How Do I Pull My Friend Out of the Rabbit Hole of Conspiracies?

"So, if pointing out the lack of logic behind a conspiracy theory won’t work, what will? By God’s grace, what can we do? Here are a few thoughts that have emerged from wise friends who I have discussed this with" - Eric Geiger

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josh p's picture

I believe it's worth trying in most cases. I have seen success by taking their points one at a time and completely exhausting the truth about each one until they have to admit they were wrong. 

Jonathan Charles's picture

Pastor's have to be careful about things they say from the pulpit.  Those who have publicly embraced Trump's lie that the election was stolen or that government's strong desire that everyone be vaccinated is paving the way for the rule of the antichrist encourage conspirational thinking among their people.  I have found that people who believe who admit that they believe in X conspiracy usually believe most of the other ones; I don't want to encourage that kind of thinking.  

Kevin Miller's picture

dgszweda wrote:

you don't.  you recommend to them Parler and you dump them.

Of course, that's a bit difficult to do when it's your own wife who is believing all sorts of conspiracy stuff. Someone asked her on a Facebook post if she was bothered by something that promoted conspiracy theories. This is how she answered:

"First, I have two questions for you. Do you know where the term conspiracy theory originated and why? The second question is, are you aware that the number of "conspiracy theorists" is rising dramatically? Not just in the United States but in other countries as well. Jesus said in Luke 12:2 + 3 " but there is nothing so carefully concealed that it will not be revealed, nor so hidden that it will not be made known. For that reason, whatever has been said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what has been whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops." We will be seeing the truth of that statement in the days to come."

So she thinks the conspiracy theories are actually God's way of making truth come to light when most people aren't seeing truth.

Also, she is adamant that I don't get vaccinated, since we have a pregnant daughter in our home and she's heard accounts of people having miscarriages from being in the same house as vaccinated people.

Larry's picture

Moderator

You might reconsider posting about your own wife publicly. It's not likely to help the situation at home. It might make it worse.

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

You might reconsider posting about your own wife publicly. It's not likely to help the situation at home. It might make it worse.

I'm in an email group with a bunch of friends and I've posted this situation in that group, and then I read my emails to her to make sure I was representing her thoughts correctly. In this thread here, I quoted a post she made publicly on Facebook. I'm sure she stands by it, so it wouldn't get me in trouble. She hasn't posted her miscarriage worry on Facebook, but I know I represented her position accurately. She's probably even talking to her friends to figure out how to get me to see the truth as she's come to realize it. We both want each other to see the truth, and we can love each other even if we disagree about certain things.

dgszweda's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

dgszweda wrote:

 

you don't.  you recommend to them Parler and you dump them.

 

Of course, that's a bit difficult to do when it's your own wife who is believing all sorts of conspiracy stuff.

I still might hold to my statement.  There is nothing that I hate more, from a personal standpoint, than conspiracy theories.  I am glad my wife and I are on the same page.  It probably isn't going to get better.  I have pretty much abandoned the Republican party, after what they did to Liz Cheney today.  The party has gone off the deep end.  Ronald Regan would flip in his grave if he saw what was taking place.

Bert Perry's picture

Josh must be a better debater than I, as I've rarely if ever had success in arguing/debating (in the good sense) anyone out of nonsense.  (I'm smiling, BTW)  I agree that it's worth a try, but overall, I'm of the view that the best way of addressing things is to pray for them and look for a wide open piece of evidence that's really, really hard to deny.  I'm doing it at my church with many people.

One other thing I think is important is to remember that a lot of people are going to alternative media because the standard authorities are not exactly distinguishing themselves these days in terms of credibility.  Beyond my favorite--CDC not reading the riot act to governors who sent COVID patients to nursing homes--you've got the FBI declaring that the shooting of Steve Scalise a few years back was "suicide by cop" and not domestic terrorism (the perp had a trail of anti-GOP hate a mile long), the CDC overestimating outside transmission fo COVID by at least a factor of 100, the abuse of FISA courts....and my new favorite, that the AP, NY Times, Washington Post, and pretty much every other mainstream news outlet has quietly accepted the Biden administration's demand to be able to edit stories before they go out.

Let's be honest here; the list of offenses by our authorities is long and compelling, and if we wish to deal well with those who adhere to conspiracy theories, we've got to concede that the sources we used to think were really good have been politicized.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

we've got to concede that the sources we used to think were really good have been politicized.

The problem is that people felt that it was ever not politicized.  News has always been politicized.  Peoples oblivious view otherwise is a problem.  People are just moving to news sources that fit the narrative that they are comfortable with.  What we have lost is the ability of people to discern much of anything for themselves.  I gather my news from sources that are on all sides of the fence.  I look at independent sites that rate sources by how far they lean and how accurate there information is typically.  Then you use that to discern what you are consuming.  Something that leans left isn't necessarily wrong, and something that leans right isn't necessarily correct.  But what we have now is that people are looking for echo chambers and because anyone can have a platform than there is always an opportunity.  Sometimes what people are spouting in news channels isn't even what they believe, but they found a way to capitalize and monetize on the narrative.

What we are seeing is that while information and access to information has increased, intelligence has actually decreased in society.

Andrew K's picture

Get Hollywood to start making good movies again so people will stop trying to entertain themselves with other wild narratives.

I'm only partly joking here.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

@Josh and Bert: I admire your patience. I mostly can't quite muster it right now for that particular purpose. I'm pretty much in the "change the subject and try to forget what I just heard" mode in most settings... because I just find it so disturbing.

Which raises a question. Why do we often find that particular brand of "having a wrong opinion" so much more disturbing than other things we disagree with people about?

  • Because the intuitive implausibility level is so high... and so the obviousness level feels (and usually really is!) so high?
  • Because it's coming from someone we expected better thinking from?
  • Because it feels like they're making Christianity look stupid and crazy? (Some are going to see it that way anyway, yes, but in this case, because they're right?)
  • Because that level of irrationality makes you wonder what they'll believe next?

Maybe it's a mix or all of the above. I just know I tend to get overwhelmed pretty quickly when someone proves to be impervious to reason.

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.

Bert Perry's picture

J/K, but if you want the kind of insanity I indulge, and Josh may indulge more, it might help.  :^)

Seriously, thanks.  I admit, though, that I often back off at a certain point, too, for about the same reason.  

Regarding "it's always been politicized", absolutely true.  I remember having "Impeach Rather" bumper stickers back in the 1980s for exactly that reason.  That noted, it at least used to be a little bit difficult to figure out when the fix was in.  I don't see that as much anymore--the politicization seems a lot more brazen these days.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Irrational thinking is certainly exasperating but we all have blind spots. I think part of my motivation is that some conspiracies can be enslaving to the degree that the person is consumed with it. I too give up or avoid the conversation a lot of the time but if it's an otherwise rational person it's usually worth a shot. 

M. Osborne's picture

If the person obsessed with conspiracy theories is professing Christian, you might try the tack of "What does God want you to think about and put your energy into?"

Along the line of what Chesterton said in Orthodoxy:

The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument. 

Whatever you believe may or may not happen in the future, it doesn't change Matthew 28 and the Great Commission, and God's plan to save sinners through a gospel witness. They need to watch the world for what God is doing through the church and put their prayers and efforts into that.

This should be the "expulsive power of a new affection." I've been counseling a guy who is literally debilitated because he cannot stop thinking about a past hurtful situation, and I am trying to just teach him, baby steps, to get in the Word and stay there and focus on how he can love and serve others. A mind completely fixated on the wrong things is a terrible thing to watch.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Mark_Smith's picture

I am not in favor of conspiracy theories. But, it seems to me we need to be careful what we call a "conspiracy theory." Say you know 2 people who won't get vaccinated. You could say they are prey to conspiracy theories. If you ask:

1. Is concerned about side effects and thinks more testing is needed.

2. Thinks there is an international conspiracy to use the virus to sterilize women for population control.

Are they both believing conspiracy theories? Perhaps the first person is misinformed, but I wouldn't call them a conspiracy theorist.

What about this one. 2 friends think the 2020 election "was stolen." You ask for details.

1.Believes the changes several states made to election procedures were at best deceitful and likely unconstitutional.

2. Believes that vans full of paper ballots drove around delivering bogus ballots all over to win the vote for Biden.

The first is a potentially real concern. It is dismissed by the media but it seems reasonable. Trump even predicted with the 2020 election rules changes it was essentially impossible for him to win. The second is a conspiracy theory.

The point here is to be careful about labeling thoughts you disagree with as conspiracy theories. 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

dgszweda wrote:

I have pretty much abandoned the Republican party...

While I'm sure you and I disagree politically in a number of ways, I agree with you about leaving the Republican party.  I've been an independent (technically, it's called "unaffiliated" in my state) for years.  I want to be able to pick and choose what I believe, whether it lines up with the Democrats (rare, but it actually does happen), Libertarians (less rare), or Republicans (more common, but not a given), and not be tied to the worst excesses of any.  I can't wholeheartedly be any of those, so choosing unaffiliated works the best for me.

As to voting, until sometime during the Obama administration, I can remember voting for candidates from at least the 3 above parties, depending on the race and the candidates available, in pretty much each election.  Since that time, as I've continued to follow my "vote for less evil" policy, it's usually (though not always) the Republican party that gets the vote.  Not because I can completely support any candidate these days, but voting for crazy over even more crazy aligns more with my conscience.  It's not because I think the Republican party is the source of all political truth in the world.

Dave Barnhart

dgszweda's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I am not in favor of conspiracy theories. But, it seems to me we need to be careful what we call a "conspiracy theory." Say you know 2 people who won't get vaccinated. You could say they are prey to conspiracy theories. If you ask:

1. Is concerned about side effects and thinks more testing is needed.

2. Thinks there is an international conspiracy to use the virus to sterilize women for population control.

Are they both believing conspiracy theories? Perhaps the first person is misinformed, but I wouldn't call them a conspiracy theorist.

What about this one. 2 friends think the 2020 election "was stolen." You ask for details.

1.Believes the changes several states made to election procedures were at best deceitful and likely unconstitutional.

2. Believes that vans full of paper ballots drove around delivering bogus ballots all over to win the vote for Biden.

The first is a potentially real concern. It is dismissed by the media but it seems reasonable. Trump even predicted with the 2020 election rules changes it was essentially impossible for him to win. The second is a conspiracy theory.

The point here is to be careful about labeling thoughts you disagree with as conspiracy theories. 

I would say you are right about the points on vaccines.  I think your example on election, point #1 borders on conspiracy and I might be willing to state it is a conspiracy.  The changes that states made were common practice and are made by both republican and democrat led legislatures/Secretaries of State.  The right wing media focused on those that were perceived to impact Trump, but some of the same changes were made in states where he won.  Many of them were challenged in court and failed.  While the initial idea would not be conspiratorial in nature.  The lack of evidence, lack of motive and lack of any legal movement tends to start making it conspiratorial the longer the story drags on.

Just because I don't agree with it doesn't make it conspiratorial.  This definition from wikipedia is actually pretty good, "A conspiracy theory is an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful groups, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable"  There was no sinister plot to steal the election.  In fact many of the fights that Trump had were with Secretary of States that were Republican, pro-Trump and even voted for Trump.  Trump and others invoke a sinister and powerful group (Deep State), political in motivation, when all of the other explanations have proven to be the reason why.  If they were likely to be unconstitutional than at least some tidbit of something out of the 60+ lawsuits and review from the Supreme Court (who were Trump appointees) would have made some tiny, small smidgen of progress.  The lack of even moving through past an initiatl hearing phase at the very best, moves most of this to a conspiracy theory bucket in my opinion.

Mark_Smith's picture

The problems with the 2020 election will never be found illegal in court. Turning election day into election six months, no longer checking absentee ballot signatures, etc...

But that is not the point. 

The point on this thread is just because you disagree does not make it conspiracy theory.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

@Bert: advice that I talk more to my plants -- good advice, I think! Smile

To Mark's point about what one calls a conspiracy theory, human nature is always hungry for a lazy way out, so "lump and dump" is our favorite fallacy: lump things together that are actually different, then dump them as though they were all the same (garbage).

That said, the idea that the 2020 election was stolen is a conspiracy theory and the details of why don't really matter. What makes it a conspiracy theory are characteristics like these:

  • Requires ignoring a weighty number of verifiable facts that don't fit it
  • Requires a large number of people with competing interests to perfectly keep a bunch of secrets they'd have multiple reasons to not keep
  • Has advanced well into unfalsifiability territory: evidence against is re-characterized as proof of the skills of the conspirators, etc.
  • It's a unifying myth for a group of people that includes several prominent public figures who embrace a number of other conspiracy theories (some of them even less plausible).

It's true that the "conspiracy theory" concept is a bit fuzzy at the boundaries, but it's usually pretty obvious.

In individual cases, it's possible to hold to a belief out of sheer ignorance rather than conspiracy thinking (paranoia, pride of secret knowledge, identification with elite group that is 'in the know', etc.). The belief itself is still a conspiracy theory, though the one holding it isn't relating to it that way.

In the case of the stolen election tale, it would really take some work to be ignorant enough to buy it without  indulging in at least a little conspiracy thinking. I think I know a few folks who are probably in that category though. They just never ever access any information that would lead them to question the idea. 

But maybe that kind of exclusional confirmationalism is also conspiracy thinking, not simple ignorance.

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.

AndyE's picture

dgszweda wrote:

you don't.  you recommend to them Parler and you dump them.

Yeah, but not if they are family and not if they are in your SS class.  I have tried a few times, but to no success....at all.  Not sure what to do other than to just drop it.  

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's true that sometimes you do just have to roll with it. Maybe most of the time.

I have to say, though, that I've had some conversations with a few elderly folks who were sending me videos on the Dominion piece of the election conspiracy. Other folks have sent me memes. These were clearly not credible sources of information and I wondered if the senders just didn't really know how to spot that. So I sent back some simple advice: It's probably not a credible source if they don't tell you where they got their info and how you can verify it. Even less likely to be a credible source if they don't even identify themselves and why you should believe them.

Based on the response I got from that, some in that generation in particular have just never thought about such things... so they're very vulnerable to being hoodwinked. They may have slight conspiracy leanings (strong "us vs. them" and distrust of "them," + excessive credulity toward "us," etc.), but have genuinely never been taught how to sift claims--especially those on social media.

Seems obvious to my generation and younger maybe, but I've seen some similar behavior in some younger folks also.

So on one hand, you have conspiracy nuts. On the other hand you have victims of conspiracy nuts... who lack media consumption skills. The latter can definitely be helped!

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.

JD Miller's picture

When it comes to the election there are people on both sides buying into conspiracy theories.  The one side believes that there was a plan to steal the election at every level and even Republican officials were in on this vast conspiracy.  The other side believes that there was no election law violation at all and that any suggestion that there was is based on an intricate plan by Donald Trump and his minions. Yep, I too wish there was less obsession with conspiracy- on both sides.

When it comes to vaccines I either have to think there is a conspiracy theory from the CDC and others that is lying about the vaccine safety, or that there is a conspiracy by some in the medical community that we know personally who have concerns, or I have to assume that maybe the vaccine is just so new that it should not surprise us that there will be different opinions.  I assme the latter.

Don Johnson's picture

JD Miller wrote:

When it comes to vaccines I either have to think there is a conspiracy theory from the CDC and others that is lying about the vaccine safety, or that there is a conspiracy by some in the medical community that we know personally who have concerns, or I have to assume that maybe the vaccine is just so new that it should not surprise us that there will be different opinions.  I assme the latter.

There is also the strong anti-vaxxing conspiracies that proliferated prior to Covid. It all adds to the mess. Our culture teaches people to feel, not to think, and that is a big part of the problem. Fear reigns.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

A small ray of hope in SC...

https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/553708-mckissick-wins-reelection-a...

About vaccine safety, there are way too many independent (and competing) groups that have investigated these, through their phase one two and three trials, etc, not just in the US but globally, for some secret truth about vaccine risk to to really exist. Of course, as with any medication there could turn out to be something eventually that wasn't caught during testing, but that's a very different scenario from some kind of cover-up. 

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.

JD Miller's picture

As a pastor I am not comfortable telling my congregation that if they do not agree with me or the majority of secular authorities on an issue that is not clearly dealt with in scripture then they are a conspiracy nut.

Don Johnson's picture

JD Miller wrote:

As a pastor I am not comfortable telling my congregation that if they do not agree with me or the majority of secular authorities on an issue that is not clearly dealt with in scripture then they are a conspiracy nut.

One has to weigh the cost/benefit. And speak carefully. I'm reading a book just now, called How to Have Impossible Conversations, by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay. As far as I know the authors aren't Christians. I'm about 25% through. The things they say, however, make practical sense. We need to learn how to take the adversarial aspect out of our conversations if possible. Sometimes we just need to walk away. It's not worth it. Anyway, I think the same principles can be used in teaching on controversial subjects.

Some years ago we had some KJO folks come into the church. I didn't make it confrontational, but it turned into an opportunity for careful teaching about manuscripts, copying, copying errors, translation techniques. I don't know if I changed any minds, but I widened the picture so that they could see things weren't as cut and dried as the KJO propagandists made things out to be. We didn't lose any people over it.

I'm not sure if its worth doing a series on vaccinations though!!

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I fully agree that we shouldn't tell people that they're conspiracy nuts for disagreeing with someone. This is not really a matter of mere opinion.

Suppose we were talking about belief that the Earth is flat rather than belief that the vaccines are secretly harmful and there's a cover-up.

We could say the same sort of things...

  • It's the view of the "majority of secular authorities" that the Earth is spherical
  • There are different "opinions" on the subject-- people disagree
  • The Bible doesn't, in so many words, tell us that the Earth is not flat and/or square

So, should we not tell someone who believes the earth is flat and square that they've embraced a baseless conspiracy theory?

Though the Scriptures give us the only infallible words of truth they aren't the only way we know truth. The Scriptures themselves tell us that.

So it comes down to what sort of value we attach to truth in general, wherever it may be found. 

I don't actually ever tell anyone that they are a conspiracy nut. And I mentioned earlier that I don't generally have enough patience to try to debate with folks in that situation either. But I have had, and probably will again have, opportunities to talk to congregations and chip away at some of the underlying conspiracy thinking/discernment problems. I think that's really the better strategy... To help people see in practical terms what it means to value truth the way we should as Christians.

It's really mostly about how we think, and if we get that right, the what we think part tends to sort itself out mostly.

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.

JD Miller's picture

We need to be careful when advising people on personal medical decisions.  For example, my wife had some serious health issues several years ago and a "specialist" told her it was all in her head.  Fortunately she got a second opinion and is doing great now.  Second opinions have been the norm for medical issues for years.  Doctors and other medical professionals do not always agree and that is okay.   My brother had Lyme's Disease and tried a lot of different alternative treatments after not getting help with the traditional route and he finally is doing well again.  

Both my wife and brother have medical issues that are related to immunity and both have been advised to be cautious with vaccines.  Most people would not have to worry, but they do.  When the medical professionals who actually helped them advise them to avoid the vaccine, they are inclined to listen.  That doesn't mean they are flat earthers.

The vaccine for Covid is very new.  Hydroxiclorquin has been around for around a half a century, and has been shown to be safe, yet it was difficult to convince many people of the safety of that drug.  Even some doctors were saying it was dangerous in spite of years of science and use that showed otherwise.   It should thus not surprise us that there would be questions about something that has only been around for a few months.  

We know of 2 people personally who had heart attacks right after getting the Covid vaccine.  It may or may not be related to the vaccine, but when people see these things, it makes it harder to convince them that they should not have any concerns at all.  Then to top it off, we have a lady in our church who worked at a nursing home and watched the residents get vaccinated.  She reported that the ones who were fairly healthy did not have major issues, but the weak ones had major reactions to the vaccine.  Such reports make it very difficult to suggest to those in the church that any concern about vaccines should be compared to flat earth.  In fact, I could look like a flat earther- or worse yet divisive- if I denied what people were seeing with their own eyes. 

This does not mean that the vaccines are not generally safe (I think they are).  It just means that there are reasons why some people have concerns and why it is okay for some to think twice before getting vaccinated.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's like legal and financial advice. There are some general things you can tell everyone, but sure, there are lots of individual details that may make the general advice a poor fit.

But we were talking about conspiracy theories. There are good reasons for ministry leaders to confront conspiracy thinking and help Christians learn to better exercise discernment in these times.

And there's a big difference between saying "There's no hidden evil agenda in vaccination, and everyone should get vaccinated unless they have a condition or doctor's advice not to" vs. "I'm advising you personally to get the vaccine no matter what."

Going back to finance, it's like saying "There's no evil agenda in savings accounts. Everyone should save, unless you have a special situation where that temporarily isn't a good idea.... or your financial advisor ..." etc.

There's no harm in generalizations about what's generally a good idea. And certainly no harm in confronting ways of thinking that are contrary to what the Christian mind is supposed to be.

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.

Joeb's picture

I'll be praying for you.  
 

My younger Brother's church is split roughly down the middle. The church is a very old historic Baptist church.  Half are Qanon TRUMPERS and the other half are not.  A lot of Liberty Grads at the church to.  The Pastor went to Seminary with my Older Brother and is walking on the top of a fence dealing with the Church Members.  Not easy.