It may seem like more fun but it doesn’t do much good in mak­ing an argu­ment as to why peo­ple should want what you have.

Fourth, con­spir­acy the­o­ries can cause you to cre­ate ene­mies out of peo­ple whom you should be befriend­ing and cause you to ques­tion the sin­cere motives of others.

“There will ever be some who take delight in dwelling upon the real or sup­posed faults and fail­ures of oth­ers, and who employ their time in see­ing, hear­ing, or report­ing some­thing that will destroy con­fi­dence in the per­son crit­i­cised. Few are with­out vis­i­ble faults; in most per­sons care­ful scrutiny will reveal some defect of char­ac­ter; and upon these defects in oth­ers, some pro­fessed Chris­tians delight to dwell. The habit strength­ens with indul­gence, and a love for gos­sip becomes their rul­ing pas­sion. They gather together the tid-bits of reports,–all of them, it may be, utterly devoid of truth,–and feast upon the scan­dal, and share it with oth­ers as a rare del­i­cacy.” Ellen White – Review and Her­ald, August 28, 1883.

Weird sto­ries about aliens, Freema­sons, the Illu­mi­nati, the Tri­lat­eral Com­mis­sion, or any other group can draw unrea­son­able and unnat­ural lines between peo­ple. One per­son I met is fix­ated on the idea that there will one day be a holy war in Amer­ica and is plan­ning to run away into the moun­tains to hide from it all, but is afraid that he will not be able to escape per­se­cu­tion when it comes because the per­se­cu­tors will have GPS and heat detectors. 

Unfor­tu­nately, this per­son has become a vir­tual her­mit who believes he is liv­ing a pious lifestyle when in real­ity he makes Howard Hughes look nor­mal. If he would put some of his tremen­dous men­tal horse­power to work help­ing peo­ple with prob­lems that they are fac­ing today, such as poverty, home­less­ness, illit­er­acy, and any other ways, he would make a tremen­dous impact for good. But instead he has twisted the plot around so much that he views any mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tion with the real world as dan­ger­ous. Almost every­body is involved in a con­spir­acy against him, and he believes that most peo­ple in the world are for­mu­lat­ing plans to do him wrong. The world has pretty much stayed the same but he has become a para­noid freak.

I’ve met wild eyed con­spir­acy the­o­rists in many areas of life, not just reli­gion. It is very dif­fi­cult to rea­son with a per­son like this because if you ques­tion them, they believe that you are now part of the con­spir­acy. They think the worst of any­body they dis­agree with.

Hid­ing away on a moun­tain some­where is not a call to piety. Con­spir­acy the­o­ries may have their place as mile mark­ers but they should not impede for­ward progress.

In real­ity, the truth is out there, but you’re not likely to find it in a decoder ring.  True appre­ci­a­tion of faith or even reli­gious lib­erty issues do not thrive in fear or require a cri­sis to be mean­ing­ful.  You can help lib­erty thrive when you care about the world and engage with it and the peo­ple who live here. Tell the ver­i­fi­able, unde­ni­able truth and the facts will speak for themselves.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  Micah 6:8

 

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7 Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    Most who fall for the bizarre and losely ver­i­fi­able either are of lim­ited think­ing or para­noid, maybe both. I find peo­ple whose lives revolve around a good dark secret are already pre­dis­posed to believ­ing that unver­i­fi­able mys­tery to begin with. Had one fel­low who fears the Swine Flu vac­cine say you “can’t believe what the media tells you” but “I have read about this vac­cine and its scarry” and my ques­tion was, what made the source he read from any more reli­able than the dis­trusted media he denounced? Which media is giv­ing us the truth? Is every source one can track along the wide and twist­ing road of the Inter­net of equal value and how would you know?

  2. Kevin says:

    Most who fall for the bizarre and losely ver­i­fi­able either are of lim­ited think­ing or para­noid, maybe both. I find peo­ple whose lives revolve around a good dark secret are already pre­dis­posed to believ­ing that unver­i­fi­able mys­tery to begin with. Had one fel­low who fears the Swine Flu vac­cine say you “can’t believe what the media tells you” but “I have read about this vac­cine and its scarry” and my ques­tion was, what made the source he read from any more reli­able than the dis­trusted media he denounced? Which media is giv­ing us the truth? Is every source one can track along the wide and twist­ing road of the Inter­net of equal value and how would you know?

  3. sandra says:

    Just to add to your point Kevin, it seems as though some people(I think we have all been guilty of this at some point)search out infor­ma­tion that will sup­port a pre­con­cieved view, in this case con­spir­acy fears, that they have in regards to a cer­tain sub­ject. In addi­tion, like men­tioned by Kevin, how do these indi­vid­u­als ver­ify how reli­able those sources are. I would say they don’t. At the end of the day, some peo­ple seek out information(conspiracy the­o­ries) to help them feel secure in that par­tic­u­lar belief. And we must all be aware of such think­ing because we are all vulnerable.

  4. sandra says:

    Just to add to your point Kevin, it seems as though some people(I think we have all been guilty of this at some point)search out infor­ma­tion that will sup­port a pre­con­cieved view, in this case con­spir­acy fears, that they have in regards to a cer­tain sub­ject. In addi­tion, like men­tioned by Kevin, how do these indi­vid­u­als ver­ify how reli­able those sources are. I would say they don’t. At the end of the day, some peo­ple seek out information(conspiracy the­o­ries) to help them feel secure in that par­tic­u­lar belief. And we must all be aware of such think­ing because we are all vulnerable.

  5. Ole says:

    Years ago I found God’s per­fect anti­dote to con­spir­acy the­o­ries. While two king­doms were lit­er­ally con­spir­ing against the king­dom of Judah, Isa­iah came to king Ahaz with this counsel:

    NAS Isa­iah 8:12 “You are not to say, ‘It is a con­spir­acy!’ In regard to all that this peo­ple call a con­spir­acy, And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. 13 “It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread. 14 “Then He shall become a sanctuary; …

    (KJV trans­la­tors chose the word “con­fed­er­acy”, but the NKJV trans­la­tors agree that “con­spir­acy” is now the best word to trans­late the Hebrew.)

    I believe Isaiah’s coun­sel is still valid. Those who watch for con­spir­a­cies will fall into tragedy, like king Ahaz. (Just look up the story of his life!) Those who fear the LORD will never be put to shame — like Isa­iah, even if he did die a mar­tyr under Manasseh’s reign.

  6. Ole says:

    Years ago I found God’s per­fect anti­dote to con­spir­acy the­o­ries. While two king­doms were lit­er­ally con­spir­ing against the king­dom of Judah, Isa­iah came to king Ahaz with this counsel:

    NAS Isa­iah 8:12 “You are not to say, ‘It is a con­spir­acy!’ In regard to all that this peo­ple call a con­spir­acy, And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. 13 “It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread. 14 “Then He shall become a sanctuary; …

    (KJV trans­la­tors chose the word “con­fed­er­acy”, but the NKJV trans­la­tors agree that “con­spir­acy” is now the best word to trans­late the Hebrew.)

    I believe Isaiah’s coun­sel is still valid. Those who watch for con­spir­a­cies will fall into tragedy, like king Ahaz. (Just look up the story of his life!) Those who fear the LORD will never be put to shame — like Isa­iah, even if he did die a mar­tyr under Manasseh’s reign.

  7. Once you have actu­ally watched sev­eral of the rings below, kindly per­mit me
    know just what you think — I am truth­fully cap­ti­vated
    regard­ing why it is that these dia­monds are not popular!

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