Conspiracy Theories

11 05 2020

conspiracytheories

conspiracy theory
[kuhn-spiruh-see theer-ee]
noun
1. a theory that rejects the standard explanation for an event and instead credits a covert group or organization with carrying out a secret plot
2. a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a covert group
3. the idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of deceptive plots that are largely unknown to the general public


In this crazy season of the world with the coronavirus, the breaking news of Michael Flynn, bitcoin, etc. conspiracy theories seem to be having a heyday. Plus, because of the quarantine, people have more time than ever to watch all of the associated videos.

Into this mix, among Evangelical Christians, there seems to be two predominant camps, though it is much more nuanced than that: 1. Those that are leaning toward believing the conspiracy theories and sharing the Youtube videos, and 2. Those who denounce the theories and the sharing thereof. These two camps, obviously, are the ones most publicly visible on our social media platforms.

Many of these denouncements are seemingly coming from places of “higher authority,” such as articles written by popular pastors and/or published by respected Evangelical Christian websites (i.e. – Christians Are Not Immune To Conspiracy Theories or Conspiracy Theories Among Christians). The overall gist and tone of these articles is that…

  • all conspiracy theories are illegitimate
  • the posting, sharing, researching, believing, etc. of conspiracy theories is bad for Christianity to a watching world
  • Christians who share these articles and videos are immature, misinformed, or ignorant of the true facts and could be committing the sin of slander
  • Christians who read and research supposed conspiracy theories are wasting their time to the detriment of the gospel and God’s Kingdom

Each of these statements could be true, but they are not always the case. Writing an article making these blanket statements is detrimental and shows disregard for unity and our right to freely think on our own.

As pastors, we are called to equip our saints for the ministry, not tell them what to think. Pastors should teach their congregations how to research, how to be slow to post and share articles and videos, and how to think critically. We, then, need to foster dialogue among our Christian community to talk about these issues rather than write articles or say things in sermons that make our people fearful of saying anything without getting shot down or mocked.

We (pastors) also ought to get over ourselves. We have not been given a key to be able to discern what is conspiracy theory and what is not. One might argue that the facts or lack thereof speak for themselves, but truth and facts are very difficult to come by.

Take, for instance, the documentary “Plandemic” that has been circulating through social media like wildfire. This documentary has been denounced by most mainstream media as a conspiracy theory. Should we now believe the mainstream media outright and call all Christians who share this video sinful slanderers because of the allegations made against Fauci? What if the conspiracy theory is actually that the allegations are true and mainstream media is feeding us a lie because the companies controlling them stand to lose some kind of profit from this information? In that case, sharing the video would be seen as helpful.

The point is that we don’t know either way for sure. Instead of making a decision based upon flimsy facts or what the media is telling us, we begin to research it and dialogue about it, preferably not on Facebook or Twitter.

Legitimacy

Who determines what is a conspiracy theory and what is not? Who has determined that all conspiracy theories are negative, not true, and should not be believed? When does a conspiracy theory move to a factual event? Is Satan the author of all conspiracy theories as some have claimed?

As Christians, we should know that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). Knowing this, it should not be difficult to believe that some sinister things are happening on a mass scale (schemes of the devil) to the detriment of advancing the gospel. If some of these schemes got out, it might make sense to call them conspiracy theories so that most people would disregard them. If this is the case, this means that some of these so-called conspiracy theories might actually be true.

It also makes sense that Satan would put out misinformation to get Christians side-tracked from doing the mission that God set for us.

This is where understanding who we are as sinful humans and understanding how the Holy Spirit works comes into play.

Who We Are

In August 2018 a study was published in Current Biology Magazine by Wagner-Egger, Delouvee, Gauvrit, and Dieguez called Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias. This study showed that those people who believed in creationism (the Biblical view that God created the world as opposed to evolution) were more apt to believe in conspiracy theories based upon a link in teleological thinking. Teleology is the study of the underlying cause of things. For instance, Christians believe that there is purpose in everything, whereas evolutionists believe there is no purpose. This belief in an underlying cause allows Christians to attach that belief to other things more easily, including conspiracy theories.

The aforementioned article presents a negative bias against teleological thinking… “Although teleological thinking has long been banned from scientific reasoning, it persists in childhood cognition, as well as in adult intuitions and beliefs.” It should be no shock to Evangelical Christians that the scientific community sees our belief system as childish and naive. Although we believe our teleological belief system to be right and good, we do need to understand that it can predispose us to seeing false purposes behind everything and too quickly attaching to conspiracy theories that we want to believe are true.

The Holy Spirit

Knowing that God created the world and has purpose behind everything is a foundational belief of Evangelical Christianity. The purpose behind everything, though, is not often very clear. This is where we need discernment empowered by the Holy Spirit to guide us and, when still in doubt, a faith that knows that God is sovereign and good.

Therefore we take interest in a conspiracy theory. We fight against our natural tendency to jump to a conclusion. We research as much as we can. We dialogue with others (even those who disagree, maybe especially). And we pray asking the Holy Spirit to guide our discernment and appropriate actions or responses.

Our Witness

The world is not on the edge of its seat to see what the church is going to do with the next conspiracy theory. The world has already disregarded the church based upon the true “conspiracy theory” that we all follow. They find it preposterous that we follow a person named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago and is attempting to set up an alternative kingdom on earth. Sounds like a conspiracy theory doesn’t it?

Jesus does, however, pray in John 17:23 that the world will know Him by seeing believers’ unity. Our first priority should not be policing who is ascribing to what conspiracy theory, but rather how we are treating each other in unity. Pastors and church leaders posting inflammatory articles may be doing more harm than good when it comes to our witness. Christians sparking Facebook and Twitter feuds over these issues can definitely be hurting our witness.

So how should we go about things? Leaders should shepherd their people gently as Christ taught and exemplified, not with public articles belittling other believers for faults they deem worthy to judge. Christians in general should be much slower to post things that they are not 100% sure about or even things that might cause division. No one is going to come to faith in Christ because you decided to make a stand on Facebook. However, you might get unfriended by the very people you are trying to reach.

What do you do if you come across a video or article that is interesting and you want others to see it in order to start a healthy dialogue? Use a private message. This promotes unity and increases our witness to a lost world.

Dangerous Caricatures

The same Christian leaders who are calling sharers of conspiracy videos slanderers are in danger of calling fellow believers fools and, even, evil.

Sharing a particular article or video might not be wise, a good witness, and may even be slander, but the intent behind the sharing cannot be determined. It would be one thing if a person shared a video knowing it to be completely untrue and slanderous. This would be evil. From my experience, though, most of the people sharing these so-called conspiracy videos are well-meaning and intelligent people. They deserve our respect, not scorn. A good Christian leader might need to speak with them about how best to get controversial information out for healthy dialogue, but it needs to be done trusting that their heart is in the right place.

Most of the articles from Christian leaders on this topic seem to paint the picture that people who have shared a conspiracy theory video are ignorant, back-woods folks who will believe anything and have fallen for an obvious trap of Satan. What might these same authors say about those same conspiracy theorists who promoted that smoking was bad for your health in the 1980s? If someone posts an article about how smoking is bad for your health now, everyone would agree with you. If you posted that same article in the 80’s, you would be ridiculed as a conspiracy theorist by doctors, mainstream media, and some Christian authors who know better than you.

We should definitely call sin out for what it is when it takes place, but we do so privately first. We don’t post an article about it characterizing everyone the same.

Waste of Time

It is argued that conspiracy theories are a waste of time and energy. This can definitely be true when taken to the extreme, just like anything. If all someone does is watch conspiracy theory videos and post them on social media, then, yes, that is a waste of time.

However, if well-meaning believers watch a video that causes them to question things, they do some adequate research and have healthy dialogue about it, and they come to an informed conclusion and do something about it, this is not a waste of time.

The Kingdom of God in its fullness is not just the presence of believers through a gospel witness, but also the absence of evil. William Carey’s number one concern was to get the gospel to India, but he also almost single-handedly saw the abolishment of the horrible practice of widow-burning. Because the “conspiracy theory” of smoking being unhealthy was found to be true, my grandfather quit smoking, and the doctors attributed him living longer to that decision.

As Christians, we ought to face the world with a healthy dose of skepticism. This is different from fear, as many Christian authors would have you believe. It is not a waste of time to research your health and be a skeptic of the pharmaceutical industry and the government bureaucracies that oversee them. It is not a waste of time to research the claims made by media that is run by multi-billion dollar companies. The Bible says that we should submit to the authority of government (Romans 13:1), but this is different than blind trust.

Conclusion

Pray that God would give you wisdom. (James 1:5)

We should not be consumed by conspiracy theories.

We need to learn to better communicate and share information with others while maintaining unity in the body of Christ.

We should live with a healthy dose of skepticism, not fear, knowing that we have an enemy who wants to thwart our witness.


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One response

11 05 2020
Jenny Lee

Scott, this is a wonderfully thought out article. I appreciate how you looked at all sides. Knowing from personal life experience what the FDA and Big Pharma can do to a family business, I’m very skeptical of both.( I.e.—-follow the money in this present pandemic.) But you are so right about being careful how we share. I do read and research a lot of things but perhaps sharing on FB is not the best platform. I’ve never heard of “teleological thinking”—-but I think I’m afflicted with it🥴. I will TRY to do better. Seriously, I love and appreciate you and this was well written!👌🏻

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