All Commentaries

Commentary

All Commentaries

Commentary

CHRISTIANS AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Samuel Gil*

The pandemic has triggered conspiratorial discourses, which are now spreading at the speed of light thanks, in part, to our indiscriminate use of social networks. Some conspiracy theories can be harmless, but others can lead to harmful results.

Our church is no stranger to this reality. We witness, with genuine concern: the proliferation of disinformation, the noise of viral messages with sensationalist ideas, looking for the click, the gore, with flashy and exaggerated titles, revealing "secret documents", taking ideas and interpretations out of context, without contrasting the information and mixing the truth with the lie. This is also a pandemic. This is also part of the confusion presented in Bible prophecy. Probably, the COVID-19 virus will come under control, but "this other virus" will continue until Christ returns. So says the Bible. Therefore, it is in our interest to remain attentive, formed, and focused on Jesus and His Word.

Speculative theorizing, and paranoia about conspiracies both inside and outside the Church, needs to stop. It does not help our witness at all and it distances people from the real Truth.

Conspiracies exist

Emperors and kings suffered conspiracies against him from the shadows of their throne games.

The medieval church kidnapped the Word of God, twisting it and subduing consciences from fear and ignorance.

In the name of science, frauds and those knowingly falsifying data were executed. 

The large media structures, before the arrival of the Internet, have also been disseminators of hoaxes in the service of political conspiracies of massive scope.

The tobacco industry hid the harmful effects of tobacco for decades and invested millions of dollars in marketing strategies to make us believe otherwise. This has been described by some as "the greatest civil conspiracy in history" [1].

In 2015, the scandal of polluting emissions from vehicles of some motor companies came to light, showing the illegal production and installation of software in millions of diesel cars (the so-called "Dieselgate").

Capitals, companies, and technological leaders today are designing applications, algorithms, and devices in an effort to capture your attention and keep you hooked, transforming your addiction into economic benefit and control. 

Nothing and nobody escapes. Even you and I have surely suffered (or incited) the conspiracy of several people who have come together to speak out against us and harm us without our knowledge.

Yes, conspiracies exist and will continue to do so. No one with a modicum of intellectual honesty could doubt this, but it is necessary to distinguish real conspiracies from imaginary conspiracy theories. While the former may be historically and criminologically verifiable and proven, punished by criminal laws and court rulings, the latter lack rational and evidential support. Popular conspiracy theories are not an exercise in faith, but one of skepticism, irrationality, self-confirmation and rejection of evidence.

The success and why of conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories are captivating and attractive. They come in all tastes, colours and motivations. They are not all the same, nor are they all the result of the paranoia of "enlightened" people or institutions, but let us examine in general terms their scenario, method, means, and result.

The stage/scenario.

The current atmosphere presents several contextual factors that generate the perfect storm for the proliferation of these theories: uncertainty, the situation of fear or lack of solutions, the lack of complete answers, the impotence in the face of situations that are beyond our control, the generalised mistrust, the discredit of institutions, the great political, economic, religious and social polarisation, and so on.

The method.

As the sociologist Alejandro Romero, professor at the University of Granada, states, "conspiracy theories help us to regain a certain degree of control over an environment that is beyond us: at least we know who the culprits are and, therefore, the enemies we must fight as soon as the opportunity arises" [2]. In other words, these theories seduce us because they act as a control mechanism to help us face scenarios of uncertainty, as if we were to recover "the control of the TV" in our hands.

These theories are "capable of attracting large groups of followers partly because they offer a single straightforward explanation for a myriad of complicated processes. Wars, revolutions, crises and pandemics are always shaking up our lives. However, if I believe in some kind of World Clique theory, I enjoy the peace of mind of feeling that I understand everything”.

In addition to this placebo effect in the face of uncontrollable scenarios, conspiracy theories make you feel special because they offer you the possibility of entering a select circle: the group of people who "understand" what "really" happens.

Feeling that we have regained some control and knowledge are two methods that make conspiratorial thinking a trend that is prolific and spreading effectively in our day.

The medium.

To this scenario and method, we must add the medium of social networks, which causes such theories to expand at the speed of light and become more accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere. In this way, we even come to occupy spaces of power and domination in culture that would otherwise be unthinkable to access a few years ago. Until recently, the big media had a monopoly on information; now, with the Internet, we too are a medium, which offers many advantages but in the same way we should demand responsibility, sanity and rigour when generating or sharing information.

We consume a good part of our time on social networks, which favours the unfiltered intake of some information, because in the face of the lack of certainty, "these theories offer these easy answers to believe if there is not enough motivation to analyse and contrast them"[4], says psychologist Elena Morales from the University of Huelva. For a long time, we believed (with a certain naivety) that social networks and new technologies were equipped to solve the big problems of our societies. However, we see a world that, although more connected, is also more fragmented, confused, and polarised. It is not a question of demonising networks or technology, they are just a means, but of being critical of how we use them and how they affect us in our personal and spiritual lives.

The result.

There are conspiracy theories that can be harmless, but others that border on conspiracy paranoia can lead to harmful results.

Of course, it is healthy and necessary to have a critical and even skeptical attitude towards the official versions. As Christians, we are called upon to be counter-cultural (Romans 12:2), to distrust "the kingdoms of this world" (John 18:36), and to exercise our legitimate right to form a critical spirit of freedom of conscience. Moreover, history has shown that the axes of power (political, religious, media structures...) are also axes of conspiracies and, therefore, maximum transparency must be demanded of them, without censorship or persecution of dissenting discourses. Lies and false information do not have a single owner. However, when official versions are simply replaced by dubious sources of information, with no real basis, no arguments or solid evidence, the result can be disastrous [6].

Conspiracy theories need no logical foundation or order, and that makes them almost uncontestable, difficult to refute from reason or systematic thinking. It is more difficult to dismantle a "castle in the air" than a real castle. In the latter, at least you have the physical tools to do it, in the forrmer there is not even a place to grab on to, and that is exactly what makes it desperate and frustrating to try to refute conspiracy theories.

How conspiracy theories work

The basic ingredient.

Although not all conspiracy theories are the same, the foundation of most of them is this: underneath the events, we see there is a secret planning and action of a sinister group that controls everything. As the historian Yuval Noah Harari points out, "the identity of this group can change [...]. However, the basic structure remains the same: the group controls almost everything that happens, and at the same time hides that control"[7].

However, all these conspiracy theories make the same mistake: they assume that history is very simple, that everything is controllable and predictable; they simplify world events to the extreme in order to find a scapegoat. Everything that happens is "part of the conspiracy" and that's it. On the contrary, the Bible tells us: "do not call everything a conspiracy, as they do" (Isaiah 8:12).

The truth is that it is incredibly difficult to predict and control natural and human affairs as proposed by conspiratorial thinking. Our reality attends to many factors, and each one of the spheres of life is highly complex, in many cases unknown, communication can be misunderstood, we find it difficult to agree and so on. In short, a complex world does not have simple answers, and even less so when, as Christians, we know that we live in a conflict between good and evil that, as human beings, surpasses us.

The rest of the ingredients.

Conspiracy theories are not backed by evidence that will stand up to scrutiny.

They are inconsistent and contradictory.

They live in doubt as a trench, not as a transit zone.

They survive by hyper-skeptical thinking and exaggerated suspicion of all information that does not fit their theory, especially that coming from official institutions or organisations.

On the contrary, their followers give a halo of authority to isolated and concrete people, bearers of knowledge not revealed by the general public.

They tend to value what supports their theory and are immune and insensitive to other evidence, data, or proven facts.

The confirmation bias is constant, which makes us more likely to select, favour and remember the information that confirms our own beliefs. This bias works in our minds because we like to believe and share news that fits our ideas, even if they are not true.

There is always a negative intention behind what happens, and obsession and bitterness is often its form of expression.

The consumer.

Some studies[8] point out that there are personalities more likely to be receptors and reproducers of this type of theory, without disregarding it and recognising that we can all embrace some kind of conspiratorial thinking at any time:

People with higher levels of anxiety.

Who have a greater sense of lack of power or status, powerlessness or vulnerability, and feel a loss of control in their personal or social circle.

Who do not devote regular time to analytical and, above all, self-critical thinking. They pay superficial attention to news, documentation or evidence.

Those who are hyper-skeptical of institutions or have not been in administration and management positions.

The belief in conspiracies is more frequent among people who identify with political orientations that are not in the majority at present.

The Bible and conspiracies

As noted above, it is necessary to distinguish between real conspiracies and conspiracy theories. Real conspiracies exist, and are even prior to the world being a world.

The first conspiracy was inspired by Lucifer in heaven, accusing God of being a liar and unjust (Isaiah 14:12-14). This deception was introduced into our world (Genesis 3) and has circulated for thousands of years to us today. This "cosmic conflict", which encompasses heaven and earth, is the result of a conspiracy against God and man, which seeks our destruction and total perdition.

The Old Testament tells us how patriarchs, prophets and kings suffered and provoked conspiracies (2 Kings 11:14; 12:20; 2 Samuel 15:20; Jeremiah 11:9; Ezekiel 22:25...).

Jesus suffered the conspiracies of the corrupt religious leaders and rulers of His day until His death (Matthew 26:1; 28:12-15).

Apostles and new Christian congregations suffered from conspiracies of "alleged brethren", iniquity, fables, and false theories pretending to be the gospel (Acts 20:3; 23:13; Ephesians 4;14; 5:6; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3,4; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7; Titus 2; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:18-19).

Prophecy also points out that in the end time, new real conspiracies will arise in the form of human alliances between apostate religious and political powers (Daniel 2:41-44; 3:4-7; Revelation 13; 17:3, 13), evil confederations that will try to impose a worship contrary to that which God demands; but also the Bible indicates that there will be a resistance movement (a remnant) that will not give in to such bestial confusion (Revelation 12:17; 14:12).

Yes, those of us who believe the Bible are aware of the reality of conspiracies. They permeate human history, uniting heaven and earth in a conflict where evil exercises its power in both visible and hidden ways. We cannot be naive, but neither can we be speculators about unrevealed truths.

Why is all this important to a Christian?

Because the Bible warns us that in the time of the end lies, appearances, false witness, disguised messages, speculative theories and deception will be more and more common (Matthew 24). It is the first warning that Jesus himself reveals to us about the time of the end: "Beware that no one deceives you" (24:4).

For disinformation and confusion are a real and present conspiracy, and are in turn characteristic of the power of Babylon. Chapter 17 of Revelation describes "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth”. This is a representation of the apostate religious systems which: pulls the strings of a false and idolatrous worship; challenges the true God by usurping His place; and personifies infidelity and corruption, all with its unbiblical teachings to drunks those who do not flee from it.

Bab-ilu [Babel or Babylon] means in the Babylonian language "door of the gods"; but in Hebrew it sounds like the verb balal, which means "to confuse" (Genesis 11). Confusion is one of the defining characteristics of Babylon. Yes, conspiratorial fables, whether secular or religious, are part of what is foretold by biblical prophecy and we must be careful not to become part of them or fall into their nets.

Babylon is everywhere. It is also a mentality that can manifest itself beyond a particular religious or political institution. To escape from it is to reject a whole way of thinking, to be critical, not to get drunk. Leaving Babylon is a total conversion, which demands that we do not stand on uninspired imaginations, gawking at unrevealed stories, but that we become a movement of Truth. Where are you? Is Babylon in your head? Don't be confused, and don't let yourself be confused. Place your hope in Jesus, a firm and sure anchor for the soul.

"The Lord gave me a firm warning not to think like everyone else. He told me: Do not call everything a conspiracy, as they do, nor live in terror of what they are afraid of. Consider the Lord of the heavenly hosts holy in your life; he is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble" (Isaiah 8:12).

Ellen G. White and the conspiracies

The pioneering founders of Adventism did not engage in extra-biblical speculation. One can count on the fingers of one's hands the number of times Ellen G. White quotes the word "conspiracy" or writes about "secret confederations" in her writings. She does denounce conspiracies prophesied by the Bible [9], but she does not waste time talking about the black Pope, the Illuminati, communism, personalities, dates or government secrets... On the contrary, far from being paranoid about conspiracies, she advises:

"We need much less discussion, and much more presentation of Christ" (The Evangelism, 130.1)

"There are those who always seek to enter into controversy. This is the summary of their religion. They are filled with the desire to present something new and strange. They are occupied with matters of little consequence and exercise in them their keen talents for controversy. Those who allow their minds to wander in search of cheap and unimportant theories need to be converted. (Selected Messages 1, chapter 21).

"Alarming announcements are detrimental to the progress of the work" (The Evangelism, 100.4).

"Do not have a spirit of controversy. Denouncing speeches does little good. The surest method of destroying false doctrines is to preach the truth. Maintain a positive attitude" (Evangelism, 224.2)

"The special, deceptive work of Satan has been intended to provoke controversy, so that there would be struggles over words that do not profit. He well knows that this will occupy the mind and time. He awakens a fighting spirit and kills the spirit of conviction in the minds of many people, leading them to a diversity of opinions, accusations and prejudices that shut out the door of truth" (Evangelism, 117.3).

"All incisive attacks will come back on us with double force when power is in the hands of those who can exercise it to our detriment. I was repeatedly presented with the message that we must not say a single word, we must not publish a single sentence, especially concerning personalities, that would incite our enemies against us and arouse their passions to the fullest extent" (Evangelism, 418.4).

"We must be careful not to charge, overwhelm and condemn [...] In presenting the message, do not make personal attacks on other churches [...] Do not follow our pastors' own impulses by denouncing and exposing the ministry of iniquity. Many are deceived. Speak the truth in tones and words of love. Let Christ Jesus be exalted" (Evangelism, 419.1-3).

"Our work is not about attacking individuals or institutions. ...] Our work is to prepare a people to stand in the great day of God. ...] We must not go astray and enter into things that will stimulate controversy, nor arouse antagonism in those who are not of our faith. The time will come when unwary expressions of a denouncing character, which have been negligently uttered or written by our brethren, will be used by our enemies to condemn us. They will use them not only to condemn those who made the statements, but will charge them on the whole Adventist organization. [...] Therefore let our brethren exercise care and speak cautiously at all times and in all circumstances. Let all be cautious, lest by reckless speech they cause a time of trouble before the great crisis which is to try the souls of men. We must remember that the world will judge us by what we appear to be" (Counsel to the Church, 576.1-3).

Solutions to Conspiracy Theories

Study the Bible for yourself and go daily to the true, sure and inexhaustible source: Jesus.

Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you.

Spend more time with the Bible and in prayer than on social networks or in front of the TV.

The solution is not the creation of a tribunal of the inquisition on information [10], but to nourish analytical, critical and self-critical thinking.

Look for tools that help you know how to distinguish between true news and hoaxes, like the ones we presented at the end of the article "I'm sick of receiving false news" [11].

Reduce anxiety levels.

Take an interest in what others think, talk to people who think differently.

Contrast information and its sources, go deeper into what you read. Share only what you have accurate and contrasted information about.

Respect freedom of conscience and personal decision making, even when they are at the extreme of your thinking. We all have the right to think differently and to express it with respect.

The "divine conspiracy”

Over and above conspiracy theories, God has provided a "divine conspiracy". Father, Son and Holy Spirit devised and put into practice "the plan of salvation", a rescue project for every human being consisting of the greatest show of love in the universe: God became man and dwelt among us, giving up his life to death and rising again so that you and I may have eternal life.

The purposes of this conspiracy are pure, holy and good. In it there is no condemnation, no darkness, no fear. And soon, with the second coming of Christ, this divine conspiracy will be completed.

Don't waste time promoting supposed human theories, exalt the divine conspiracy that brings salvation to the world: the Gospel! That is your calling.

Do not be frightened by secret conspiracies and rest in the conspiracy of God's love.

Joy and Peace.  

If you have not yet read I am tired of receiving false news, I invite you to do so. In the next article, we will analyze the differences between biblical prophecy and conspiracy theories, don't miss it.

*Author: Samuel Gil Soldevilla, doctor in communication sciences and graduate in theology, director of HopeMedia.es and The Voice of Hope, and director of Communications of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spain.

  

References:

1] See La Vanguardia: www.lavanguardia.com/lacontra/20160620/402625388011/la-mayor-conspiracion-civil-de-la-historia-es-el-tabaco.html; WHO document: www.paho.org/hq/dmdocuments/2012/NTD-brochure-spa.PDF and El País: elpais.com/diario/2004/09/21/sociedad/1095717603_850215.html

2] The Independent: www.elindependiente.com/vida-sana/salud/2020/06/20/por-que-nos-atraen-las-teorias-de-la-conspiracion/

3] New York Times: www.nytimes.com/es/2020/11/22/espanol/opinion/teorias-conspiracion.html

4] The Independent: www.elindependiente.com/vida-sana/salud/2020/06/20/por-que-nos-atraen-las-teorias-de-la-conspiracion/

5] www.elconfidencial.com/tecnologia/2020-12-09/redes-sociales-stories-sociedad-cambios-jovenes_2858391/

6] The Guardian: www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/27/nashville-blast-investigators-examine-5g-paranoia and BBC: www.bbc.com/mundo/55570755

7] New York Times: www.nytimes.com/es/2020/11/22/espanol/opinion/teorias-conspiracion.html

8] Guide to Conspiracy Theories: www.climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/ConspiracyTheoryHandbook_Spanish.pdf 

9] The Great Controversy, chapter 36: m.egwwritings.org/es/book/1710.2585

10] See Ministerial Order PCM/1030/2020: www.boe.es/eli/es/o/2020/10/30/pcm1030 and a sharp commentary by LaExcepción on this: http://laexcepcion.com/asuntos/espana/gobiernodesinformacion.htm 

11] Adventist Magazine Spain: revista.adventista.es/estoy-harto-de-recibir-noticias-falsas/