I regularly receive e-mails from a concerned friend alerting me to conspiracies to destroy America. I’ve often struggled to know what to say to him, because if his claims are not provable, they’re equally impossible to disprove! Wild-eyed, alarmist, a little wacky—but not absolutely disprovable. Kind of like the existence of a race of hostile marshmallow people on the back side of Pluto. You never know…
G. K. Chesterton has provided me one helpful key in dealing with such a problem, and I recently got a little more help from another incisive source, Westminster church history prof Carl Trueman. It boils down to two reasons why people give credence to conspiracy theories:
- Conspiracies rationalize our powerlessness. When our efforts to combat large-scale evils bear little fruit, it must be because a massive, organized “they” are out to get us.
- Conspiracies make us feel important. We’re not just minor cogs in a machine; if people out there are conspiring against us, we must be worth targeting!
That may sound a little patronizing, but what is the most loving, appropriate Christian response to excessive credulity? If I really believe the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord (Pro. 21:1), that all the nations are a drop in the bucket (Isa. 40:15; Ps. 2), my political activity, while zealous like everything I do for the Lord, won’t be infused with anxiety or agitation. I won’t grasp for outlandish explanations for my nation’s woes (Isa. 8:12-13). Indwelling sin, “the rulers of the darkness of this world,” and God’s ultimate sovereignty are reason enough (Ps. 103:19). And I won’t feel the urge to endlessly forward right-wing (or left-wing!) political action notices to all my friends.
Sometimes a little visit to snopes.com or an earnest attempt to find a responsible voice is all a would-be forwarder needs to do. Generally speaking, however, it takes time to develop a feel for which voices are worth listening to. Responsible voices tend to coalesce into a community. They cite one another’s work, even if they disagree over it. They don’t sound breathless or screechy. They do a lot of homework. They write very well English, and they write a lot of it. They don’t accuse all their opponents of being secret agents of Fidel Castro or (on the other side) Pat Robertson. And they don’t find conspiracies under every rock.