Why are people so wild about conspiracy theories?
During Barack Obama’s campaign for president in 2008 and throughout his presidency, we heard that he was ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya, that his birth certificate was a forgery, that Communist Frank Davis was his real father, that he planned on locking his opposition up in secret FEMA camps, that he was a Muslim, that he hated Christians, and worked secretly for the Saudis and the Iranians, to name but a few.
Now that Trump is president the other side is engaging in the fear mongering. He is the new Hitler who is going to bash gays, ban Muslims and bring about martial law. Trump is the dictator, a racist who inspires his racist followers; a demagogue, the pawn of big internationalist oil, and industrial military complex. He has even been blamed for all the conspiracy theories surrounding Obama.
Conspiracy theories, in general, are a waste of time because they are self-contradictory; based on an underlying assumption that things are not what they seem, and that there is a conspiracy to cover the truth and project a lie. However, if things are not what they seem, then the conspiracy theory is also not what it seems. Once you enter the twilight zone of the conspiracy theorist everyone is probably a liar and every theory is just as credible as the next one. That has to include the conspiracy theorist as well, for isn’t the conspiracy theorist actually cooking up a conspiracy of sorts himself?
Then we get into the tail-chasing madness in which the conspiracy theorists are all conspiring to dish out a false version of the truth. In other words, conspiracy theorists become conspirators. They chase their tails in a kind of nail biting, wild eyed introspection which follows the irrational logic of insanity – If there is no evidence for the official line it proves that they, whoever they are, are lying and if there is evidence, then it has to be fake. If there is incontrovertible scientific evidence it only proves how very good ‘they’ are at covering up and if there are eyewitnesses, it shows how easily people can be bought.
Conspiracy theorists tiptoe through quicksand. All evidence is suspect. All witnesses gullible dupes. All authority is involved in the massive cover up. Let me illustrate my point. Let’s look at an old historical conspiracy – the one that claims that Queen Elizabeth I was a man.
The conspiracy goes that the infant Elizabeth was in the country town of Bisley during the plague and died. The villagers, terrified of the king’s wrath, substituted the only other red haired child of that age in the village for the dead Elizabeth. That child just happened to be a boy but the villagers figured that he would more than likely also die from the plague while not in their town and no one would be the wiser. Unfortunately the boy survived and the older he became the more it was apparent that he would inherit the throne. Those within the royal household who knew the truth had to maintain the secret for their own protection.
For the conspiracy theorist this explained Elizabeth never marrying, never allowing herself to be seen unclothed even by her handmaids; it explained her being bald, having a deep voice, enjoying masculine sports like hunting, wearing wigs and heavy makeup, and why she forbade an autopsy after her death.
Now for those who like conspiracy theories, this one is a humdinger. The problem is, as with all conspiracy theories, it is internally self-contradictory, for if the perceived truth that Elizabeth was a female is proven false, then most anything, with a little bit of “evidence” might be promoted as the truth. We could easily say, as some have claimed, that Elizabeth was actually William Shakespeare. Or we might cook up some other conspiracies that claimed she was a witch, or that she was cursed by the ghost of Ann Boleyn or that she was beheaded instead of Mary Queen of Scots who actually took the throne of England while pretending to be Elizabeth and, of course, all of Elizabeth’s courtiers, for fear of losing their own heads, helped to maintain the fiction.
The number of conspiracy theories is only matched by the amount of imagination people have along with the need to find some greater hidden meaning to it all. But even if the conspiracy of the day is true, what then?
So what if JFK was murdered by LBJ, George Bush or the Cuban Cigar manufacturers! There is nothing we can do about it. So what if we discovered incontrovertible proof that G.W. Bush murdered JFK, Jr. in a rigged plane crash or Elvis ate a poisoned peanut butter sandwich, or Michele Obama is actually a man, or Bill Clinton is a secret Rockefeller love child or the earth is actually flat, or if little gray men are living at Area 51, or that Princess Diana was murdered by an international secret group of reptilian aliens? What are you going to do about it? NOTHING, absolutely nothing can be done about it.
I think good people are drug into conspiracy theories because of who we are as a people. Look at our history. Most of the immigrants who came here were fleeing some kind of persecution. Protestant settlers came for religious freedom from oppressive state religion regimes. Jews came here to escape pogroms. Irish came here to escape the English oppression. Others came to escape crushing poverty caused by greedy capitalists, aristocrats or politicians or all three.
Fear and distrust of the establishment runs deep in our bloodstream. Is it healthy? I think up to a point it is. We should be suspicious of those who hold power. But, if we’re Christians, we should also have a bit more trust and confidence in God’s providence. What he is doing is always and everywhere above and beyond the little power plays of people here on earth.
Will we be persecuted from time to time? Will we be misunderstood, maligned and even martyred? Will government powers hate us, wealthy people scorn our values and the diabolically controlled despise us? Of course! It they did that to our Savior- why do we think it will be different for us?
Conspiracy theories are based in fear. Perhaps it is time we grow up and stop being so afraid of the dark.
Source: Conspiracy Theories and the Assassination of JFK, by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Patheos; Distrust Breeds Conspiracy, Franklin County Patriots