Conspiracy theories prevalent in churches, new LifeWay study finds

"A new study from Nashville-based Lifeway Research finds 49 percent of U.S. Protestant pastors say they frequently hear members of their congregation repeating conspiracy theories they have heard about why something is happening in the country." - BPNews

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Mark_Smith's picture

Define "Conspiracy Theory". Not all are the same. That there is a pedophilic cabal of evil people secretly ruling the world... that's a conspiracy theory.

That Democrats and like minded people in the press worked together to amplify the bad parts of the Trump administration is a fact.

Those are just 2 examples.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

That Democrats and like minded people in the press worked together to amplify the bad parts of the Trump administration is a fact.

I doubt anyone around here questions that.  (They were so easy to amplify though!)

Conspiracy theories that I personally saw multiple conservative Christians promote over the last year:

  • Covid is a hoax: they just want to ruin the economy so Trump loses the election
  • There are chips in the vaccine so the government can track you
  • Covid is no worse than the flu
  • Hardly anyone has died of COVID: The hospitals are massively overcounting COVID deaths because they get paid by the government to overcount them
  • Hydroxychloroquine cures COVID: it's effectiveness has been suppressed by people who--yep, want to ruin the economy so Trump loses the election
  • Lockdowns were/are not intended to help prevent the spread of disease; they're just governors abusing their power in order to--wreck their own local economies and get their citizens to hate them? Nope: to ruin the national economy and make Trump look bad.
  • Mask wearing is part of a sinister global agenda (I didn't ask what the agenda was or how wearing masks could achieve it... can't imagine.)
  • As soon as you get COVID-tested, the government will be tracking you (this one is a bit special, because it might be true, but why would it matter? 'the government' is already tracking me--knows where I live, how much money I earn, what I do for a living, how many people live in my house; local gov knows what I drive, how its insured, and every time I've been caught in a traffic violation. The list goes on.)
  • Fauci and Bill Gates created COVID (yep, some of the same people who suggested COVID is hoax and Hydroxy cures COVID also promoted this one) in order to get us all vaccinated with chip containing vaccine.
  • Oh, and the election was rigged.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

josh p's picture

I heard every single one of those from people in my church or Christian friends. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I was thinking later that a few of those are not technically conspiracy theories. More like "conspiratorial claims," or something like that.

They aren't fully developed theories, but there are the same common elements...

  • Something is not at all what it seems
  • The truth is being hidden, and it's sinister
  • Motives of the alleged wrongdoers are not normal human motives--even normal sinful motives
  • Preference for a less probable and more complicated answer rather than a simple and more likely one
  • Connecting of dots without evidence
  • Dominant spirit of suspicion and distrust
  • Use of causality fallacy with wild abandon (often not even the sort of plausible post hoc fallacy--lots of cum hoc ergo propter hoc ... basically "this is associated [in some indirect or random way] with that, so this is to blame or to credit for that.")

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

There are a number of reasons why conspiracy theories don't die.  Among them:

  • Some (extremely few) real conspiracies do exist (i.e. Watergate, faking Russia collusion, etc.)
  • Sometimes the official, "simple" explanation makes no logical sense given the obvious facts
  • Many people in power somehow escape the punishments that the exact same crime or transgression would inflict on the common person
  • Sometimes the evidence behind the real reasons is hidden or obfuscated, either because the general populace supposedly "can't really understand" it, or because it's embarrassing to someone who is being protected
  • There are some people with enough money and power who use those resources to protect themselves and hide truth, often at the expense of the public
  • And of course, sometimes people just want to believe there is a controlling power that's making things worse for them, rather than their own actions

Because of all of the above (and more), conspiracy theories never go away for good.  That's why the onus is on us to know our facts, do our research/homework, and exercise spiritual discernment to avoid getting caught up in such, while still being wise enough to know when something we can't quite "put our finger on" is not right.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I have struggled for terminology to use when talking with classes about discernment.... and when writing, etc., because, there are real conspiracies, and until they're proved, they're 'theories.' That's why we have have crimes on the books like "conspiracy to commit murder" and "conspiracy to commit robbery,' etc.

I can list off differences between these theoretical-until-proved conspiracies and what we usually mean by "conspiracy theory." But I need a concise term for the latter to distinguish it from the former.

Any wordsmiths out there, do help if you can.

Here are some important differences:

  • Real conspiracies always involve relatively few people. "Conspiracy theories" require many, many people to keep a secret--which humans are notoriously bad at doing (even more so in this age where anybody can become famous and rich overnight by revealing a big secret).
  • Real conspiracies have normal human motives--money, sex, power, vengeance, fame. (Maybe they're all 'power'). Conspiracy theories rarely fail to include unlikely or unexplainable motives: people doing things that are clearly contrary to normal self interest or normal sinful human drives.
  • Real conspiracies are falsifiable--they could be disproved by evidence if such evidence could be obtained. "Falsifiable" doesn't mean we can disprove it, it means if you ask "What evidence would be required to disprove this theory?" there is an answer. Conspiracy theories, though, always explain away contrary evidence. Usually very substantial quantities of it. They usually find a way to turn contrary evidence into evidence of how powerful the conspirators are at creating false impressions ("That's what they want you to think!")
  • Real conspiracies have pretty simple connections and causal chains. We end up knowing Mr. X was working with Mr. Y because Mr. Y hired him, or traded something, or promised something and there's a paper trail. Or Mr. Y is Mr. X's boss, or his brother, or his best friend. Conspiracy theories almost always rely heavily on Rube Goldberg-machine like connections and causes. They're full of "X is collaborating with Y because [some very loose association of some kind" reasoning.
  • Real conspiracies are believable to people with ordinary levels of suspicion. Conspiracy theories seem to nearly always rely on attitudes of extreme suspicion. The alleged conspirators are usually presumed to be sinister people with evil agendas, so the alleged conduct seems way more probable to begin with because of confirmation bias. So you have people who believe the Rothchild family started California on fire with a space based laser, because the conspiracy theorists already believe powerful, rich, Jewish families are controlling world events and that they have all sorts of secret abilities and projects with inscrutable motives, etc.

Well, others could be listed, but this is the lion's share of conspiracy thinking: extreme suspicion and confirmation bias, unlikely motives, large numbers of secret-keepers, complex and improbable combinations of causes and relationships, unfalsifiability/immunity to evidence.

Here's where it connects with conservative Christians: many have long had a habit of thinking everyone "on the left" in extreme terms, and it's gotten a lot worse in the last five years. So political liberals are strange creatures who are insane, incompetent, evil geniuses, to blame for all the world's problems, who want only to oppress everyone and "ruin America," etc.

This is not much better than believing all Hispanics, or Asians, or Blacks, or Jews are ... [whatever bigotry you want to name]. It's bigotry. People "on the left" are ordinary human beings with all the same sorts of mixes of good and bad you find on the right. They happen to have some bad ideas about progress or human nature or the role of government or economics (or all the above).

Some of them are also friends or colleagues of mine... so all this dehumanizing is hard to not take personally.

It's conspiracy thinking, because it begins with dehumanized perpetrators with uncanny abilities to achieve extraordinarily wicked agendas. This part is assumed and non-falsifiable. It's a small step from that to just about any nutty theory of dramatic secret mischief.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Kevin Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I can list off differences between these theoretical-until-proved conspiracies and what we usually mean by "conspiracy theory." But I need a concise term for the latter to distinguish it from the former.

Any wordsmiths out there, do help if you can.

Considering some of the items on your list, I'm thinking the term could be "conspiracy propaganda" instead of conspiracy theory. Wikipedia defines propaganda as "communication that is primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts in order to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language in order to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented.'

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There are some ways it works, but 'propaganda' is focused on messaging vs. belief, and is usually a political term. So, some of the recent conspiracy theories were definitely promoted through a propaganda campaign. But over the years many (most?) of them haven't been aligned with a political agenda or party. It's true, though, that nearly all of them feature extremely powerful individuals or groups (said to be working mostly in secret). So there is that kind of 'political' in it--the powerful people in control kind.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Kevin Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

There are some ways it works, but 'propaganda' is focused on messaging vs. belief, and is usually a political term. So, some of the recent conspiracy theories were definitely promoted through a propaganda campaign. But over the years many (most?) of them haven't been aligned with a political agenda or party. It's true, though, that nearly all of them feature extremely powerful individuals or groups (said to be working mostly in secret). So there is that kind of 'political' in it--the powerful people in control kind.

My daughter used to date someone who believed the moon landings were faked. His reasoning involved "selectively presenting facts in order to encourage a particular synthesis or perception," so that propaganda definition reminded me of him.

Joeb's picture

Give Aaron a Bubble Gun Cigar unless you prefer the real deal wrapped in fine Connecticut Tobacco. 

Joeb's picture

Boy this should be interesting.  Especially if Donald demands to testify.  Let's see all those Republican Senators whose tongues are still stuck to Donald's shoes find Donald not guilty then.  Talk about a bunch of total fools if they do.   
 

That's why I say Chris Christie For 2024.  Not attached to the Corrupt Christian Right. Now not beholden to Donald the Devil and Very  Fiscally Conservative.  Also known to push back with the Media but not a BLATANT DONALD TRUMP LYING CLONE.   Christie is the only clean Republican now.  I'd say Pence but he only jumped off the USSS Trump when he had no choice at the last minute     Something about violating our Constitution.  

Rob Fall's picture

I fear you do not understand what is happening to the Evangelical Christian-Baptists in Russia. https://youtu.be/UvtwI7z3ETo There the Orthodox Church is back in the persecution business.

Joeb wrote:

SNIP

 Bottom line THE VOTING BOX RULES IF THE WHITE EVANGELICALS DON'T LIKE IT GO TO RUSSIA AND LIVE UNDER PUTIN or have more kids.   

Hoping to shed more light than heat..