Conspiracy Theories

I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of conspiracy theories. I never watched the movie JFK, but I did take note of people’s reactions to the film, many of whom believed that the film was a factual documentary. Writing regarding the conspiracy theories surrounding Princess Diana’s death, Frank Furedi comments:

Another important cultural pressure is the tendency to endow any form of misfortune with meaning. People find it difficult to accept the fact that a misfortune was due to bad luck or an accident. You don’t need to be a Diana to have questions raised about your death. When a child meets an untimely death, parents frequently look for something that will explain their tragic loss. Desperate mothers and fathers will seize upon rumours of cover-ups to make sense of their children’s affliction. The belief that “we are not being told the truth” helps shape contemporary public debate.

That is why the instinct is to assume that “they” have lied about weapons of mass destruction, the death of David Kelly or the true risks of the MMR vaccine. It appears that there is always a story behind the story and a conspiracy theory fills a need created by a culture of mistrust.

Furedi rightly recognizes the present “culture of mistrust” that exists with regard to authority in much of Western society. This is often exhibited even at the personal level. Think about how often you’re asked a question to which after you’ve answered, you are immediately asked to give a solid argument for your answer. People in the West rarely take things at face value.

This can be both good and bad. It is good because it forces accountability upon everyone—no one person or group is above scrutiny. But I think this distrust of authority harms us more in the end. A climate of mistrust leads us to deconstruct anything that has any association with “the establishment.” People distrust things only because it is in their nature to distrust them—not because there is any reason to distrust them. Many of those who distrust “institutionalized Christianity” fall into this camp.

It is because of this climate of mistrust that Christians should be ever diligent in becoming people for whom our “yes is yes, and no is no.” (Matthew 5:37) The point of Jesus’ directive is that a Christian’s life should be so identified with the truth that no oaths need be taken. A person who is above reproach will alleviate quickly any conspiracy theories leveled towards him or her.