Why are conspiracy theories so popular? What is more, why are they popular in some churches, whether it is about elections or vaccinations, why do people gravitate towards them?
You have to remember that conspiracy theories are how one group of elites without power attacks another group of elites with power by tricking the masses into thinking that they’ve been ripped off or lied to. Conspiracy theories are a great way to mass a following by repeating the story that you’ve uncovered the secret that our enemies have been hiding, and it means that everyone has been tricked and is destined to be powerless unless they act now.
Yes, a lot of this happens in America, but even in Australia, we get much of the same thing. In fact, we even have our own conspiracy theories.
My favourite is the theory that Hillsong Church in Sydney is secretly taking over the Australian government with over half of the Cabinet allegedly being members of Hillsong.
How does one avoid getting suckered by conspiracy theories? I have a few suggestions!
First, watch out for confirmation bias. If someone is telling you something bad that you like hearing, ask yourself why you like it. Does it confirm your view that a certain person or a certain group is wicked by exaggerating the nature of their infraction? Beware of bad news about people you already think are bad. That’s not just baiting, it’s ideological crack and cocaine from demagogues peddling conspiracy theories and trying to attract followers.
Second, get out of your echo chamber. Whether it is your circle of friends, social media bubble, or preferred news sites, make sure you have a diverse diet of news coverage and commentary. You may not like the CNN, Fox News, Newscorp rags, the Guardian, the ABC, or Fairfax press, but if you want to be genuinely informed rather than just have your presuppositions confirmed, then you need to have a diverse diet of sources for forming an opinion.
Third, practice discernment. Don’t believe fantastic stories without evidence. Ask about sources, evidence, exaggeration, and reliability. Think about another possibility or consider a wider perspective. Paul put it well, “Test all things and hold onto that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21).
Fourth, pick truth over tribe. Irrespective of where you sit on the political or religious spectrum, truth is not what is good for my tribe, beneficial for our agendas, and promotes our cause. Truth is what is true. Those who buy into conspiracy theories have allowed themselves, consciously or not, to become tools of untruth. As Christians we should never fear the truth because all truth is God’s truth. As Jesus taught, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
So, to be inoculated against conspiracy theories, whether from the loopy left or rancorous right, remember your biases, get out of your news bubble, practice discernment, and obey the truth. Or, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said, “Live not by lies!”