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The Sinfulness and Destructiveness of Conspiracy Theories

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:36-38

To deconstruct: this conspiracy theory is impossible. Small arms ammo is easy to manufacture, and manufacturers would be delighted to have the government agents try to outstrip their production capacity. This does not even take into account that so many people in the country have home repacking machines in which they reload their spent cartridges. I was told this conspiracy theory by a very nice, intelligent couple in a church I attended for a while. Again, the anger and distrust accumulated against Obama occulted reasonableness and logic.

Conspiracy Theories Defined

Let me give a tentative definition of just what a conspiracy theory is:

It is a story that focuses on one group or person to explain of the “wrongness,” or evil of a historical event, present situation, or future imagined event. Such theories avoid the issue of mankind’s universal sinfulness, error and foolishness. Conspiracy theories usually hold that when something bad happened in history, it was intentional by some group or person. Many such reinterpretations of history assume that that there are no accidents or random events—everything was intentional. Similarly, a predictive conspiracy theory (as in the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory) is an invented story that an evil group or person is about to do something terrible. In conspiracy theories, suspicions are considered facts, and little or no attempt is made to verify the information on logical or evidential grounds. The anger, suspicion and distrust embraced by the conspiracy theory believer diminishes or destroys logical or factual verification.

It is often easier to understand the false logic of a conspiracy theory from a foreign country than one that deals with our own fears and suspicions. For instance, few Americans would hold the conspiracy theory that the crash that killed Princess Diana was a conspiracy devised by Queen Elizabeth and carried out by British intelligence (or the CIA—pick your villain, perhaps even a Bulgarian intelligence operative).

Some conspiracy theories are far from harmless.

Let me again deconstruct this one. The tragic accident that led to Diana’s death was one of those things impossible to fine tune into a planned assassination. How do you manipulate the driver to be inebriated enough to crash, but not so staggering drunk that the Princess would have not gotten into the car with him? What about the speed of the car and angle of the crash? Minor differences would have resulted in a broken leg and arm, not death, etc. Car crashes are poor instruments of assassinations—much better some poisoned food from the Queen’s kitchen, again with a Bulgarian intelligence operative as the agent! The Princess Diana conspiracy theory has been mostly harmless, except that, as all conspiracy theories, it reinforced the hold of unwarranted suspicion and illogical thinking on the conspiracy theory believer’s mind.

Other conspiracy theories leave wide wakes of destructiveness. When I taught public school at a predominantly African American high school in the 1970’s I saw the establishment of a conspiracy theory that was far from harmless. It related to recent moon landings by the NASA astronauts (first one was in 1969). Most of the children in the school refused to believe the landing really took place, but were staged in some warehouse.[5] Given the state of alienation of the African American children from the government and its scientific efforts, it is easy to see why this conspiracy theory was attractive. The NASA team had no visible African-American presence. Less easy to discern was why it was destructive, aside from the fact that it was an accepted lie.

This conspiracy theory made science and scientific achievement less exciting and important among the children who accepted it, than those who understood that a lunar landing had really taken place. Great scientists and engineers are generally people who as children got excited about science, making model airplanes, rockets, etc., and did special library research (now internet) and school science projects with enthusiasm. Much of that was short circuited among African American children by the conspiracy theory about the faked moon landing. Why do science if it is just a White Man’s plot to fool people? It is impossible for us to know how many potential scientists among the African American community were side tracked from developing their true talents in science and engineering. From my experience at this one school, I suspect it was many (but have no conspiracy theory on this yet).

Anti-Semitism as Multiple Conspiracy Theories

“The Protocols” distributed from Chicago in 1934.

Some conspiracy theories are more destructive, and even genocidal in their effects. The Nazi extermination of the Jews in Europe can be seen as the product of multiple conspiracy theories, some dating back centuries which blamed the Jews for all sorts of evil. One of the most infamous was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a concoction written about 1903, which purported to be the minutes of a plot by prominent Jewish leaders to rule the world through increasing control of banking, newspapers and government. It was definitively exposed in 1921 as a fraud. But no matter, it continued to be believed in as authentic by many, including Henry Ford who paid to have half a million copies printed and distributed in the United States.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was one of the cornerstones of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda. The Nazis added to it by inventing the conspiracy theory that they had lost the World War I because they had been “stabbed in the back” by Jewish radicals and communists. That was not true of course, but as in many conspiracy theories, it had a shadow of truth. Radical and Marxist Jews did take part in the anti-war agitation in Germany in 1918, and had leading roles in the Communist ruled temporary governments that appeared in 1918-1919, as in Bavaria and Berlin. But the main factors in the German’s loss of the War were the injection in 1918 of fresh American divisions in the fighting, and the effective blockade of the British fleet which left the German people and Army in starvation status. Again, plain facts are of little importance over the emotional need of a conspiracy theory to give comfort or reassurance. That is, the new conspiracy theory confirms a set of older ones, and the German public had a great backlog of older conspiracy theories about the Jews.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2015

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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