Christians and Conspiracy Theories

May 11, 2011

Most of Americans rejoiced at the swift justice we unexpectedly witnessed on Sunday with the capture of terrorist mastermind, Osama Bin Laden.  Many gave important cautions against too much celebrating about the eternal damnation of a soul once created in God’s image.

In the days since, as with any news story, there are conflicting accounts of what happened in the raid by our brave Navy SEALS, including how involved the President was, why they buried Osama at sea, etc. And as such, there are a raft of conspiracy theories emerging. I won’t get into these here, but I think it’s a good jumping off point to discuss something I’ve been wanting to write about for some time.

It’s the subject of Christians and conspiracy theories. Alternate theories of history have abounded since the beginning of time, because we live in a fallen world, infected by sin, sinful leaders, and anterior motives. But it seems that the proliferation of new media, the vast reach of the Internet, and general distrust of authority has given rise to even more conspiracy theories.

Almost every day I receive an email forwarded from someone who forwards information about a political figure, religious figure, or institutions with which they disagree.

The question for us is this. How should we approach these ideas? Here are a few guidelines I’ve found helpful to me as I process stuff like this:

1) Because it’s online, doesn’t mean it’s true.

This goes for books, documentaries, and even human rumor. But it’s particularly true online. The author’s facts or figures or conclusions could be wrong or cherry-picked out of context. For some reason, we think if we found it at a certain sight or found it online, we think it’s true. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “Prove all things, hold fast to what is true.” Christians have a responsibility to pursue the truth. Maybe that means checking a sight like snopes.com or politifact.com

2) Because it’s on a “mainstream” media source, doesn’t mean it’s “untrue.”

As a conservative I agree with the premise that the major news organizations tilt liberal in their slant of the news. I think, mostly, like academia, they are shapers of our culture and at times advance an agenda that cuts against Christian values. However, that doesn’t mean every single news report is always false. That doesn’t mean every reporter is in the tank for the liberal agenda. I’m often told, by those who subscribe to conspiracy theories, “That’s what they want you to believe.” For the most part, there is no big, hairy they. The media is made up of individuals working hard to advance their careers and make money. The corporations pursue what best suits their bottom line (often at odds with what’s good for culture, but that’s another discussion!).

3) Because a story is advanced by someone whose ideology I agree with, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Sometimes we can be so eager to advance a cause or to frame a narrative about someone we oppose, we’re willing to believe anything written that makes the case. Even preachers do this, telling urban legends as fact. I think we should always pursue the truth. If what we believe is just and our cause is pure, then that should be enough. We don’t need wild-eyed stories to prove the point.

 

4) We should hold our fire.

The admonition in James 1:19 to be “swift to speak” and “slow to wrath,” may never be as important as it is in the age of social media. Too often we advance ideas based on little or no facts. I’m guilty of this quite often. We’d be better served to keep our opinions to ourselves until all the facts are in. Our Christian witness loses credibility when we speak in the public square without knowing what we’re talking about.

5) We should be careful about assigning motives.

It’s one thing to act boldly for a cause. It’s quite another to assign motives to those who disagrees with us. Things such as That pastor only cares about growing his church or That congressman just wants to line his pockets or These CEO’s are all greedy. Do we really know those things? And how would we feel if someone similarly judged our motives? We’d feel hurt. We’d feel as if they didn’t really know our true motivations. We can judge actions, but only God knows hearts. I recently read a blistering critique online of a pastor of a well-known church in the South. The entire post was demeaning, leveling wild unsubstantiated assaults on the man’s character and unfairly maligning his motives. None of it was a critique (sometimes needed) of the man’s theology or exposition of the Scriptures. I’m hoping the pastor’s family didn’t read the blog.

6) We should be careful about “connecting the dots.

For some reason, we are a people who want to believe there is a big plot behind every single thing that happens. We can’t accept, at face value, that some things just happen. We still think Kennedy was killed either by the CIA, Lyndon Johnson, Cuba, or some combination of all of those. Some still think Neal Armstrong never went to the moon that it was all staged on a movie set in Arizona. And if you watch enough cable TV, depending on your political persuasion, you will come to think that behind every act in Congress there is a string of connected dots that go back to either George Soros (liberal) or the Koch brothers (conservative). We’d be surprised at how much of life is uncoordinated and unconnected. The government can hardly run a DMV. I’m not sure they’re good enough to launch the great conspiracies for which we give them credit.

7) Christians shouldn’t have their heads in the sand, but we shouldn’t be doomsday artists either.

Philippians 4:8 tells us to dwell our thoughts on, among other things, “what is pure and true and ‘of good report.’” That doesn’t mean we close our eyes to injustice or that we ignore warnings or that we don’t actively pursue what’s best for society. It simply means we don’t become slaves to the merchants of fear. In case you haven’t noticed, fear sells well. Books predicting doom and gloom. TV shows depicting rising threats. Talk show hosts predicting the end of America. Sociologists inundating us with research about the “end of Christian America.” Preachers pounding the rest of evangelical America and warning of it’s demise. If you imbibe enough of this stuff, you’ll end of being a Christian cynic as opposed to a joyful recipient of God’s divine grace (Philippians 4:4).

To be sure, not all negativity and judgment is bad. The Bible itself dedicates lengthy passages and entire book warning of coming judgment (Revelation). And Christian preaching and teaching should not exclude preaching against sin.

Yet, as Jesus told his disciples before he was to be crucified, “Let not your heart be troubled (John 14:1)” How can we be joyful in a fallen world? Because Jesus is risen. He’s the sovereign King. And his power is at work in us. Part of being a disciple is to the conscious act of surrendering our thought life to the Lordship of Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). This means we filter out what is untrue, accept what is true, and live our lives in confident expectation of His return.