Two conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theory 1— Antisemitic

According to this theory, Jews control politics and finance, particularly in technologically advanced countries. They do this in order to advance their own interests, from diverting wealth to Jewish hands to stealing Palestinian lands. Fearing the consequences of discovery, however, the Jews operate behind the scenes. They often infiltrate non-Jewish institutions and work through them.

The traditional version of this theory goes squarely against established modern knowledge. It denies the Holocaust ever took place, endorses the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as authentic history, and is friendly toward crackpot biological thinking about sinister racial characteristics of Jews. Many conservative antisemites think that Jews are naturally secretive and keep their control over political and financial institutions well-hidden. They also control the media and academia, so the conspiracy runs wide and deep. But those willing to look behind the smokescreen of respectable, established ideas can see hints of the immense malign power exercised by elite Jews.

There is also a liberal version of antisemitism. Liberals are embarrassed by the crude way in which their conservative brethren oppose modern knowledge. So they concede that modern knowledge is correct in describing the immediate operations of politics and finance. They acknowledge that there is no good evidence supporting the notion of a Jewish purpose interfering with politics or finance. Indeed, they say that proper antisemites should not set themselves against established, neutral academic work.

Yet the liberals still assert the existence of a Jewish conspiracy. Indeed, they attack their conservative colleagues for lacking depth in their ideology. They say that the conservatives reduce the conspiring Jews to just another sordid cabal wielding power. No, the true conspiracy is much grander. A truly great conspiracy, after all, would not be like that revealed in the Protocols when interpreted literally. A truly great conspiracy would not be so easily discovered—it would work so thoroughly behind the scenes that it would accomplish Jewish purposes by working through the ordinary mechanisms of politics and finance. The conservatives are guilty of underestimating the deviousness of the Jews. And the philosemites in academia and beyond are guilty of attending only to the surfaces of events, not availing themselves of the deeper meaning revealed by liberal antisemitism.

Conspiracy theory 2— Christian

According to this theory, a God controls the unfolding of the universe, particularly in its physics and biology. God does this in order to further His own divine plan, from revealing his Son to bringing all the faithful into communion with Him. God, however, respects free will and therefore operates behind the scenes. He often uses natural laws and works through them.

The traditional version of this theory goes squarely against established modern knowledge. It denies evolution ever took place, endorses the Bible as authentic history, and is friendly toward crackpot physical thinking about the spiritual implications of quantum mechanics. Many conservative Christians think that God respects our free will and keeps His control over the operation of the universe well-hidden. He allows the secular media and academia to be blind to His power and purpose. But those willing to look behind the smokescreen of respectable, established ideas can see hints of the intelligent design apparent in His creation.

There is also a liberal version of Christianity. Liberals are embarrassed by the crude way in which their conservative brethren oppose modern knowledge. So they concede that modern knowledge is correct in describing the immediate operations of physics and biology. They acknowledge that there is no good evidence supporting the notion of a divine purpose interfering with physics or biology. Indeed, they say that proper Christians should not set themselves against established, neutral academic work.

Yet the liberals still assert the existence of their God. Indeed, they attack their conservative colleagues for lacking depth in their theology. They say that the conservatives reduce God to just another entity in the world, however immense in power. No, the true God is much grander. A truly great God, after all, would not be like that revealed in the Bible when interpreted literally. A truly great God would not be so easily discovered—He would work so thoroughly behind the scenes that He would accomplish His purposes by working through the ordinary mechanisms of physics and biology. The conservatives are guilty of underestimating the greatness of God. And the atheists in academia and beyond are guilty of attending only to the surfaces of events, not availing themselves of the deeper meaning revealed by liberal Christianity.

Moral of the stories?

I suspect that for most of us, our reactions to either story are conditioned by moral attitudes.

For most residents of post-Holocaust Christendom, antisemitism is evil, and variations on the conspiracy theme are not material. (Even if “liberal antisemitism” were not a fiction, few would care or see it as much of an improvement.) And the liberal Christian story, even when it doesn’t inspire faith, seems at least harmless, even useful as a way of helping religious people to stop making trouble for science.

In some Arab and Muslim circles, reactions would be different. “Traditional antisemitism” would seem to express some moral truths, and even ring true as a description of how the world works. And liberal Christianity would come across not as harmless but as an example of how weak-kneed Christianity is failing to resist the evils of secular thinking.

No analogy is perfect. But liberal theism is, when taking its usual line about the compatibility of science and God, a cosmic conspiracy theory. We should try to set aside moral attitudes for a while. And then, I think, the two conspiracy stories look very similar. Cognitively, liberal theism is quite close to my fiction of liberal antisemitism.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Well, after finally puzzling out the excersise and its purpose, and after analyzing the operative claim, I will concur that “cognitively” there is a similarity between liberal, “compatiblist” Christianity and your fiction of liberal anti-semitism.

    What I fail to see is how constructing such a fictional parallel is useful. What are you trying to accomplish?

    By the way – you might note at the beginning that your liberal antisemitism is a fictional construct. I was truly puzzled when you started describing it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    “Cognitively, liberal theism is quite close to my fiction of liberal antisemitism.”

    The catch is that the idea of working invisibly behind the scenes is a more natural outgrowth for a being that is basically a ghost with kitchen-sink superpowers than for a group of humans that have normal human limitations, even if they are essentially rich people with a lot of physical resources. Also, the idea of a “deeper meaning” doesn’t make much sense when dealing with something that doesn’t have many opportunities for contemplation. There isn’t much of a way to thoughtfully meditate or wax mystical on antisemitism.

    As you said, no analogy is perfect, but this analogy looks really forced.


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