The Hidden Danger of Conspiracy TheoriesWilliam McCall March/April 2010
Is fluoride in the water a Communist plot? Was World War I a conspiracy of the Illuminati (or the Jews)? Is there a secret government plan to supplant the U.S. dollar with an “Amero,” a currency that includes Canada and Mexico? Was the attack on 9/11 a conspiracy by high officials in the U.S. government (or Jews)? Regardless of your personal bias or political persuasion, there is probably a conspiracy theory that appeals to you.
Conspiracies are a part of human nature. They exist at every level of human interaction. We could probably say that where two or three are gathered together, there is a conspiracy theory. We could also paraphrase a law of physics and hypothesize that for every conspiracy, there is an equal and opposite conspiracy.
A problem with conspiracy theories is that they oversimplify world events in order to find a scapegoat. In any reasonably open society, with freedom of the press and access to historical documents, it is not hard to find out the truth, or at least enough of the facts to clear up any false theory. In the world of conspiracy theories, conjecture takes the place of diligence and fear takes the place of reason. Often a particular clique of evil people is given virtual omnipotence, as if when major events, such as world wars, take place, everything happens according to plan. Does the devil himself have so much power?
Not long ago I was discussing a certain conspiracy theory with a friend, which led to a discussion of conspiracy theories in general. My friend, in defense of certain conspiracy theories, used the Holocaust as an example of a secret conspiracy. In truth, it is exactly the opposite. Everything done by Hitler against the Jews was eventually done publicly. If it wasn’t, Christians and the larger society would not be so responsible. No one is responsible for things done without their knowledge.
Hitler made his ideology clear before he came to power in his infamous diatribe, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), written while he was in prison. In the book Hitler talks about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. He blamed Communism and all of Germany’s problems on the Jews. By making the Germans the victims, he could later justify his persecution of Germany’s perceived enemies. There is a certain demonic appeal in finding a scapegoat for problems. We are not responsible. We have someone to blame. The solution is clear.
The persecution of the Jews by Hitler and the Nazis was not done in secret. To any reasonable Christian, as soon as laws were passed against the Jews, as soon as Jews were required to wear a star, it should have been clear that this was morally wrong—even evil itself. The signs were there for everyone to see.
A literary forgery called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903) influenced Hitler’s work. This work was published in czarist Russia. The book was touted as a transcript of secret documents by Jewish leaders. This work of fiction was a propaganda tool to blame Russia’s problems on the Jews, take the political heat off the czar, and justify persecution of the Jews. This account of a conspiracy was actually a part of a conspiracy itself! We have a right to ask of any conspiracy theory, is a particular conspiracy theory part of a conspiracy?
The only real conspiracies about the Holocaust are found in the people who deny it. Because almost everything was done in the open, because it was so well justified by centuries of bias and decades of propaganda, the Holocaust was meticulously documented by the Nazis. Since then it has been one of the most studied and acknowledged events of modern history. And yet even today some promote theories denying the Holocaust. They do this because of a particular bias or political agenda (conspiracy) of their own.
Many of the conspiracy theories that float around today are started by, or promoted by, nominal Christians. This is a shame because this kind of theoretical indulgence and idle gossip flies in the face of Christian duty and ethics. Many are based upon false theology not consistent with what the Bible teaches. Jesus never told His followers to be concerned with “secret” events or conspiracies. Jesus said, “Watch . . .” (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; etc.). All the events and signs Jesus pointed to were observable. They did not have to be guessed or speculated about. He said, “When you see . . .” (Matthew 24:15, NIV).* We are not to be concerned with rumors (Matthew 24:6).
One World Government?
One of the most common fear-created myths promoted by Christians is that there must be a one-world government before Christ can come. This ignores that a persistent theme in the Bible is division. Sin has caused division in humanity. Not only does the Bible not predict one world government before the kingdom of God; it denies it.
“Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom” (Daniel 2:41).
The Bible does warn about an alliance between church and state (see Revelation 17:3ff). It does not advocate a military solution to the world’s problems, nor does it encourage Christians to take up arms against the state. The only world government it predicts is the kingdom of God that is brought about “not by human hands” (Daniel 2:45).
What Conspiracy Theories Have in Common
Here are some generalizations we can make about conspiracy theories:
1Conspiracy theories treat allegations as fact. Every allegation should be proven. We should not be content with a claim about secret societies or plans without hard documentation. If all the “books are cooked” and all the facts are hidden, then we can’t trust the people who bring us the theory either.
2They reinforce our prejudices. Unless we want to lose all our credibility, we should be especially wary of conspiracy theories that seem to justify our opinions. Once again, allegations must be documented and proven. Truth can afford to be fair.
3They encourage cynicism and paranoia. Normal channels of information cannot be trusted according to this mind-set. Usually, in order to hold up, conspiracy theories depend upon an ever-widening group of coconspirators. This is especially true the longer the gap in time between the event and the present. The events of September 11, 2001, were among the most traumatic in the history of the U.S. As a result, they were investigated by a panel of all different political stripes. The 9/11 Commission had subpoena power and the investigative power of the entire government (CIA, FBI, etc.). Anyone who covered up information would be guilty of a crime and an accomplice to conspiracy. Although the 9/11 Commission may not have uncovered every element of what happened, and though questions remain, in order to believe it was an “inside job” would impugn literally thousands of people in government, law enforcement, and the military, including many political adversaries. A historical certainty is that the larger a given conspiracy, the more likely it is to be exposed.
4They tend to be almost religious in nature because they require a faith. They are cultish and imply, “You can’t trust them (almost all society), but you can trust us.” A Website promoting the theory that the American dollar is about to be replaced by an “Amero” says, “Although the feds deny it . . .” In other words, every responsible government official can deny it, and yet people will believe it. In fact, government denial makes it more likely!
5As the case of the Protocols, conspiracy theories are often born of conspiracies themselves. They are attempts to slander perceived enemies with innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations.
6Unproven or unprovable? We should wonder why the evidence is not submitted to the appropriate authorities. Was a crime allegedly committed? The evidence should be submitted to the authorities. Often conspiracy theories revolve around the medical world. Quack remedies are espoused because the medical profession (hundreds of thousands of doctors and scientists around the world!) cannot be trusted. Is a remedy effective? Submit your research to a peer-reviewed journal. The excuses given by theory-mongers are a tacit admission that they cannot prove their theory. We should follow the advice of the Torah and be loath to bear false witness.
7Ignorance is supplanted with false certainty. In reality, there are many unanswered questions in life. That does not give us license, however, to fill in the gaps with our favorite scapegoat. History can also be messy and full of chance occurrences. Conspiracy theories are attractive because they tie everything up in a neat little package. Life is more messy and complicated than that. The actions of a single individual are often hard to explain, let alone any group of people.
8They promote pride and self-righteousness. As Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Conspiracy theories are enticing because the adherent thinks he knows something. In truth, we’ve replaced honest doubt with false certainty. In the spiritual world, faith is required. In this world, we should see the evidence.
At best, conspiracy theories are a waste of time. At worst, they pander to the basest elements of human nature. Jesus said, “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Matthew 10:26). John tells us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Are All Conspiracies Evil?
With a small group of disciples who often met in secret, Jesus initiated a conspiracy to change the world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Christians are told to love their enemies and be kind to those who persecute us. We are to go about the cheerful performance of our daily duties while we “watch” for signs of the kingdom of God.
*Bible texts in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.