Now more than ever, the internet is a scary place. For all the benefits it provides in bringing people together and creating an interconnected world, it also connects us to some of the more unscrupulous aspects of humanity.
This is no more evident than in the widespread popularity of conspiracy theories. To be sure, conspiracy theories existed before the internet. But in recent years, many of them have moved from the fringe to the mainstream.
For example, there’s the conspiracy of QAnon, which claims that President Donald Trump is currently facing down “a secret cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring” and who are plotting against him.
Before the advent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, there was the theory that President Barak Obama was a secret muslim from Kenya who infiltrated the American government in order to institute Sharia Law. Before that, it was the theory that the attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job” in which President George W. Bush was involved.
These claims are ridiculous, and yet so many people believe them. Worse yet, many of those people are Christians! This is genuinely troubling on any number of levels.
So here are 4 compelling reasons why no Christian should ever get swept up in internet conspiracy theories.
1. Christians should never be associated with perpetuating falsehood.
Among the myriad conspiracy theories you’ll hear about throughout the course of your life, each of them has one commonality. The evidence supporting them is sketchy at best.
While conspiracy theories may connect various data points into a single narrative, these connections aren’t backed up by corroborating evidence. And in the words of Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
If you want to seriously claim that one of the world’s largest democracies is secretly controlled by a small group of pedophiles, you need undeniable evidence. If you don’t, then all you have is a hunch–a horrifying and highly unlikely hunch at that.
Christians should never encourage such flagrant disregard for truth. Here’s what Paul says in his letter to the Colossians.
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)
Important to note is that the command not to lie is put alongside commands not to be sexually immoral, wrathful, evil, or idolatrous. In short, this is a big deal.
When you indulge in perpetuating a conspiracy theory, you probably aren’t thinking in terms of lying. But that’s what you’re doing. You’re sharing articles, engaging in speculation, or in some cases all out begging your Facebook friends to “wake up,” when the evidence for your extraordinary claims is skimpy. We have to be committed to truth.
If you can’t be sure it’s true, then don’t spread it as though it were refutable fact.
2. Our need to make sense of things should never be satisfied at the expense of our faith.
Part of the reason why conspiracy theories are so attractive is that they make us feel like we can make sense of the world. When someone on the internet spins an extraordinary yarn, what they’re doing is providing a simple explanation for everything that ails the world. They identify an enemy that’s easy to hate.
And while the things that conspiracy theorists claim are horrifying, they somehow seem less horrifying than the fog of living in chaos and not knowing how to fix it.
The fact of the matter is that life isn’t that simple. Sometimes things are difficult and there’s no identifiable reason why. Sometimes chaos and destruction win the day, and there’s no human enemy to blame. So that’s why we invent one. Because, in a strange way, it makes us feel better.
But when we feel the discomfort of uncertainty, the wisdom of Scripture points us in a different direction than conspiracy theories.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.”
Returning to simple trust in the fact that God is in control even when things feel out of control will be a refreshment to your bones. It will bring healing to your life and a fresh resolve to live in the power of love rather than in the shadow of fear.
3. Fake conspiracy theories can cause real damage–and even violence.
While conspiracy theories may make you feel better for a moment, they can actually cause real world damage. And that’s because their allure is so compelling that they may inspire the passion of certain individuals to act against threats identified by the conspiracy theory.
When that happens, the results can be disastrous. And that’s exactly what happened in the case of the so-called Pizzagate Conspiracy. The theory posited that a DC area pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong was the epicenter of a child-trafficking ring orchestrated by Hilary Clinton and her 2016 campaign manager, John Podesta. The theory had no evidence to back its claims.
But as a result of the traction the theory got, one man felt compelled to spring into action. He stormed the pizzeria with an assault rifle. And while no one was injured or killed, they very possibly could have been. The assailant fired off three shots in the restaurant.
Christians simply cannot feed into these kinds of violence provoking theories and discussions. Solomon teaches us that we have an obligation to protect people from harm, as much as we are able to.
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” (Proverbs 24:11)
Conspiracy theories are far more sinister than an idle pastime or interesting topic of discussion. They hurt people. The damage reputations. And they can even lead to violence. For this reason along, no Christian should touch any conspiracy theory with a thirty-foot pole.
4. Christians shouldn’t feed into the stereotype that we are gullible and uneducated.
Among non-believers, Christians have an unfortunate reputation for being gullible. For believing in fairytale myths that we accept without thinking critically. For being uneducated fundamentalists who don’t value or understand science or empirical data.
The sad thing is that when Christians take the bait on every new conspiracy theory that pops up on the internet, we feed into the stereotype. We’re buying into a fantastical story that has very little evidence to back it up.
This can be incredibly damaging to the mission of the Church. Because much of the unbelieving world doesn’t see the Christian faith as logically or scientifically defensible. And while our faith is indeed defensible and rooted in verifiable fact, affirming conspiracy theories doesn’t do any favors for our credibility. In fact, it may contribute toward us not even having an audience with unbelievers.
Here’s what Peter has to say about the value of having a good reputation among non-believers.
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
(1 Peter 2:12)
While it’s true that the unbelieving world will always have negative things to say about the Church, let’s do everything we can to make sure that their gripes against us aren’t legitimate. And where their complaints are warranted, let’s be humble enough to alter course.
The world is crazy enough without conspiracy theories. And God is in control of it all.
Truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s messy. Not every loose end gets tied up into a bow. Sometimes we never get an answer to the question why. That isn’t always comfortable. But the answer isn’t found in conspiracy theories.
Because what we do know is this. God is in control of everything. What’s more is that God is completely for your good. And if God is in control, and he’s for your good, you can trust that he will care for you regardless of what unprecedented events may befall us.