Fundamentalism and Conspiracy Theories

Fundamentalism and Conspiracy Theories September 5, 2013

Jeri Massi has been blogging about the connection between Christian fundamentalism and conspiracy theories. Here is a taste from her second post about this subject:

[C]onspiracy theories are launched and spread by people who need an excuse for their powerlessness. And some psychologists warn that avid fans of conspiracy theories: those who go from one to another, are projecting themselves onto their own favorite theories. Living in a conspiracy theory is like living in a happy dream, where, even if you don’t get to be the person who toppled the towers and directed world events, you are now the person who knows the most about it, and thus, you have joined the “in” crowd.

Becoming an expert at a conspiracy theory (or a set of them) requires all the time and study that a useless, uneducated life can summon up and devote. And such expertise provides this student of the anti-academics of conspiracy theories with clout.

In a way, conspiracy theory addicts are shifting blame when they push their theories and develop new ones. If the towers came down because the Illuminati was behind things, or if the simple, inexpensive cure for cancer is being suppressed because the pharmaceutical companies would lose billions in sales of cancer therapy products, then ordinary people are let off the hook. You see, we are just not as morally responsible for our lives, our society, our country, our economy, if everything is actually being controlled by super-secret power brokers who decide, ultimately, who lives and who dies and who gets left alone.

Click through to read the rest, and don’t miss her previous post on the subject too.

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  • I certainly agree that most conspiracy theories are rubbish, especially those promoted by fundamentalists.

    The main problem I have with that is that I find the thought that there are NO conspiracies we will never discover extremely naive.
    This reflects a brainless, counter-factual trust in the people who govern us.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Ian

      There are plenty of real conspiracies and abuses of government power. Watergate, the Iraq war intelligence, Extraordinary rendition, NSA surveillance. But they are typically not so mythic. The article (which I loved) was really drawing attention to the mythic threads in many conspiracy theories and how they, therefore, serve to orient the faithful. As myths, generally, do.

      • Michael Eck

        The Iraq war? Really? Only in the partisan liberal mind could the Iraq war be seen as a conspiracy. Incorrect in certain areas perhaps, but nonetheless necessary and justified. The liberal apologetics for the Iraq zeitgeist along with the moral relativism they promoted in response to the invasion contributed greatly to me turning my back on the so called American “liberal”. Along with their constant apologetics for the backwards idea of Islam. If there was ever a country that the free world should have invaded and toppled, it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Naive people love to focus on the fact that no WMD was found. Guess what?! So what?! That was but one of many reasons for the invasion, the vast majority of which were justified and proven to be so. You would know this if you didn’t spend your time reading liberal rags. WMD was the most sensational aspect and of course the American, and to some extent the world media, focused on in order to appeal to the simple minded who only view these issues from the outer surface because delving any deeper in it is too much for them. There is no conspiracy about the Iraq invasion, perhaps confusion about WMD, but no conspiracy. If there was ever a regime that he United States should use its military power to topple, it was the literal crime family that controlled Iraq. The genocidal crime family, I might add. And if you are like the average modern day ‘liberal’ (I am a liberal by the way), you can save your moral relativism!

        • Ian

          You might want to read what I actually wrote. Iraq war intelligence. The government fed a portfolio of lies about WMDs by individuals who posed as experts with inside knowledge. It isn’t clear who was ‘in’ on the conspiracy. Individuals in the intelligence community have said they were aware the evidence was thin, but whether it was a case of ignoring that, as long as the information was useful, or the government really asking for the evidence to be ‘sexed up’, we don’t know. But I find it hard to see the systematic presentation of false intelligence to be accidental at some stage.

          Whether the Iraq war was otherwise justified is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether there was a conspiracy to lie about WMDs.

          With your eagerness to claim my ‘liberal partisanship’ seems to betray your own political hair trigger, not mine. You also betray a very US focus in your understanding. Internationally, the WMD angle was hardly just the ‘most sensational’ aspect to the justification in the media. It was, for example, the legal basis for the UK’s involvement, as given by the Lord Chancellor.

    • I never said that no conspiracies have ever been used to engineer events. That wasn’t even a part of either blog post. My point was about preoccupation with every conspiracy theory that comes along. First, remember, my blog is written to a Christian audience. The point of the two articles is not to say that every single conspiracy theory is invalid. The point is that Christian teaching has nothing to do with conspiracy theories and their propagation. Conspiracy theories are lots of fun to bat around over a beer and a game of RISK with friends, but they don’t belong in the pulpit. And a culture that is obsessed with conspiracy theories has nothing to do with the mindset of bringing in the Kingdom of God by acts of charity and mercy, as Jesus taught.

      PARAGRAPH TWO: If you don’t agree with the teachings of Jesus, fine. Nothing I said really pertains to you because you wouldn’t accept the premises on which the article is written (that Christians ought to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and Christian teachers would have to teach the teachings of Jesus Christ to be valid as Christian teachers). But for readers who do accept the premises on which the articles rest, I’m pointing out that Christian Fundamentalism’s preoccupation with conspiracy theories are another evidence of its departure from both the teachings of Christ and the practices of Christianity.

      • Ian

        Jeri, I appreciate you’re writing about and to Christians, but I think your analysis is more broad than that too. I’m not a Christian, but I got a lot from the article. Looking at conspiracy theories as orienting myths (and therefore replacements for the Christian story) I think is a fruitful idea, and I’m looking forward to a part 3, if you write it.

        • Thank you, but I’m sorry to say that’s all there is: Point A – Fundies get obsessed with conspiracy theories. Point B – Getting obsessed with conspiracy theories demonstrates a lack of the soundness of mind and focus on Christ that is essential to mature Christian faith. I cannot think of a Point C!

      • Hello Jeri, thanks for your detailed answer on the blog of Jame at Patheos.

        I’m a progressive Christian and agree about the danger for Christians to accept conspiracy theories (CT) without good grounds.

        I don’t know how the situation in the US is, but I suppose that the greatest CT fundies believe is that secular scientists are lying about the age of the earth and evolution.
        Is it the case?

        Otherwise most CTs are ridiculous and contradict many facts but I am agnostic about a small number of them.

        Shermer does a good job showing us that the positive belief is unwarranted but he is presuposing that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. As I explain here this is fallacious.

        In the absence of positive and negative evidence for a claim, we should all be agnostic.

        Lovely greetings from Europe.

        Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        • Christian Fundamentalists pass along so many conspiracy theories that I would have a hard time saying which are most prevalent in Fundy culture. My perception is that they talk a lot more about political/government conspiracies than anything else.

          But again, validating or invalidating particular CT was not the point of the article. Pointing out that Fundamentalists have trivialized and secularized the pulpit was the point.

  • Ian

    I was told that the 9/11 conspiracy was in turn a government conspiracy that sought to discredit people who asked about how much security services knew beforehand by associating them with cranks.

    Conspiracy theories all the way down.

    • Okay, what about the following scenario:

      some very important people in the Bush Administration knew that Bin Laden et al. would crash a plane in the WTC, but they did nothing to have a pretext for at last attacking an oil-producing country.

      Why do you consider such a possibility extremely unlikely?

      As a continental European, I see nothing implausible in that story.

      Friendly greetings.
      Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

      • Ian

        As an Island European, I think that is extremely unlikely, yes.

        Though I note the scenario, like many conspiracy theories, is so impossibly broad that even non-conspiracy historical scenarios could somewhat fit it. To the point where evidence could be repurposed for its more extreme interpretation.

        • I fail to see WHY it is extremely unlikely, I didn’t say that they faked the terror onslaught, but that SOME persons knew it and did nothing.

          I don’t know if it’s true or not, but this doesn’t seem implausible.

          Friendly greetings.
          Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

          • Ian

            Sorry Lothar, but I really don’t want to get into a discussion about why your particular scenario seems unlikely to me. It just isn’t my horse to flog.

  • arcseconds

    I’m not sure I like the ‘useless, uneducated life’ bit.

  • TomS

    One thing about conspiracy theories is that they assume that if there is a pattern, there must be purposeful agency, “intelligent designer(s)” to account for it.