It wasn’t long after the Sandy Hook tragedy that I started seeing images and videos purporting to demonstrate how the whole thing was a false flag attack orchestrated by Obama to justify disarming American citizens so that he could more easily establish his dictatorship. Salon has a great post on how these conspiracy theories actually impact innocent people. The post focuses on a local resident who helped school children in the aftermath of Sandy Hook who has become a target of harassment by Sandy Hook truthers who accuse him of being a government paid actor.
Unfortunately, such conspiracy theories about the government staging a tragedy to justify something evil are fairly common. Right after the Aurora theater shooting the same basic conspiracy theory was circulating about that tragedy. And I suspect that if you search for the term “false flag” and the name of any recent tragedy, you’ll probably find quite a few YouTube videos “exposing” the “truth.”
It is easier than ever to manufacture high quality “evidence” to support some conspiracy. Anyone can photoshop, edit a video, or do “research” online. The sheer amount of data available to Internet users means that you can find patterns anywhere and in any shape, if you look long enough.
In addition, the Internet has provided plausibility structures to support all kinds of strange theories. As I’ve mentioned before, many of the things we believe are largely dependent on a plausibility structure to hold them up. We need communities to make our beliefs seem reasonable. Before the Internet, it would be hard to find and socialize with a group of like-minded individuals who believed that every mass shooting was actually a government trick to steal our guns. With social media you can meet fellow conspiracy fiends, share stories, encourage one another, defend one another from outside criticism, and make these beliefs appear to be reasonable.
Reading stories like this, we can easily slip into an arrogant stance: I can’t believe how stupid some people are! But many of us allow our confirmation biases to blind us regularly as well. Liberals aren’t just trying to care for the poor, they want to enslave them to government aid. Conservatives aren’t just trying to create a fair and effective economy, they want to enslave the poor to corporations. Obama isn’t just a bad president, he’s also not legally president because he wasn’t born in the US!
At bottom, a good conspiracy theory makes us feel safe. It offers an explanation for the horrors and absurdity of the world. It is a secret gnosis that only the elect have. It fills our lives with purpose by making our political opponents into larger than life arch-nemises. It flatters our biases.
But ultimately, all conspiracy theories are false hopes. Because the world is not safe. Because any simple explanation for suffering and absurdity (like the Sandy Hook tragedy) almost necessarily results in gross distortions of the facts which cause only more suffering. Because we are saved by grace through faith, not by any secret knowledge. Because they cannot truly justify our lives by giving us purpose; they will always fail us. And because our biases need to be corrected by the light of truth.
It saddens me to say that I know Christians who have bought into some of these conspiracy theories, or at least promoted them online. Christians would do well to remember the commands against gossip and to recognize how much hurt can come from unsupported speculation.