Why Christians Shouldn't Entertain Conspiracy Theories
Last month marked the thirty-third anniversary of Edgar C. Whisenant's first prediction of the rapture. His book, entitled 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988, sold millions of copies. When the date came and went with no rapture, he regrouped and repurposed his message for the following year, predicting the occurrence of the rapture for 1989, 1993, 1994, and 1997 with each prediction garnering less attention. Whisenant's first prediction created a frenzy in American evangelicalism, with major broadcasting networks informing viewers how to prepare themselves for this event. But it was all a sham.
Modern Christians have fallen for many similar predictions and conspiracies throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. They aren't the only ones, though. This past year, conspiracy theories have become mainstream politically, too. The left and right have invented theories about their political opponents, claiming each responsible for malicious intent in their political actions. We must ask not how correct these theories are but why people so readily believe them and whether we as Christians should entertain them.
Before we do that, we must first consider what a conspiracy theory is. Conspiracies are sinister plots, usually with malicious intent, kept secret from the public. A conspiracy theory explains a set of events or circumstances as a result of a secret sinister plot with malicious intent. The two are not the same. Real conspiracies tend to have long paper trails; conspiracy theories are mainly based on assumptions. As many of the accusations today are, they are not simply asking questions as to why the government is implementing regulations and covering up their obvious lies. Instead, the theories tend to make grand assumptions based on limited evidence.
For example, globalism among the elites or the idea of a world order/one-world-government are not conspiracy theories in themselves; the societal elites have openly suggested and pushed the idea numerous times. A conspiracy theory would take that suggestion of globalism from the elites and, without sufficient evidence, work it into the motive and goal for a series of events.
Why We Believe the Theories
When public trust in a prominent institution dissipates, theories arise as to what the institution is really doing or what the institution's underlying motives really are. Essentially, when trust fades, everything becomes suspect, and in steps a conspiracy theory. When trust is lost, disappointment and anger arise, and the theory becomes more believable. Even if there is a conspiracy for evil within an institution or corporation, conspiracy theories stress the opponent's faults to irredeemable levels, and we are more prone to believe them out of spite than because of their veracity.
We are also prone to believe conspiracy theories because they attempt to tell us what is really going on. There are real conspiracies in our world, and they are well-known and easily identifiable when they come to light. But, real conspiracies cause us to question if there are more conspiracies, thus creating theories.
The Problem of Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories house two problems for Christians: their characteristics are inconsistent with a biblical worldview, and their aim is inconsistent with biblical orthodoxy.
First, why their characteristics do not fit within a biblical worldview:
Conspiracy theories tend to group corporations, governments, secret societies, and wealthy people into the malicious "Them" as the cause of the problem. "They" are the evil conspiratorial masterminds behind the ills of society. However self-serving or even malicious these corporations and governments are, the problem with this particular way of thinking is that we are in the world and take part in society. We share the problems society faces, and we play a role in them: perpetrating, ignoring, observing, or correcting the ills. As Christians, we also know not to shift blame too quickly, for we know in our hearts still lurks indwelling sin. Jesus teaches us that we have no place correcting the world's troubles unless we first correct our own (Matthew 7:3-5). Unfortunately, conspiracies often shift the eyes of judgement away from our "small" problems to the "big" problems of the world.
Another reason these theories are inconsistent with a biblical worldview because they tend to be speculative more than factual. The connection between the dots is more often "probably" than "certainly." Speculation quickly becomes confirmation; what was likely becomes certain. Journalism today shares this trait to some extent, emphasizing what fits the accepted narrative and hiding what doesn't. Christians are people of the truth, of God's truth, of objective truth.
When it comes to conspiracy predictions, Christians should be the first to realize that no one can predict what will happen. We are finite, and we have limited wisdom. What is more, predictions accumulate errors as they project outwards. That means the farther into the future a prediction ventures, the more errors it gathers. Take climate change as an example. Every year disaster is projected further into the future, the more error it must account for, meaning that many predictions about climate catastrophe have so many errors we have no clue whether our actions today will cause any "needed" change.
Lastly, conspiracy theories don't match a biblical worldview because they are too simplistic for our complex world. Christianity is a simple religion, but not simplistic. It deals with the complex problem of sin, reveals the incomprehensible God of the universe, and splits the joints from the marrow. Conspiracy theories might cover many bases of inquiry, they might answer some questions, but they often provide too simple an answer for complex problems. The theories do not ask all the questions necessary for proper understanding. Many tell only part of the truth, which is no truth at all.
Second, why their characteristics do not fit with biblical orthodoxy:
Biblical orthodoxy shapes our biblical worldview, so it is no surprise conspiracy theories fail to measure up to orthodoxy. One of the key ways this failure shows itself is in the doctrine of God. Many conspiracy theories attempt to tell us who (or what) is controlling the government, corporations, wealthy people and everything else outside our individual control. What good it does them to know who or what is in control is beyond me, particularly when it is some force of man.
Biblical orthodoxy, however, tells us God is in control of everything. This is more than some sentimental statement plastered to the side of a coffee mug or an inspirational quote on a vain Instagram post. This is reality. God really is in control of all things. From creating the world to choosing a people, from the fall of Adam to redemption by Christ, from righteous kings to unrighteous kings, from prophecy to fulfilment, God rules, reigns, ordains, controls.
When we become settled in orthodoxy—which is when the reality of God being in control becomes to us more than mere sentiment—conspiracy theories about how the world works and why it is the way it is loses all excitement and interest. Why does it matter if we know what kind of evil intentions the corporations and governments have when we are convinced not a sparrow falls apart from our Father's will? Paul tells the philosophers of Athens God is not helped by man, but "he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25). The reason we should not only know but become convinced of God's sovereign rule over His creation is a whole lot more important than the latest theory (or the latest political trend): "that they should seek God" (Acts 17:27). To seek God means we repent of our sin, and we live grateful, thankful, happy lives in Christ, and that is by far a better way to spend our lives than wrapped up in this world's affairs.