“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Christ to his disciples.
– Matthew 10:16
I have been reflecting on this verse in light of the sheer volume of conspiracy theories that have come across my Facebook newsfeed over the past few weeks.
Coming across conspiracy theories is part and parcel of the online age.
Conspiracy theories breed on the internet, and they are shared and accepted by those looking to agree with anything outside the mainstream. Most of the time, these conspiracies spread only so far as the hosts who dwell on the fringes of the internet. JFK; Moon Landing; 9/11 – the usual suspects.
However, during this pandemic, with more people home – and therefore online for a longer duration, and growing not a little stir-crazy from extended shelter-in-place orders, these conspiracy theories have found a slew of willing hosts to infect. Namely, those conspiracy theories related to the current pandemic caused by the coronavirus.
As long as there are governments, there will be conspiracy theories against them. That much I know; and even, to some extent, begrudgingly accept. But what has surprised me is the amount of conspiracy theories being spread by fellow Christians. The same friends who decry the media for “fake news” are the ones sharing these off-the-wall theories about who started the pandemic and why.
I have no idea why, but suddenly Bill Gates has turned from Microsoft geek to harbinger of apocalyptic doom. Also, this virus is a lie, the bodies are fake, and hospitals are covering it all up (to name a few of the more scandalous theories that come across my feed).
They say dead men tell no tales, but the massive increase in funerals form a chorus of the dead crying out: “This virus is real; we are not fake.”
If Christ has called us to be both wise and innocent, then why am I witnessing so many of my fellow Christians sharing such conspiratorial, unproven, unverified (and unverifiable), drivel? I use harsh words because we Christians should be about sharing truth, not spreading gossip and lies.
Sharing conspiracy theories as truth breaks both Christ’s call to be wise as serpents, and to be innocent as doves.
We are called to be wise. The Bereans were commended in the book of Acts because they didn’t take what Paul said at face value; they went home and compared what he said with what Scripture said. Our Christian witness to the world is damaged when people see us sharing in sincerity conspiracy theories easily disproven with truth and common sense. Gullible naiveté is not befitting attire for someone who has “the mind of Christ.”
So why do we fall into conspiracy theories? Where do they come from?
According to American historian Gordon S. Wood, conspiracy theories were a byproduct of the Enlightenment, when, through a “man-centered causal history,” instead of a God-ordained one, humans needed something else to blame for when things did not go their way. A new “meta-narrative” of the world began. As psychologists and sociologists who have researched this subject have shown, these theories are most often held by those whose political parties have “lost” elections.
Barack Obama faked his birth certificate. Bush blew up the twin towers. Both were widely believed. One was believed overwhelmingly by Democrats; the other by Republicans. Both are false.
Believing an election wasn’t a fair fight, or your political opponent is evil incarnate, or that the world is controlled by a handful of men is easy. But it is not safe for the mind. We are after truth, not comfort. Wisdom should tamper our thoughts when tempted to run after easy answers.
Before being drawn in to conspiracy theories that confirm our biases against those we do not like, such as Democratic or Republican candidates, or that our government lied about the moon landing, it is best to take a step back and ask a few questions about what we are reading.
Is this theory coming from a reputable site? Is this being shared by someone who witnessed it, or is it coming from a friend of a friend of a friend? Solomon calls the man simple who believes everything he hears, and prudent is the man who considers well his steps (Proverbs 14:15). Don’t try someone in the court of public opinion based on a single Facebook post, YouTube video, or a link to a website you have never heard of.
God calls us to wisdom.
We are also called to be innocent. Sharing these unfounded conspiracies as truth is not a morally neutral act in the same way that gossiping isn’t morally neutral. Gossip is sinful. What are conspiracy theories but gossip to the next degree? As Christians we should play no part in spreading gossip and lies, in ruining reputations without ensuring what we are sharing indeed is the truth.
The same mouth that shares the gospel with a neighbor is the one that slanders another one; both created in the same image of God.
To quote the Apostle James: “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3).
He can be reached at email@example.com