‘Conspiracy’ thinking in the church
Why does it seem to be on the rise?
K. from New Zealand writes:
I am having a bit of a struggle with the world at the moment. (not with God though).
Why are so many Christians ‘conspiracy theorists’? I have seen this break up families, Churches and life long friends.
Please give me some answers.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
It is disappointing. We have found some people who supported us in the past have stopped doing so over these sorts of issues.
The rise of social media has led to an increased distrust of mainstream media. Mainstream media themselves have contributed to this by spinning stories in a biased manner. And Christians generally find themselves represented negatively in mainstream media bias.
The rise of social media has also given voice to many points of view that in times past haven’t been aired publicly for fear of social disgrace.
The algorithms that dictate what appears on Facebook or YouTube feeds reinforce us in what we gravitate toward, which ends up reinforcing the segregation of people according to the ideas they like or believe in even more than ever before. We each get corralled into our own ‘echo chambers’ and the algorithms make it hard for us to ‘break out’. An active search for an opposing view takes a lot more effort than just scrolling through our newsfeed.
Social media has also facilitated a democratization of opinion. Anybody can push their opinion out into the world, now, and the ‘egalitarian’ formats of opinion sharing make the expert and the sophist look little different.
It’s easier to be mean on social media than in person. After all, the person we’re arguing with isn’t in front of us, so it’s easy to see them as little more than words on a page. Nonetheless, this can feed back into how we treat other people in person, since interacting with others online can desensitize us to the fears of censure or rejection. In essence, social media encourages us to be more brazen.
I think ‘platforms’ like Twitter have shown that the most effective method of getting a message out is rage. If you’re enraged, you’re more likely to engage. And the best way to make that work is to keep the message short. The shorter, the better.
In this sort of environment, where it’s easy for Christians to feel disenfranchised, conspiracy thinking becomes attractive and easy to access. And then all it takes is a single dive down the ‘YouTube rabbit hole’ to hook someone on a conspiracy theory. The YouTube ‘rabbit hole’ hole is how YouTube wants us to engage their material. The whole setup is designed to keep us watching videos (to sell advertising; that is the business model).
In this framework, the experts we’ve come to distrust become demonized, and we attribute the bad circumstances we see around us to their deception and scheming. There is generally no evidence for this other than the bad situation we find ourselves in. However, the conspiracy mindset turns a lack of evidence into evidence of concealment. It then goes hunting for ‘anomalies’ that reveal the ‘real agenda behind the facade’. So, evidence and anomaly become inverted, and appeals to the evidence become construed as appeals in favour of ‘the establishment’. Indeed, your skepticism of the conspiracy is seen as evidence that you’re a conspirator. So, distrust and distain grow to the point where people divide.
There is also a sort of arrogance in conspiracy thinking. Basically, it makes you feel smart. After all, the experts are the conspirators, and you know what they’re doing. You’re wise to their schemes!
So, we’re living in a perfect storm of misinformation, distrust, and rage that makes it easy for your loved one to be radicalized down these paths, even while they sit next to you, scrolling on their phone. And when they look up from their phone, they no longer see a loved one. They don’t even see a person. They see a bundle of ideas they hate.
The danger for us, though, is to react in kind. When we see them leap off the deep end, we see how these ideas have come to define them. How do we treat the angry person behind the conspiracy theory in a loving, winsome way? That’s the real hard bit, I think.
For more info, please see Why CMI rejects ‘conspiracy’ theorizing and Conspiracy and doomsday scenarios: should Christians be worried?
Creation Ministries International (NZ)