Christians and Conspiracies
It seems like just when I think one is dead, another takes its place. Since the onset of the pandemic, conspiracy theories have been multiplying and proliferating. Tragically, Christians have been some of the biggest promoters of some of these wildly dubious narratives. Many have noticed this correlation (polite examples here, here, and here), and it reflects poorly on our faith.
Fortunately, I think there are some good tools at our disposal to show that, before the “facts” are even on the table, almost any proposed theory where multiple people secretly pull off a large crime is likely false.
Conspiracies harm the Church
Before addressing this implausibility, we need to understand what is at stake here. Christianity holds claims of truthfulness at its very core; as such, Christians have a sacred mission to pursue, promote, and protect the truth.
When we advocate for falsehood and truth together, we damage our credibility as people of truth.
The logical process that allows belief in a conspiracy is flawed. When permitted, it sanctions the same thinking that underpins ideas that would make Christianity false. For instance, did Jesus rise from the dead?
If conspiracy is a live option, maybe not.
The disciples could have tricked the world that they saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion. If this is taken a step further, they could have been lying about the whole thing, decades, or perhaps a century later, and Jesus himself was just a myth! Discounting this theory logically is off the table and we are left to a duel of interpretation with the historical data.
What of the canon?
Now Dan Brown jumps into the running. The accuracy of Gnostic gospels that portray Jesus as Mary’s husband becomes a purely historical question that a creative account like The Da Vinci Code begins to validate. Perhaps these books do belong in the Bible, and our faith is a lie.
So, some conspiracies have catastrophic implications for the church. Permitting the thought process that allows for conspiracy theories that are not at odds with Christianity legitimizes the thinking behind more damaging theories
As an institution claiming to be built on truth; when the church allows these errant theories to be promoted as true, it erodes that foundation.
Identifying the Key Elements of a Conspiracy
Now surely, there are some conspiracy theories that turn out to be true. After all, conspiracies are often prosecuted in court and constitute additional charges.
Historical examples like Watergate can help us understand conspiracies better. After a break into the DNC headquarters, Nixon and a group of conspirators worked together to cover up the crime and attempted to obstruct the investigation. What is notable here though is that they weren’t successful, and that will be important as we continue; most conspiracy theories require a conspiracy to be in place that has been successful, but is now having “the whistle blown.”
So, in a legal sense, a conspiracy is an agreement between at least two people who plan together to commit a crime.
This is what is truly at the heart of every conspiracy theory. People have gotten together to do bad things, and we’ve all been duped!
This plays out nicely in our recent experience: you can’t trust the experts, masks are actually bad for you, the government is infecting us with coronavirus, the medical establishment has the cure but is withholding it from us, the election will be rigged, and so on they go.
The common theme is that there is an elite group of people, an Illuminati if you will, and there is something that they are trying to hide from us.
Whenever we run across this kind of language, our antennas should go up because we realize what is being proposed is wildly improbable.
Requirements for a Successful Conspiracy
Now, I’ve asserted that conspiracy theories are improbable several times, how can that be substantiated?
Warner Wallace, a former cold-case detective in Los Angeles, and has plenty of experience gathering evidence to prosecute conspiracies. In Cold-Case Christianity, he lists what he has found to be the 5 requirements of a successful conspiracy:
1. A small number of conspirators. The more people involved in a conspiracy, the harder it will be for the group as a whole to maintain the lie.
2. Thorough and immediate communication. When communication breaks down, conspiracies break down. Without adequate communication, co-conspirators are unable to know what information has been divulged.
3. A short time span. The shorter amount of time the conspiracy has to be maintained, the better. Longer periods invoke more probability conspirators will confess.
4. Significant relational connections. In other words, strangers make poor collaborators. The stronger the bond between accomplices (such as a familial bond), the less likely individuals will betray one another.
5. Little or no pressure. Pressure can come in the form of threats, persecution, incarceration, and more. The more pressure, the more likely conspirators will fold and the conspiracy collapses.
When we consider these criteria, we can understand why so many conspiracies are implausible, and why attempted conspiracies (like Watergate) usually fail.
Consider quickly the idea that the government has infected the country with COVID intentionally after synthesizing it in a lab in Wuhan.
How many people would have to know about this to pull it off? A ton. Scientists and politicians to start, not to mention the boots on the ground actually doing the infecting. Perhaps we even include Dr. Fauci, Bill Gates, and their respective networks! At any rate, it’s far too many to be kept a secret by everyone involved.
How about communication? It seems to me that between these likely hundreds of people that would be behind this all across the globe, that communication could not be thorough nor immediate while remaining covert.
And the time span? Well, we’ve been at this for about 9 months now, no one speaking up from the “inside” (out of the hundreds, more likely thousands that would need to be involved) in that time would be astounding.
The relational connections requirement is failed by almost every conspiracy theory. Humans have a powerful instinct toward self-preservation that will cause us to sell out even our closest friends and family, let alone strangers. If any of these alleged conspirators were caught in a tough spot, we should promptly expect a telling confession.
On that note, we can consider pressure. The same factors apply here, and certainly, the pressure generated by the millions of views that many of these videos have garnered would be exactly the thing we would expect to make a real conspiracy crack.
But alas, there has been no confession, no great unraveling, and no whistleblowing. Is this evidence of “just how deep it goes,” or more realistically, that there is no conspiracy at all?
A People of Truth
It is at this point in the conversation that I am usually asked, “Well, don’t you think it’s still possible though?”
This thought process is problematic.
Possibility and Reasonability
The intriguing thing about possibility is that anything that is not logically incoherent is possible. It is not possible that there is a square circle, this is an incoherent notion, but it is possible that I have wings growing out of my back that I’ve just never noticed before. The possibilities for what is merely possible are endless.
As such, I reply, “Yes, but I’m not interested in what is merely possible, I want to know what is reasonable.” While it is possible that I have wings, or that my toes are webbed and I have just never noticed it because the webbing is only visible when I’m not looking, neither of these fantastical possibilities are reasonable.
Possibility is necessary, but not sufficient to constitute rationality.
I can look at my back and see there are no wings. That is reason to think this possibility is not true. I can touch my toes with my eyes closed and feel there is no webbing. That is reason to think this possibility is not true.
With nothing more than possibility to go on, we are not justified in believing that something is true.
Bearing False Witness
As I bring this to a close, Christians reading this should remember our divinely mandated responsibility to the truth.
Truth is tremendously important to our faith; it is one of its necessary foundations. This is at least part of why God commands his people not to lie (Ex. 20:16, Lev. 19:11, Prov. 12:22; 13:5; 14:5; 17:7, Jn. 8:44, Act. 5:3, Eph. 4:29, Col. 3:9).
Make no mistake, when we promote conspiracies on scant evidence and wild speculation, or when we represent facts within a false context, we are bearing false witness and committing slander.
These should never be named against a Christian. We, as a people who claim to treasure the truth as the foundation of our faith, should stand vehemently against such errant and implausible claims as made by conspiracy theories, and never be complicit in their spread.