Understanding Conspiracy Theories

Was COVID-19 designed to kill Republican voters? Did the moon landing actually take place in a movie studio? Was the World War II Holocaust a myth? Was the election stolen from Trump?  Is Bigfoot the result of government genetic testing gone bad?  

If you’re a Christian and you love a good conspiracy theory, then this blog just might be for you.  

So, let’s first talk about the phrase “conspiracy theory. “ Did you know that there’s actually a conspiracy theory over the phrase ‘conspiracy theory?’    It’s commonly repeated on social media that the phrase is sort of a term of derision that was first coined by the CIA to suppress people who are otherwise wise enough to question accepted truths. However, according to Merriam-Webster the phrase was first used in 1863. I was able to find that article. It was printed January 11, 1863 by The New York Times, and its clear that the phrase was in use long before the CIA was ever created. But this is one of the major fallouts of the social media-driven world in which we live: anyone can say anything and people will not only believe it but repeat it without checking to see if its true.    

So, what is a conspiracy theory? Well, it’s a premise that explains an event or set of circumstances that is the result of a secret plot, usually by powerful conspirators. Oftentimes, it’s used to explain events that are considered unfavorable or unpleasant to someone or to a certain group of people.

Now, I have to say that I personally find most conspiracy theories a little frustrating. Whenever I hear one I usually find myself rolling my eyes, or at least wanting to.  And, I understand that some theories could possibly be true or at least have some very true parts. But the questions that I always find myself asking are “If this is true, how does it affect my following Jesus Christ?”   In other words, what kind of impact in my life is this supposed to have? What am I to do with this truth? If the JFK assassination was a mob hit, or worse yet, carried out by the CIA, what does the bearer of that information want from me?  Can I serve Jesus better knowing that theory?   More on that later…

Most recently it seems to be the conservative right who’s been claiming that those in power have been conspiring against us. However, I want to point out that the left is not immune to conspiracy theories. For example, many believed President George Bush was behind the 9-11 attack. Democrats insisted that the 2016 Democrat Primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders, and some hold that the Republican Party wants to revive slavery. 

So, where does all of this thinking come from? Well, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I have a few thoughts.    

First, I think that loss is probably the primary catalyst for conspiracy theories. Loss is a huge part of the human experience. We all lose something. The bigger our loss is the harder it is to bear it. Often, I believe, we need to find a way to explain it – to make it understandable. I remember as a young boy if my team lost at baseball that I believed it was because the other team had cheated. I didn’t want to believe that they were the better team.  But it’s not just loss, it’s also who wins when we lose.

Let’s take the Presidential Election, for example. For many Americans every four years is a chance to vote for some kind of change or maybe to keep things the way they are. Our votes reflect our values and what we believe in. When we win we’re ecstatic and feel like our view has been justified. However, losing an election is a very hard thing because it generally means that someone who does not hold our values or beliefs has won. For many people, accepting that loss is nearly impossible.

Therefore, I believe that many conspiracy theories are born as a way to handle loss. In 2016, many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, blamed voter restrictions and Russian hacking for her loss to Donald Trump. In 2020, Republicans blamed voter fraud for Trump’s loss to Joe Biden. These explanations help us handle our losses. If we lose because someone cheated, then we’re the real winners and those who won really lost.   

But some theories develop when there’s no obvious winner.  The loss, it seems, is just too unbelievable. For example, how could a lowly high school dropout like Lee Harvey Oswald get into a position to assassinate the highest held office holder of the United States? How could a ragtag Middle-Eastern group that no American had ever even heard of stage the biggest attack on American soil?

When we think of the magnitude of those losses, when a Goliath is killed by a David, we begin to theorize on other possible ways that it could have happened because it just seems too unbelievable that the loss we’ve experienced could have come at the hands of something seemingly so insufficient. And so, I believe that some theories are born as way to handle losses that just seem too inconceivable.     

Now, some theories don’t have anything to do with loss, such as Area 51, Roswell, and government coverups of Bigfoot. These stand as a way to explain why eyewitness reports and physical evidence of events seem to disappear.

I need to point out that not all conspiracy theories are false or completely unbased. Some are proven true because governments do in fact lie and coverup. For example, the notorious Tuskegee Experiment, in which a group of impoverished black men who had syphilis were promised medical care but were given none so that researchers could observe the effect of the disease if left untreated. In 1997 President Bill Clinton publicly acknowledged the atrocity and apologized for it.

Events like these have caused a lot of mistrust of both governments and doctors, and shows us that sometimes powerful entities can and do conspire. But, before I talk about how we might approach conspiracy theories, let me explore something that really bothers me. That is: why do Christians seem so taken with conspiracy theories? This is a phenomenon that I have noticed for some time. Oftentimes very intelligent and devoted followers of Jesus seem to be highly invested in various conspiracy theories. Why is this?        

Well, I suppose that there could be several reasons combined. First, in a sense, Christianity does suggest a grand conspiracy of sorts. That is that every person has a powerful enemy, Satan, who wants to see them fail and die.  Satan is mostly an invisible presence who conspires against us and whose hand is at times difficult to discern.

Second, there are many hidden mysteries in the Bible. People are naturally drawn to mysteries and seek to unravel them; like the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians, or the number 666 of Revelation 13. These are just a few mysterious descriptions that have fueled all kinds of speculation. And, let me say that I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to wonder about these things, or any of the mysteries of life, and attempt to solve them. However, I think we should be cautious. Let me explain.

Conspiracy theories do one major thing: they build distrust. They suggest that some powerful entity is being unfaithful. If these theories are false and we repeat these inaccuracies, then what we are doing is slandering. Christians should be very careful about speaking falsely as God promises, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, Him I will destroy.” (Psalm 101:5).

Christians – especially Christian leaders – should be extremely cautious about what they say. Conspiracy theories plant seeds of doubt in people’s minds and someday we will have to give an account of what we say. Jesus told us “…for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” (Matt 12:36).

This stern warning should make any Christian concerned about what they repeat. But someone may object and ask ‘what if it’s not false?’ ‘A person can’t be slandering if it’s true!’ While I agree with that objection, without full disclosure of all of the facts, we aren’t going to know the truth and will still should be cautious of what we say. This takes me back to one of the questions that I asked earlier, “If this is true, how does it affect my following Jesus Christ?”  For example, if the recent attack on Paul Pelosi was in fact the result of some tryst with a male prostitute gone bad – as some of theorized – then how can I serve Jesus better by knowing that? How does that information make me love others better? Obviously, it doesn’t.

It would be hard to imagine any of the conspiracy theories that float around out there making me a more faithful disciple if they could be established as true. Although they may be interesting – and even possibly true – one should always ask how investing oneself in that theory makes you a better disciple. If full disclosure is made and the truth is revealed on that subject matter, will you be a better Christian? If the answer is ‘no,’ then I believe the theory is probably not worth your time.

I’ll end with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Philippi, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on THESE things.”

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 36 years.





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