The difference between debate and conspiracy theory

I wanted to come back to one of the specific issues in my article about a possible “perplexing silence.”  One of the things I frequently hear these days is that Christians are susceptible to conspiracy theories.  On the other side of the coin I hear Christians complain  that the accusation of “conspiracy theories” silences debate and discussion.  How do we distinguish between a conspiracy theory and a legitimate concern?

Well, I think there’s a helpful example in the article from Peter Mead that I cited.  Peter says:

Fourth Industrial Revolution” ideas derided as conspiracy theories only two years ago are explicitly promoted by proponents today.”

This is a reference to the idea of a “Great Reset” potentially following COVID and the views of leading figures among the World Economic Forum that meets at Davos each year.  The most notable of these is Professor Klaus Schwab, it’s founder and chairman.  People often include Bill Gates as another key figure in the so called Great Reset or Fourth Revolution.

Schwab’s views are that as we respond to the threats of further pandemics and climate change, greater cooperation at international level is required. He also advocates for a form of “corporate capitalism” of the form that dominated in post war Germany. Such views are unpopular on the more libertarian right as they are seen to undermine statehood, individual freedoms and the free market.  An example of a response to and critique of Schwab can be found here by Samuel Gregg in the Spectator.

Now, it is therefore important to say that the idea of people like Schwab are around, have been around for a long time and are gathering currency. Further, there are good reasons why people might choose to disagree with him and challenge the philosophy.  However, this does not mean that we are suddenly seeing something, previously dismissed as a conspiracy theory proving to be true after all. 

It is helpful here to distinguish three things here.  First there are the ideas promoted by those involved in the World Economic Forum.  It is not as though those people have been keeping their ideas quiet. It’s not that some brave people have brought their ideas and plans to the surfac e through daring investigation or whistle blowing.

Secondly, there is the question about whether or not we disagree with the proposals.  I think it is possible, as Gregg has done to argue that the ideas are wrong, dangerous even and to be opposed without sliding into conspiracy theory.

Thirdly, there are the actual conspiracy theories themselves.  Gregg specifically references them in his article.

This NGO, which again this January will bring together politicians, business leaders, journalists, academics, and assorted celebrities in Davos, has been accused, among other things, of being a secret cabal of paedophiles who used the Covid-19 pandemic to harvest children’s blood so as to hasten in a Satanic New World Order.”

The conspiracy theory is not about the ideas and aims of the WEF but the belief that there is a hidden agenda and narrative behind it.  The specific conspiracy theory is that there is a shadowy cabal of powerful, wealthy (often Jewish) men who are involved in criminal and subversive behaviours in order to acquire power for themselves.  Included in the conspiracy theory is often the beliefs that:

  • Climate Change is a hoax
  • The Global pandemic was started deliberately
  • The vaccines are dangerous and those designing, funding and rolling them out know this.

What we can see here are two things. First, we can see how conspiracy theories distract us from a proper debate and discussion about ideas and plans.  Secondly, I think we can see how people get caught into the conspiracy theories.

You see, the best conspiracy theories -and this particular one is the original and best rely on a kernel of truth in order to develop their lie. They don’t breed completely in the world of fantasy.  So, what happens is that the conspiracy theorists start with something that seems a little obscure and technical, therefore isn’t hitting the main news headlines. They then deposit a theory about a conspiracy.  As people become more aware of the actual ideas and plans, the conspiracy theorists argue that this proves them right all along, even though their actual wild claims are a long way from reality.

The problem with conspiracy theories and especially the archetype one is that they are intended to generate fear, blame and hatred by identifying a group of people based on race and class in order to blame for all our ills.  This is in complete opposition to the Gospel and no Christian pastor would want anything to do with them. I think the problem arises when we conflate the presence of a rejected conspiracy theory with rejection of genuine concerns.

Of course, it is possible to go the other way and be so defensive against conspiracy theories that we immediately put all challenges into that basket. However, my perception is that the error has been more the other way.

It is important that as Christians we avoid both temptations. We should not get caught up with the conspiracy theories but nor should we ignore ideas and plans which go against what the Bible tells us about God, creation and us.

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