By “conspiracy theory” I mean: an explanation that typically requires orchestration between multiple malicious parties and many involved parties keeping it a secret.
They are unlikely because of the high probability of a whistleblower and the low probability that evil takes the form of competent orchestration. They are tempting because they are thrilling, fascinating, fear-inducing, or useful for maligning those we oppose.
Reasons you should avoid conspiracy theories:
- Paul warns against “evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4)
- Proverbs associates foolish fear with laziness: “A sluggard says, ‘There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!’” (Proverbs 26:13)
- Paul associates idleness with gossip and foolish speech: “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Timothy 5:13) Contrast: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
- As Mr. Rogers says, “You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.” Conspiracy theories represent a poor use of time of gardening our minds. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
- God warns against joining in on a worldly conspiracy mindset: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” (Isaiah 8:11-12)
- Conspiracy theories don’t seem to be communicated in the spirit of edifying, wholesome talk: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
- Conspiracy theories distract us from real spiritual warfare: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
- People who believe in some conspiracy theories tend to believe in other conspiracy theories. In other words, it’s a mindset that is given over to conspiracy theories.
- The mindset of conspiracy theories is a tax on the poor: a distracting, enslaving attitude that makes one ironically more of a tool of unjust power structures. Consider the lottery as an analogy: It titillates our imagination over what is possible, not over what is actionably probable. People end up wasting time, money, emotions, and imagination on it.
- Our flesh, our base urges, our hunger for outrage or intrigue is tickled by conspiracy theories. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)
- Conspiracy theories violate our Christian duty to give people the general benefit of the doubt. Paul says to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)
- Conspiracy theories violate the high standard of credibility, fact-checking, truth-telling, and knowledge required by commands to show courtesy and avoid gossiping, slandering, reviling, and spreading false reports. “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1) “They are gossips, slanderers…” (Romans 1:29) “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5) “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)
- Conspiracy theories often abuse plausible deniability: “I’m not saying this thing is true, I’m just saying it might be true!” Being suggestive avoids accountability one should own when spreading false reports.
- Conspiracy theories often avoid the plain speech that Jesus commands in Matthew 5:37. They leave us asking, “OK, so what are you really saying?”
- Conspiracy theories tend to be associated with bad influences, exploitative false teachers, junk science, and MLMs that make false promises of health.
- Good, vetted, reliable, discerning, experienced, faithful teachers of the word are not prone to conspiracy theories.
- Conspiracy theories are most commonly spread through sources and venues (the diarrhea of talk radio and social media) not known having a good reputation for reliability and truth.
- Conspiracy theories don’t have a good track record of being proven true.
- Conspiracy theories often evoke gnostic arrogance, a sense of special, privileged knowledge that an inner group has.
- Conspiracy theories often involve a fascination with the secret sins of others.
- Spreading or needlessly entertaining conspiracy theories causes Christians to lose credibility — to lose saltiness with people who otherwise have their curious ear turned toward people of the church, which is supposed to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
- Conspiracy theories pervert our ability to see human depravity clearly. When we demonize people we oversimplify or underestimate the subtlety of what makes people evil. Let me repeat: Demonizing people makes you less knowledgeable about the true nature of their depravity.
- Conspiracy theories tend to under-appreciate God’s common grace to humanity. Both of these are probably true: Your neighbor is condemned by God and needs forgiveness. Your neighbor loves his kids and takes pride in his work.
- Conspiracy theories tend to misunderstand subcultures of professions (scientists, doctors, teachers, programmers, civil servants, police officers, etc.)
- Conspiracy theories consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ less plausible, entertaining the possibility that the apostles colluded and collectively lied about seeing the risen Christ.
Please, for the love of God, don’t waste your life on conspiracy theories.
Recognize your carnal flesh: it loves to demonize your neighbor, it loves “evil suspicions”, it is tickled by what is “possible”, it loves to be intellectually lazy, it delights in suggestive slander, it loves to be entertained by gossip, and it avoids accountability. No!
Invest yourself in dignifying work. Lead with risk-management that prioritizes probabilities over mere possibilities. Get “distracted” by far more worthy endeavors and causes and trains of thought.
Your time on earth is short. Your window of influence is temporary. Flex the muscle of your imagination on something glorious.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Four more arguments against conspiracy theories: (1) pro-life, (2) conservative, (3) repentance, and (4) pace.
1. One pro-life virtue is valuing humans even when distant. They could be small, or foreign, or “other”, but they are still humans, royal kings and queens in the image of God. Conspiracy theories often depend on distance. It’s easier to assume the worst of people when they are so far away. You don’t have to see them every week or play hockey with them or work alongside them. You don’t get to know about their kids or their medical problems. It isn’t personal. Conspiracy theorists don’t bat an eye when they accuse a thousand American civil servants of orchestrating the intentional cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent American civilians on 9/11.
2. One traditional conservative virtue is local responsibility. We want local institutions to be strong. We want to mind our business, and take care of our own, and clean our own house. The sins of others usually isn’t our business. But we feel entitled to know everything and to have an opinion on everything. We check the news constantly while our kids beg for a bedtime story. We listen to gossip without objection. We read the leaked private communication between a mother and her daughter. Conspiracy theories distort our sense of privacy and locale and personal responsibility.
3. Repentance calls for a sensitive conscience to past error, a conscientiousness over failure. But conspiracy theorists don’t feel the need to repent over spreading false theories.
If 5% of parachutes made in a factory failed we would shut it down. But when a conspiracy theorist has a 5% batting average he presses forward with a determination and resolve. It’s lottery-logic: being right once, or even the possibility of being right once, is enough reason to repeat.
4. A liar will always outpace a truth-teller. He has faster legs. We appreciate reporters who pause to correct long-forgotten mistakes, even minutiae. We feel frustrated with a judicial process that methodically inches forward, but then appreciate its final verdict. But we feel overwhelmed by the rate of false claims that come the mouth of a demagogue or conspiracy theorist. It takes 10 seconds to tell a lie, but ten minutes, hours, or days to refute the lie. Meanwhile this same person has told more lies. Truth-tellers have a tendency to slow down and inspect, reflect, and debrief past claims.
- The Vanity of Conspiracy Theories and the Banality of Real Evil (Gospel Coalition)
December 17, 2003
Conspiracy theories are like epistemic lottery tickets: exhilarating for their possibilities and potential power, but poor investments.
“Rules for Good Conspiracies” from J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (http://amzn.com/B00A71Y7I8):
In my experience as a detective, I have investigated many conspiracies and multiple-suspect crimes. While successful conspiracies are the popular subject of many movies and novels, I’ve come to learn that they are (in reality) very difficult to pull off. Successful conspiracies share a number of common characteristics:
A SMALL NUMBER OF CONSPIRATORS
The smaller the number of conspirators, the more likely the conspiracy will be a success. This is easy to understand; lies are difficult to maintain, and the fewer the number of people who have to continue the lie, the better.
THOROUGH AND IMMEDIATE COMMUNICATION
This is key. When conspirators are unable to determine if their partners in crime have already given up the truth, they are far more likely to say something in an effort to save themselves from punishment. Without adequate and immediate communication, coconspirators simply cannot separate lies from the truth; they are easily deceived by investigators who can pit one conspirator against another.
A SHORT TIME SPAN
Lies are hard enough to tell once; they are even more difficult to repeat consistently over a long period of time. For this reason , the shorter the conspiracy, the better. The ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime. That’s a conspiracy that would be awfully hard to break!
SIGNIFICANT RELATIONAL CONNECTIONS
When all the coconspirators are connected relationally in deep and meaningful ways, it’s much harder to convince one of them to “give up” the other. When all the conspirators are family members, for example, this task is nearly impossible. The greater the relational bond between all the conspirators, the greater the possibility of success.
LITTLE OR NO PRESSURE
Few suspects confess to the truth until they recognize the jeopardy of failing to do so. Unless pressured to confess, conspirators will continue lying. Pressure does not have to be physical in nature. When suspects fear incarceration or condemnation from their peers, they often respond in an effort to save face or save their own skin. This is multiplied as the number of coconspirators increases. The greater the pressure on coconspirators, the more likely the conspiracy is to fail.