3. Life Hack
by Pastor Todd
(This is a longer article than normal – please take the time to read it)Conspiracy theories can be very entertaining, ridiculous, believable, dangerous…and even sinful. Maybe even all of the above. I remember watching a conspiracy theory program in the late 90’s showing how the moon landings were all fake. There was just enough reasonability and “experts” to make it “believable.” Then a month later there was another special (from a more reliable source) debunking all the conspiracies. I almost bought into it until the simple evidence and truth snapped me out of it. (Here’s a great video de-bunking a popular moon-landing conspiracy.)
A “conspiracy theory” is defined by Websters as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”
There are no shortage of conspiracy theories out there. Right now, there are no shortage of conspiracy theories concerning just the coronavirus crisis. As I have been thinking about these conspiracy theories, ironically enough, several articles popped up giving some excellent clarity on how to respond (how did they know I was thinking about this – is this a conspiracy? Just kidding). What’s even more amazing to me is just how many Christians buy into conspiracy theories. Why is that? Why are conspiracy theories so attractive and popular to Christians – and people, in general?
Here are two quotes from a blog article I happened to read this past weekend that help explain the appeal of conspiracy theories.
1. “Most lives are a touch dull. . . .The draw of a conspiracy theory to its followers is reinforced by the perception it gives them that they are in the know. They reckon that they have discovered what the ‘sheeple’* could not, endowing them with a sense of superiority that is as enjoyable as it is undeserved, a fact that hucksters of all stripes have turned to their financial, political, or other advantage over the generations: Sign up with me and I’ll tell you what’s really going on.” (Andrew Stuttaford – he is a contributing editor at the National Review. I don’t know if he is a Christian, but his article Corona Conspiracies is interesting.)
[* A “sheeple” is defined by Webster’s as, when “people are compared to sheep in being docile, foolish, or easily led.”]
2. “Conspiracy theories have an aesthetic appeal: they make us feel more important in the grand scheme of things than we are. If someone is going to all this trouble to con us into believing in something, then we have to be worth conning; and the impotence we all feel in the face of massive impersonal bureaucracies and economies driven not by democratic institutions so much as multinational corporations is not really the result of our intrinsic smallness and insignificance so much of our potential power which needs to be smothered. Such views play to our vanity; and, to be brutally frank, the kind of virtual solitary vice which so much solipsistic internet activity represents.Conspiracy theories don’t hold up, though. Nobody is that competent and powerful to pull them off. Even giant bureaucracies are made up of lots of small, incompetent units fighting petty turf wars, a fragmentation which undermine the possibility of the kind of co-ordinated efforts required to pull off, say, the fabrication of the Holocaust. History, humanly speaking, is a tale of incompetence and thoughtlessness, not of elaborate and sophisticated cabals. Evil, catastrophic evil, is not exceptional and brilliant; it is humdrum and banal; it does not involve thinking too much; it involves thinking too little.” (This quote comes from Carl Trueman, who is a brilliant Christian professor at Grove City College – his book Histories & Fallacies is really good.) Both of these quotes are in a blog by Justin Taylor, “Why It’s Hard to Resist a Good Conspiracy Theory“.
Again, many conspiracy theories can be harmless fun to indulge in, but many others can actually be sinful. Here are four ways in which conspiracy theories can possibly be foolish and/or even sinful.
First, as Christians, we are called to display discernment (Proverbs 14:8; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 4:12, 5:14). This doesn’t mean all information out there is a “conspiracy theory” or even “fake news,” it just means we should be wise and careful – especially when it comes to conspiracy theories. Measure the issues against the Scriptures (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). Check the sources. And be careful about re-tweeting, re-posting, forwarding, etc. conspiracy theories no matter how convincing. The best of us can be deceived. But we are only deceived if we let them deceive us. Believing the lies can lead to wrong thinking and wrong (sinful) actions.
Secondly, some conspiracy theories lean toward slander. Slander is when one spreads false information about someone that hurts their reputation. It could also mean spreading something true about someone that negatively affects their reputation (gossip is similar). Slander breaks the 9th Commandment, “You shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor,” (Exodus 20:16) and is forbidden elsewhere in Scripture (Proverbs 20:19; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). When a conspiracy theory focuses on a politician, an industry leader, a celebrity, an individual, someone’s ethnicity, an identity group, etc. it can be end up being very slanderous. This is not how we are to treat our fellow humans.
Thirdly, conspiracy theories often appeal to fear – the sinful kind of fear (we are called to fear God, but that is a healthy fear). Fear is often the sin of unbelief – unbelief in God’s promises, His control and sovereignty, His care, His goodness, etc (Psalm 56:11; Proverbs 29:25; John 14:27; Romans 8:15; especially Luke 12:4-7). Coronavirus itself can cause great fear – it is a real virus that has caused the death of thousands of people. Fearing this virus can be sinful. Conspiracy theories about this virus (and many other things) can foster sinful fear. Being rightly cautious, however, is not sinful.
Fourthly, conspiracy theories can cause those who believe them to treat others with condescension. In Stuttaford’s quote above, he says that conspiracy theories can cause those who believe them to “…reckon that they have discovered what the ‘sheeple’ could not, endowing them with a sense of superiority…” Superiority can lead to arrogance and condescension toward those who are not “in the know” like them. Others, who are not easily duped, can likewise be condescending to those who are duped. Both sides needs to embrace humility. Now if only I could think of a sermon series to recommend on how we are to treat each other when it comes to differing non-essential views in God’s kingdom (hint: Romans 14:1-15:7, anyone, anyone?).
Fellow Christians, let us be careful with conspiracy theories. Today it is conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Tomorrow (or in a couple of months) it will be something else. Let us be careful to be discerning, not slanderous, not giving into fear (nor being careless) and to guard against being condescending to those who do not share our convictions about non-essential matters.
By the way, let me reiterate, I do believe we went to the moon. However, did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? I just don’t know about that…I kid, I kid! Feel free to send me your favorite conspiracy theory – just as long as you don’t actually believe it!
Here are some helpful links in light of today’s devotion:
Christians Are Not Immune to Conspiracy Theories by Joe Carter:
This is a great article showing the danger of believing conspiracy theories in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 and the Mark of the Beast by Matthew L. Halstead, Ph.D.:
This is a great article that debunks a very recent conspiracy theory regarding the coronavirus and the “Mark of the Beast.”
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