I begin this blog by confessing that in the past I was the biggest conspiracist you would find. Hello…. I was raised in a fundamentalist, exclusive cult. We were fed conspiracy from morning to-night. These days, not so much.
I find that I am much more preoccupied with the nature and character of Jesus. I am constantly asking myself. Does this bring love or fear. Peace or anxiety. Distress or comfort. I am still only a student of the gifts of the spirit, but I have worked out that conspiracy theories, right or wrong, usually always promote chaos, anxiety and fear. They actually can make you very sick. Emotionally and physically.
What is a conspiracy theory? : it is a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event. Conspiracy theories are all about unseen forces stealing the power.
As a global population we are awash with conspiracy theories. Planet x or Nibiru will collide with earth and wipe everyone out. The Holocaust never happened and the pope is the anti-christ. The moon landings are fake, 9/11 was an inside job, governments are deliberately concealing evidence of alien contact, and we are all being controlled by a sinister, shadowy cartel of political, financial and media elites who together form a New World Order. Princess Diana was murdered, cancer is already cured, and the earth is flat. War against Islam, global warming, vaccination threat, Islam is taking over the world and the list goes on and on.
Jesse Walker (2013) has identified five kinds of conspiracy theories:
- The “Enemy Outside” refers to theories based on figures alleged to be scheming against a community from without.
- The “Enemy Within” finds the conspirators lurking inside the nation, indistinguishable from ordinary citizens.
- The “Enemy Above” involves powerful people or powers manipulating events for their own gain.
- The “Enemy Below” features the lower classes working to overturn the social order.
- The “Benevolent Conspiracies” are angelic forces that work behind the scenes to improve the world and help people
Conspiracy Theories make sense of a world that is often very confusing.
The more we talk about something the more people gravitate toward it. Merely mentioning the myths or conspiracies actually helps to reinforce them, For example, studies have shown that public information messages aimed at reducing smoking, alcohol and drug consumption all had the reverse effect.(source)
One of the most striking examples of this was seen in a study evaluating a “Myths and Facts” flyer about flu vaccines. Immediately after reading the flyer, participants accurately remembered the facts as facts and the myths as myths. But just 30 minutes later this had been completely turned on its head, with the myths being much more likely to be remembered as “facts”.(source).
Dr Wood from the University’s School of Psychology said: ‘Conspiracy theories are more about disbelieving the official story than believing in some alternative story, and that is reflected in how a lot of these online arguments unfold’.
According to the political scientist Michael Barkun, conspiracy theories rely on the view that the universe is governed by design, and embody three principles: nothing happens by accident, nothing is as it seems, and everything is connected (Wiki).
Conspiracy theories are most popular among people who feel powerless and discontent with society. Understandably these people feel at the mercy of powers outside themselves. Realising that the world is chaotic and deeply unsettling, we look for reasons to help us feel more in control. Psychologists actually call this compensatory control. If we can’t be in control ourselves we look for a reason why someone else is in control (source).
Studies have found that the less satisfied people are in general with their lives and the less control that they feel, the more likely they are to believe in a conspiracy theory.
Whether conspiracy theories are real or not they tell us a lot about ourselves.
Psychologist and social scientists will tell us that our brains are hardwired for suspicion. It is a defence mechanism. Conspiracy theories tap into our brains built-in bias’ and fears. This especially kicks in when we feel fearful or distressed about our perceived lack of control. Conspiracy theories are not a new phenomena. As one scholar put it, other centuries have only dabbled in conspiracy theories. It is our century that has establishes conspiracy theories as a ‘system of thought and method of action” (source) (Rob Brotherton)
Religion is an example of compensatory control where we believe that we have a strong ally in God and that He is on our side. ‘Fundamentalist Christians like to bring all of the events into compliance with their own pre-existing expectations and conclusions’. If you believe an Illuminati exists, then political assassinations, wars, or the collapse of the World Trade Center are there to boost your pre-conceived expectations (source).
Christian Fundamentalists see themselves, not just as separated and more righteous than the world, but separated and more righteous than the rest of Christendom, including other Christians who give credible professions of faith in Christ. Worse, Christian Fundamentalists often compete among themselves and have a culture of staying on top: keeping themselves isolated and superior to those “second class Christians” they often talk about. They don’t want to be deeply troubled by world events, educated or upset, they want to be right. It is easier to believe a conspiracy than to be an advocate for social justice. This type of behaviour is called paranoia and causes exclusivity in Christian communities (Jeri Massi)
We are not to greet catastrophe with fear and terror but with confidence in God and with hope. We are to be agents of faith, hope, love and trust.
Trust what does it mean
Trust: firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.
Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something. – usually unseen
We have lost trust in our government, in leaders and in the church. Some scholars call it a crisis of faith. We don’t know who or what to believe anymore.
Trust suffers in a world on permanent alert. But it’s not the only thing we lose, writes Laura D’Olimpio.
Trust is vital for individuals to flourish.
A trusting society allows people to feel safe, work together, communicate with one other and engage with those who are different to themselves without feeling fearful. Trust allows people to connect with and support each other. Mistrust and fear erodes community (Laura D’Olimpio).
Mistrust thrives when people feel threatened. Three things influence levels of trust. scarce resources, threat and powerlessness. Mistrust makes sense in threatening environments, therefore in communities that are disadvantaged or chaotic, people are suspicious of each other. They don’t feel safe to trust anyone. Suspicion actually indicates a high level of threat (Catherine Ross).
Mistrust represents a profound form of alienation that goes beyond a perceived separation from others to a suspicion of them (Catherine E. Ross).
People who don’t feel safe become suspicious. When you are in a heightened state of stress of anxiety it manifests in our physical bodies.
Fear, suspicion, mistrust are not good for our health.
It is not good for us to live in a state of high alert also known as hyper-vigilance. It floods our systems with cortisone and adrenaline which cause all sorts of problems. When you are anxious and in a state of inner turmoil, the systems of your body interact in ways that are not good for your health.
‘The nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems interact with one another in such a way as to have an adverse impact on your physical health. A variety of health conditions are linked to poorly managed psychological stress – low back pain, high blood pressure, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, rashes, abdominal pain, insomnia, headaches, panic attacks and the common cold are a few conditions’ (.
‘Conversely, when you are in a state of inner peace, it is called homeostasis. This is when all your bodily systems are functioning well and good physical health is promoted’ (source). The Hebrew word for this state of well-being is called Shalom. A state of peace where we are able to flourish in every area of our lives.
I take comfort in this bible verse:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:6-9
As Christ followers we are called to walk in the pathway of peace and to demonstrate love. Conspiracy theories promote fear and uncertainty. Jesus wants us to trust him, He tells us that we are not to live in fear.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
As I end this blog post I would ask you to consider this question.
Are your words and actions promoting peace and shalom or are they stirring up anxiety, uncertainty and fear?
The fruit of the spirit should always be your measure. We need not fear. There is no need to spend time worrying about myths and conspiracies. Instead let the peace of God guard your mind and your heart. The antidote to anxiety is peace. The antidote to fear is love. Our families and our communities need peace and love right now more than another covert operation that we cannot control or change.
“You cannot do wrong if you do it for love”.
Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories: by Rob Brotherton
Social Causes of Psychological Distress: by Catherine E. Ross
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