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How should Christians respond to conspiracy theories?

What is a Conspiracy Theory?

A conspiracy theory is:

  1. a belief that an event or situation is the result of a secret plan made by powerful people
  2. theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators

There are some common characteristics of conspiracy theories:

  1. They are sinister or evil plans, not benevolent
  2. They assume evil motives on behalf of the conspirators
  3. They are usually impossible to prove or disprove
  4. They are usually founded on circumstantial evidence which requires interpretation

Why are conspiracy theories so popular?

Sometimes the theory turns out to be true

Here are six and twelve conspiracy theories that turned to be true. They included:

  • American scientists militarized the weather.
  • People who are “Chipped” can be tracked by satellites.
  • The government poisoned alcohol during prohibition.
  • Government mind control
  • The government is spying on you

There is a desire in humans to know what is behind things

There is within us a deep quest to want to know what’s behind what we see, what’s really going on and what’s the explanation for all these apparently disconnected, unconnected phenomena and occurrences. Conspiracy theories help us fill in all the gaps of what we don’t know which gives both a thrill of discovery and eases the threat of the unknown.

Why are some Christians so inclined to believe conspiracy theories?

Our understanding of human nature

Our theological understanding of sin means we are not really surprised when we see evil operating in a conspiratorial way. We have a theology that tells us there are people who probably right now plotting very evil things and getting away with it.

Our understanding that Satan is conspiring against mankind and God

Eph 6:12 GW  This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.

Our understanding of prophecy that there will come a global leader who will subjugate the world

Rev 13:16-18 GW  The second beast forces all people-important and unimportant people, rich and poor people, free people and slaves-to be branded on their right hands or on their foreheads.  17  It does this so that no one may buy or sell unless he has the brand, which is the beast’s name or the number of its name.  18  In this situation wisdom is needed. Let the person who has insight figure out the number of the beast, because it is a human number. The beast’s number is 666.

Our ability to believe that which we can’t see

Heb 11:1 GW  Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.

Atheists pride themselves on only believing what they can see or touch. At the heart of Christian faith is being convinced of things we can’t see. Of course, this does not mean Christians have blind faith. But it probably does make it easier for some Christians to believe things that lack the sort of evidence required to convince atheists.

What should Christians remember when dealing with conspiracy theories

Slander is strictly forbidden in the Bible

Slander is defined as “the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.”

Because conspiracy theories are by their nature secretive and supported by unclear evidence, it is very hard to know if they are true. When we repeat such a theory we are quite possibly making ‘false statements which damage a person’s reputation.’ Some of the more extreme conspiracies regarding Bill Gates almost certainly fall into this category.  But note the words ‘almost certainly’. I am personally not prepared to condemn a person’s actions if I am not certain that those are really his actions. If I am wrong then I slander him. And slander is a serious sin.

Mat 15:19-20 ESV  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  20  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

2Co 12:20 ESV  For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

1Pe 2:1 ESV  So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

Slander is not justified just because a person is known to be evil

Here is an absurd example. We know Adolf Hitler murdered millions of people including women and children. But it would still be slanderous to maintain Hitler ate babies for breakfast. His known evil does not justify Christian’s slandering him for imagined evil.

I fear this is the case with Bill and Melinda Gates. It is well known that their foundation has given billions of dollars in support of programs that clearly support abortion. However that does not mean we can promote theories that they have also deliberately engineered the corona virus and tried to spread it around the world.

Gossip is forbidden

2Co 12:20 ESV  For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Pro 18:8 GW  The words of a gossip are swallowed greedily, and they go down into a person’s innermost being.

My definition of gossip is:

Sharing something bad with someone who doesn’t need to know.

Unlike conspiracies, here we are assuming that the information being shared is true. Yet, we are still forbidden to share that information for the simple reason that it is unloving. In the same way that we are discouraged from hurting someone physically, we should also not hurt some emotionally. Of course there are times when we must share negative information about others. But we have to have good reasons to do so. Although spreading conspiracy theories is obviously different to gossip, the reason for forbidding them is arguable the same. That is, gossip, whether it is true or false, has the potential to injure others.

Also note how gossip is described  as being “swallowed greedily”. This is an apt description of the present climate and the embrace of conspiracy theories. 

Christians should be known for blessing those who abuse us

Luk 6:27-28 GW  “But I tell everyone who is listening: Love your enemies. Be kind to those who hate you.  28  Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who insult you.

Jas 3:9-10 ESV  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  10  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

I am not sure that we should be encouraging Christians to ‘fight’ against these ‘crazy’ ‘freaks’ as is suggested here.

Christians should show courtesy to all people because we were once like them

Titus 3:1-4 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. 2. They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people. 3. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4. But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us

This passage shows how we overcome slander – by showing courtesy. And it gives us the reason for our action – that we were once like those who we are tempted to slander and be rude to.

We must be careful when judging the motives of others

Jas 4:11-12 ESV  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  12  There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Just because we are convinced that something is morally wrong doesn’t mean others are also convinced of it. For example, many Christians believe that the Bible clearly prohibits women teaching men. Are they then justified in assuming that those churches who do allow women pastors are evil? Of course not. Some pastors absolutely forbid the remarrying of divorced people based on clear teachings by Jesus. Should those pastors then assume that all other pastors who do allow divorcees to remarry are knowingly sinning and deserve our condemnation?

I think this may be the situation with Bill and Melinda Gates in regards to vaccinations. Everything that I have seen suggests that they believe that one of the best ways to reduce poverty and increase life expectancy is through vaccinations. Regardless of whether or not this is the best way, I think God is primarily concerned about their motivation. Indeed, I hope that is what God is concerned about. I know that I have done things in the past that I now regret but at the time honestly thought was the best course for me to take.

This could be extended to abortion. Yes, abortion is murder and so is categorically wrong. But most people don’t believe it is murder. Yes, there is an abundance of evidence (along with common sense!) to show that abortion is murder. But still they don’t believe it is. And so they act accordingly. Melinda Gates believes that impoverished women in Africa are going to seek abortions whether they are provided by the Gates foundation or not. So, I suspect in her mind, it is better for them to have access to safe abortions than to have unsafe ones that risk the mother’s life.

This is no way justifies abortion. Nor should it silence our opposition to it. But it should influence how we speak about people who do things that we find abhorrent. Even Paul draws a distinction between sin committed in unbelief

1Ti 1:13 ESV  though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

Christians should love the truth

A good rule of thumb is:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

I have been amazed how some people seem to require no real evidence at all!

There are so many extraordinary claims made by so many people on YouTube and Facebook but so few of those people provide any evidence. The majority don’t include links to original sources, they don’t show links in their videos, they don’t include excerpts from interviews with the people they are maligning. In this era when there is so much fake news and misinformation, it is essential that Christians distinguish themselves by providing good support for their claims and demonstrating a love for the truth. 

Second, consumers of these videos and articles seem to rarely take the time to validate the claims made in the videos. This is a travesty because it is so easy to do! If you have a phone, can speak English and able to do an internet search, you can attempt to verify the claims made. Yet it seems that even people who are able have no interest in doing so. I think this is due to two reasons:

  • The are lazy. Although verifying claims is not difficult, it does take time and effort.
  • They really want to believe it’s true. The theory fits their view of the world or theology or their prior assessment of a person’s character. So, they don’t want to search out contrary information because it means they will need to give up a belief they have grown to cherish.

And it is good to remember that “Memes Aren’t Facts – And YouTube Isn’t Research”

We are more susceptible to Confirmation Bias then ever before

Years ago the main source of information was through a few channels on TV and a few newspapers. These news media did not give us what we wanted to hear. They gave us what they wanted to tell us. 

However today we can choose what news we want to listen to. If you right leaning you listen to Fox. If you are left leaning you listen to CNN or the ABC. So we hear mainly what we already believed. Those listening to Fox news think CNN lies. Those listening to CNN thinks Fox lies. 

It is made worse by the algorithms that YouTube and Facebook use. Those are designed to show you more of the things that you like. This means that our existing views are rarely  challenged. And if those views are wrong, we have little chance of escaping our deception.

The only solution to this is to actively seek out those with opposing views. Human nature ensures that this is done by very few.

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