I’ve written before about anti-science conspiracy theories before, and I touched on their connection to religion, but it still sometimes confuses me. I mean, Alex Jones apparently considers himself a Christian. I missed the parts of the Bible about goblins and gay frogs, unless the latter are the unclean spirits from Revelation. And the latest version of the Nibiru prediction, where some mysteriously undetectable planet is supposed to collide with the Earth (it started in 1995, but comes back every few years after it keeps failing to happen) was made by a self-proclaimed Christian numerologist.
Is there any reason for Christians to deny global warming, except for the strange marriage between Republicanism and fundamentalist Christianity? How many Bible stories are there about people screwing themselves over despite repeated warnings? Seems like that’s what happening with climate change. Conspiracy theories are weird anyway, because they seem to be appealing for contradictory reasons. They’re often based on paranoia, but they’re also fun. The details within them can be very complicated, but the idea that a few people are causing all your problems is appealing in its simplicity. And while conspiracy theorists think they’re smarter than the so-called experts, they also often tend to believe obviously untrustworthy people without question. Sure, scientists are wrong sometimes, and can even be intentionally misleading for whatever reason. But isn’t it usually other scientists who call out these errors, not radio hosts in tin foil hats? Creationists who point out the initial success of the Piltdown Man hoax apparently don’t want to acknowledge that it was eventually debunked by scientists. People still like to cling to the idea that vaccines cause autism, which was started by a gastroenterologist but soon found false by other medical researchers. Also, there are real conspiracies; they just generally aren’t as bizarrely interesting as the made-up ones. Russian influence on our elections? Sure, it looks like it definitely happened, but where are the lizard people, UFOs, and fairies? Well, okay, I guess there is that one elf from Harry Potter.
And some attempted conspiracies unravel because of weak links, or are just really obvious from the get-go. (What is a get-go, anyway?)
It’s tempting to say that strong belief in one thing without evidence makes it easier to believe in other things, but I don’t know that this is always the case. After all, a lot of modern religion involves dismissing similar religions as untrue, and there are some prominent atheists who believe other ideas without evidence behind them. You could sort of say religion IS a conspiracy theory, as it purports the existence of one or more intelligent beings who control the world.
It’s supposed to be a beneficial conspiracy, but maybe not so much for those who make God mad through no fault of their own. If belief is what’s important to a deity, it’s not like people can just force themselves to believe things. In the New Testament, Paul refers several times to principalities, powers, and authorities run by evil spirits and controlled by Satan.
The secret rulers of the world are demons rather than the Illuminati or whatever, but then it’s not uncommon for people to claim the Illuminati were/are Devil worshippers. Even today, people talk of Satan controlling anything they don’t like, which makes it sound like Lucifer is stretching himself too thin over things that aren’t that important. I guess he gets bored easily.
So I think there is a connection there, but it’s by no means inevitable. I have to suspect a lot of it doesn’t have to do with religious belief so much as it does not trusting people. And I get that, but why then believe those who spew hatred and nonsense? Even if the government really is withholding a cure for cancer, how would Kevin Trudeau know it? How do you know he isn’t PART of the They? I guess you can’t go through life without trusting somebody.
I’ve been wanting to post a comment on this article, and I finally got a moment! I appreciate how balanced your approach is when writing these essays. That’s so hard to find these days for the reasons I’m going to elaborate on, so always enjoy your articles even if I don’t have the time to read them right away or comment on them.
I’m a dedicated conspiracy-theorist, and I agree a lot of them are actually quite fun! By the same token, a lot of conspiracy theories are lunacy or just nonsense. As with anything and everything, one has to use discernment and do a bit of research before proclaiming it true (or false). Similarly, I also find the anti-conspiracy crowd, who claim there are no such things, to be not only willfully ignorant, but also smug in their assertions.
Almost everybody seems to want or think that there are easy answers, and therefore those who don’t subscribe to their way of thinking are stupid or moronic or evil. But these are the same people who despite how intelligent they may be, generally refuse to do sufficient research and thus lazily allow their opinions and judgments to be guided by the echo chambers that confirm what they already believe. In modern times, this has exacerbated by a popular media that constantly pushes simplistic notions of our team vs their team, left vs right, Dems vs. Repubs, science vs. religion. No matter what direction one is politically and culturally leaning, they’re indoctrinated into this simplistic way of thinking. You perfectly nailed it when you said that how one thinks is often a matter of which group of authority figures one has chosen to trust. Often times, that’s a snare that’s easily exploited by those who are intellectually dishonest and who may have agendas… and those kinds of people exist in ALL camps.
The reality is that there are Us vs Them. People are far more complex, and ideas and concepts are far more complex than just two sides.
The way out is to not be a team player, to refuse to blindly trust authority figures just because they wear the same label we do. The larger issue might even be with this idea that of labeling ourselves because we’re often not wise enough to recognize that our team is not the only one with good information, and this is where humility comes in, because it means accepting that we might have believed something erroneous, or that our team is not always right. Being vigilant in this regard means thinking outside the box.
Perhaps one of the greatest conspiracies is this aspect of keeping people distracted, divided and fighting amongst themselves, while the powers-that-be continue doing whatever the hell they please. But even if it’s not a conspiracy, the fact is that this team mentality that refuses to think deeper or consider other possibilities is pernicious to society… and getting worse because it destroys discourse and prevents people from coming together over common ground, and maybe even understanding how and why another person thinks as they do.
On the topic of religion, of which we’ve had many good conversations, you brought up the issue of God’s supposed demand that people believe in him, and correctly stated that a person can’t force themselves to believe something. I agree! As with many authority figures, and that includes politicians and scientists, who don’t really understand what they’re saying, many church leaders have promulgated this idea that God condemns nonbelievers for simply not believing. Such ones who teach this fail to recognize the context of certain scriptures that were intended specifically for the nation of Israel during certain crucial periods of time. Others use this false idea as a weapon to control others and squash questions and independent thinking.
While we can all agree that the concept of forced conversion is anathema scripturally and was a weapon enacted for a political agenda, biblically, it goes much deeper than that. God clearly distinguishes between those who won’t believe and those who can’t. The latter are not under condemnation, but are judged individually on the basis of their heart and deeds. In fact, several prophecies notes that “the nations” will come to the light and go up to the Mountain of God (Isaiah 2:3, 60:3, Rev 21:24, Psalm 22:27). Fundamentalists like to say that this means converted nations, but that’s clearly not the case, as not only does the reference always refers to people who are not currently serving God, but Isaiah specifically says they’re coming to the light because they don’t know God.
So, if God is understanding of those who can’t believe, who then is under condemnation? While there are several general descriptors, such as Isaiah 13: “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless,” there are more specific examples:
“There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.” (Prov 6:16-19)
So, it’s clear that amongst those in the nations, those who are condemned embody the dark qualities of: arrogance, deceit, murder, wicked plans, and manipulation. There is also a separate condemnation list for rulers, judges, and religious people! Why? Because they’re in positions of authority and have great power to help or harm. So for example, while some kings are spared in the Armageddon prophecy, most won’t be, as “the kings of the earth” and the “rulers… take their stand against God and Christ.” (Psalm 2:2, Acts 4:26, Rev 13 & 17). So, this whole cozying up with the politicians that some prominent religious leaders have done is anti-scriptural. Yet, their behavior and false teachings make sense in the light of Jesus warning about certain religious teachers, e.g., “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matt 23:13)
This aligns with what you said earlier about climate change and how odd it is that fundamentalists seem to not believe in it, and how that might have a lot to do with their alliance to Republicans (which is a whole other conversation), yet scripturally, since God promises to “destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18), Christians should be foremost amongst environmental causes. And many are (just not fundamentalists). I’m not Catholic, but it’s nice to see that the Pope, at least, understands this. So, even if climate change isn’t as alarming as scientists say it is, even if it isn’t man-made, why NOT still curb emissions? Why is pollution OK? Why is it a better thing to allow the transglobal corporations to have their way? What does it take for people to see that they’re the very ones destroying the earth?
And once again, we come back to this problem of lack of thinking in the majority of people, who prefer to let their chosen authority figures do their thinking for them. A wonderful book that I can recommend to anyone interested in this subject is M.Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled & Beyond,” which deals with the “Crusade Against Simplism,” “Wrestling with Complexities of Everyday Life,” and “The Other Side of Complexity.” All of his books are excellent, and while that doesn’t mean I agree with every point he makes, they’re worth serious perusal.