Conspiracy theories are nothing new. People have long embraced conspiracy theories, most often in an effort to make sense of catastrophic events. Earlier in my lifetime, there were two prominent conspiracy theories, both of which are still around today. Those theories had to do with UFOs and with the assassination of President Kennedy. A major component of each theory had to do with our government withholding information.
Conspiracy theories often gain ground when some aspect is affirmed. Thus we now know that the government did indeed withhold information regarding UFOs. While suspicions about Area 51, for example, have been around since the days of Roswell, the governments’ acknowledgement of this top-secret site did not come about until the early 1990s. “See!” say the conspiracy theorists. Similarly the Watergate scandal affirmed that the government does indeed keep secrets. When, for example, J. Edgar Hoover’s secret list of “enemies” was made public, the conspiracy theorists said “See! What did I tell you?”
In the late 80s/early 90s, a prominent conspiracy theory involved Satanists using children in sexual ways. Amazingly, that theory has resurfaced and been given new force via the QAnon conspiracy theory which suggests that there is a pedophile sex ring of Satanists, many of whom are well-placed Democrats. Even more amazing is the Public Policy Polling result that 12 million Americans believe that our political leaders are actually alien lizards. 12 million!
Most of us usually dismiss conspiracy theories, finding them at times amusing, at times disturbing. Nowadays, however, conspiracy theories have taken a dark turn such that some proponents of QAnon have been elected to Congress and a former President has given conspiracy theories considerable traction.
Conspiracy theories evolve from the human need to make sense of things, to be able to answer the age-old question of “Why?” This spiritual question is one with which religions also struggle. For many, the typical answer of “It’s a mystery” is unsatisfactory. Similarly, the common religious response of “It must be God’s will” is not a comfort. Thus, many people seek out other explanations.
Clearly many spiritual principles such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” are at odds with the tenets of modern conspiracy theories, which especially these days foster an “Us vs. them” attitude. Again there is nothing really new about that were it not for the fact that conspiracy theorists are taking roles in our government.
Our churches and religions have little to say about conspiracy theories even though my own Catholic Church has been guilty of a conspiracy of silence in the past. Our church leaders may believe there is nothing to say about theories such as QAnon. But there is something to say about treating our fellow men and women with suspicion and judgment. There is something to be said about the absence of intelligent dialogue around divisive issues such as abortion and immigration. And there definitely is something to be said about consistency between my religious and my political beliefs. The Bible may have nothing to say about Lizard People but it has plenty to say about not judging those who believe differently.
Guidance in terms of a Christian political response needs to come from our religious leaders and needs to be followed up in the pulpit. Our priests’ sermons need to speak more to the toxic political environment in which we live and how to negotiate it. Most especially, the link between conspiracy theories and the “Why?” question needs to be explored more openly. And, yes, so-called Christians espousing conspiracy theories such as QAnon need to be confronted.