Three conspiracy theorists walk into a bar…
you can’t tell me that’s just a coincidence.
When I was growing up, conspiracy theorists had a bad reputation. A conspiracy theorist was someone who usually had too much time on their hands and was obsessed with ‘out-there’ theories about what the shadowy elite pulling the strings were up to. In the intervening time, things have not changed: conspiracy theorists have as bad a reputation as they ever had.
However, that doesn’t seem to have made conspiracy theorists go away. In fact, their numbers seem to be growing. So much so that the BBC recently created a new post called a “disinformation correspondent”. Earlier this year she recorded a series called Marianna in Conspiracyland, looking at the rise of conspiracy theories. (As a side note, she was also caught lying on her CV – we may come back to that later).
I suspect most Christians don’t think much about conspiracy theories – not least because of the social stigma attached to conspiracy theorists. After all, who in their right mind would want to be associated with people who believe that lizards run the world, or that Bill Gates is using 5G to turn us all into robots?!…
All this will make what I am about to say sound crazy, but please bear with me. I am going to argue that Christians should be conspiracy theorists – or at least, should be prepared to believe conspiracy theories.
I suspect part of the reason people avoid conspiracy theories is because they don’t understand what a conspiracy theory actually is. They think it’s just something crazy which no-one sensible should go near. So, before we get into the Bible, I want to briefly look at the definition of a conspiracy theory.
What is a conspiracy theory?
A big part of the problem when talking about conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists is the way that they are portrayed in the media. Conspiracy theories are either portrayed as extremely ‘out-there’ – such as being ruled by lizard men – or portrayed as believing there is a shadowy cabal of rich, powerful people pulling the strings in the background.
Both of these views of conspiracy theories have some truth in them: there are definitely some ‘out there’ theories which most people will probably find too extraordinary. And conspiracy theories, at heart, involve believing that we are not being told the whole truth – deliberately lied to, even – in order to further the interests of rich and powerful people.
So, Britannica defines a conspiracy theory like this:
Conspiracy theory, an attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy.Britannica, “Conspiracy theory”
This is a fairly standard definition. However, I believe that we need to think more deeply about it. Last year, PANDA wrote an article about Covid-19 called “Cockup or Conspiracy?”, which looked at the question of whether covid was a ‘conspiracy theory’. The article gives various pieces of evidence why covid needs to be examined in this way, but for our purposes the most interesting paragraph is this one about structural deep events:
Professor Peter Dale Scott (University of California, Berkley) developed the concept of the ‘structural deep event’ and this is useful in capturing the idea that powerful actors frequently work to instigate, exploit or exacerbate events in ways that enable substantive and long-lasting societal transformations. These frequently involve, according to Scott, a combination of legal and illegal activity implicating both legitimate and public-facing political structures as well as covert or hidden parts of government – the so-called deep state which is understood as the interface ‘between the public, the constitutionally established state, and the deep forces behind it of wealth, power, and violence outside the government’. So, for example, Scott argues that the JFK assassination became an event that enabled the maintenance of the Cold War whilst the 9/11 crimes likewise enabled the global ‘war on terror’, and that both involved a variety of actors not usually recognized in mainstream or official accounts of these events. It is important to note that Scott claims his approach does not necessarily imply a simplistic grand conspiracy, but is rather based on the idea of opaque networks of powerful and influential groups whose interests converge, at points, and who act to either instigate or exploit events in order to pursue their objectives. [My emphasis]
I think this is a very helpful way to think about conspiracy theories. Most of us find it hard to imagine a secret, shadowy cabal of the rich and powerful gathering together to plan terrible things so they can further their own agenda. Let’s face it, the level of organisation required would be phenomenal! How could they get away with it – without anyone finding out? If that is a conspiracy theory, then I agree – it’s hard to see how that could be true.
However, as the article points says, if by ‘conspiracy theory’ you are talking about opaque networks of powerful and influential groups whose interests converge, who can act together to instigate or exploit events – then you are dealing with something much more realistic and believable. Given this definition, I would say that ‘conspiracy theories’ are not beyond the realm of imagination.
There’s much more that could be said, but this is supposed to be a post about Christians and conspiracy theories, so let’s get to looking at the Bible.
Reasons that Christians should be conspiracy theorists
#1: Christians should be committed to the truth
One spiritual practice which I have adopted over the last few years – and which I recommend to everyone – is to read a Psalm every day, alongside your daily Bible reading. The Psalms are wonderful, and they help to embed the truths that we learn in other parts of the Bible. The Psalms are about spiritual and moral formation – helping us to learn to love God, to pray to him, and to learn his ways.
What’s interesting to me about the Psalms is how much they talk about truth. Psalm 15 is a typical example:
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,Psalm 15:1-3
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbour,
and casts no slur on others;
You could multiply examples like this throughout the Psalms, not to mention many other parts of Scripture. I think Psalm 15 is particularly helpful, though, because it teaches us two things about the truth. Firstly, we should “speak the truth from our heart”. If we love other people, we should speak the truth (as Paul puts it, “speaking the truth in love”, Ephesians 4:15). I love what the economist Thomas Sowell says about truth:
Sowell is absolutely correct. If we truly care about other people, we need to speak the truth. We know that God “does not lie” (Titus 1:2), and we need to be like him – in contrast to Satan, who is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). The only thing we should care about is whether something is true or not, not whether it is a ‘conspiracy theory’ or not.
#2: Christians should speak the truth about others
The second thing we learn from Psalm 15 is that Christians should not cast a slur or slander on others. That means we should not only speak the truth in general, we should also avoid speaking a lie – especially when it is a lie against someone else. To put it into today’s language, we mustn’t blacken someone’s name or drag their reputation through the mud.
Let me emphasise again how seriously God takes the truth. I will quote here from the Heidelberg Catechism, answer to Q #112, “What is required in the ninth commandment?”
I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit as the devil’s own works, under penalty of God’s heavy wrath. In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what I can to defend and promote my neighbour’s honour and reputation.Source
How is this relevant to conspiracy theories? Two ways. Firstly, some ‘conspiracy theories’ are actually based on eyewitness testimony. We’ll come back to this at the end, but let me quote you from the end of the Corbett Report documentary on 9/11 whistleblowers:
What is especially galling when the so-called “skeptics” use the “someone would have talked” fallacy is that the whistleblowers have in fact done everything possible to publicize their stories—holding press conferences, filing formal appeals, joining whistleblower organizations, and making themselves available for interviews. For their heroic efforts, these brave men and women have been fired from their jobs, shunned by former colleagues, smeared by the mainstream media, and ignored by the public.
If we dismiss people – especially eyewitnesses – without hearing them, that is effectively calling them liars. If we do this casually, are we not guilty of bearing false witness against them?
Secondly, going back to what I said at the start, the label ‘conspiracy theory’ or ‘conspiracy theorist’ can be hugely damaging. If something is a conspiracy theory, it can be dismissed and need not be engaged with. Likewise, if someone is a conspiracy theorist, they can be dismissed and cast aside. Christians of all people should beware of slandering their neighbours. It is literally one of the Ten Commandments!
By all means disagree with someone, by all means debate and make them prove their point. But we must not dismiss people by labelling them as ‘conspiracy theorists’, or indeed any other demeaning and belittling terms.
I don’t like to bring my own experience into this, but I think it’s important to say I know how much this kind of thing hurts. When covid hit, within a few weeks I started coming to the conclusion that the lockdowns were a tremendous blunder. I spoke out about it publicly on social media and online. Three years on, myself and many others who raised the alarm are being vindicated by the day. It seems that not a day goes by without another newspaper article talking about the catastrophic and unnecessary effect of lockdowns. But, when I spoke out at the time, I got huge pushback. One person even sent me a private Facebook message and said that I was a bad Christian for speaking out.
There are people who haven’t spoken to me recently, people who I would have considered friends, because of my views. (Or at least, I suspect it’s because of my views, I think most people avoid me without saying why.) This is simply not an acceptable way for Christians to behave.
#3: Christians should be aware of fallen human nature
Christians of all people should be aware of the tendency of the human heart towards evil. As far back as the book of Genesis, we read:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.Genesis 6:5
Paul assembles a litany of quotations in Romans 3 about the wickedness of humanity:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;Romans 3:10-18
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
As it says – “their tongues practice deceit”. The fact that people do not believe or speak the truth is highlighted.
There are many instances in the Bible of people who refused to believe in the truth. One such example is the Pharisees. In Matthew 21:23-27, they come to Jesus to question his authority. Jesus tells them he will answer if they answer his question: “Was John’s baptism from heaven, or of human origin?” The Pharisees discuss it and refuse to answer – they know they are trapped: they can’t say it was of human origin because they were scared of the people; but they can’t say it was of divine origin because Jesus could turn around and ask why they didn’t believe him. What’s interesting for our purposes is that they didn’t consider what was true or not. They didn’t think about which possibility was true – they were only interested in what was politically expedient.
We know that human beings are made in the image of God, but we also know that human beings are fallen. In the succinct phrase of the prophet, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We also know that the closer people are to power and wealth, the greater the temptation will be to act in a sinful and godless way. Lord Acton famously said:
Too often I think people are unwilling to investigate ‘conspiracy theories’ because they don’t believe that people could be so wicked – especially not in the Western world. I believe that Christians should be able to rise above this: we should not have a rose-tinted view of the human heart. Is that not why democracy was invented in the first place – so that power could be held accountable? So, why should we think that – even in a democratic country – our leaders are immune from the influence of evil?
Think about this question: who does it benefit to demonise ‘conspiracy theorists’? It seems to me that it’s a rather ingenious way for the rich and powerful to avoid having to answer tough questions.
#4: The Bible literally says there will be conspiracies
Psalm 2 begins like this:
Why do the nations conspirePsalm 2:1
and the peoples plot in vain?
The word ‘conspire’ means to come together or ‘throng’. It is used four times in the Old Testament, once here and then three times in Daniel 6 (which is in Aramaic – it’s the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew word) – where Darius’ officials conspire against Daniel. This is the same pattern that we find throughout the Scriptures, where the rulers of the earth band together for wicked purposes (e.g. Revelation 16:14). We know that, when men get together, persecution of Christians tends to follow. That is nothing more than what the Bible predicts will happen.
At the very least, Christians should be aware that powers and authorities can misuse their authority – and that includes controlling what people believe is true. Dismissing ideas as ‘conspiracy theories’ without properly investigating them is to side with the rich and powerful. This is, again, not something that God approves of. It is not wrong to recognise the power dynamics involved in the media and the authorities – powerful people can use their power to their own advantage. I think Western Christians are far too often naive about this.
#5: The resurrection was the original conspiracy theory
Something which only struck me recently about the resurrection account is the way that the Jewish leaders spread an ‘official narrative’ about Jesus’ resurrection:
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.Matthew 28:11-15
There was an official story about the resurrection, which was circulated by the Jewish authorities. However, it was not the truth! There were many eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive (see e.g. Luke 1:2, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 etc).
Christians do not believe the ‘official story’ about Jesus: we believe the eyewitnesses, that Jesus has been raised from the dead. If we are prepared to stand firmly on the resurrection, even if it means being outsiders amongst our friends and family, surely it’s not too much to ask to stand on the truth in lesser ways? If we’re willing to embrace the label of “Christian” – and all the shame it carries with it – are we not also willing to bear the label of “conspiracy theorist”, so long as we are standing on the truth?
Please don’t misunderstand me here: I’m not trying to say that Christians should be gullible, and believe any and every conspiracy theory going! My point is that we should be prepared to listen to people who are critical of the mainstream narrative. Especially people who are eyewitnesses, and people who are prepared to speak out at significant personal cost – reputational damage, career prospects etc.
Let me give you a couple of examples to close with.
- Flight MH 370. You might remember a few years ago the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370. At the time it was a huge mystery, with a huge search operation in the South Indian Ocean. A few months ago, Netflix did a series looking at different people’s theories as to what happened. The one I find most convincing was Florence de Changy, who has written a book called “The Disappearing Act”. She is a brilliant investigative journalist and travelled around the world speaking to eyewitnesses, searching for the truth. I believe her version of events is much more plausible than the official narrative – it does seem to be a cover-up job. But you’ll have to read the book to see what she says!
- 9/11. This is, by comparison, a hugely emotive issue. However, having watched several documentaries about it, and in particular seeing a number of eyewitness accounts and various different angles, have come to believe that the official narrative is not the truth. That’s not to say I know exactly what did happen and who is to blame! But, at the end of the day, one has to look into the facts. I suggest starting with the documentary on the International Center for 9/11 Justice, also the Corbett Report series on 9/11.
At the end of the day, few things are more important than the truth. The church is the the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). All truth is God’s truth. If we commit ourselves to seeking the truth in every aspect of life, not just the truth of Scripture but the truth of the world, then we will be doing what is right.