People need explanations for new, unusual, fluid or disturbing happenings. Those people who have low tolerance for uncertainty often cope by using conspiracy theories. Conspiracy proliferates in closed cultures or subcultures. Without wide access to reliable information, people turn to a made-up scenario.
In a sense many cultures of long ago were conspiratorial. They attributed unsettling events to the fates or to the capriciousness of the gods. Judaism was the first culture to impose meaning on the randomness of life. God in Judaism and in its descendants (Christianity and Islam) sets purpose into creation. These monotheistic religions say that life is not a recurring cycle of events. There is a plan, though it does not progress in linear fashion. God is Telos or Order or Logic.
Further, God reveals the plan. However, imperfections in humanity allow us to grasp the purpose only gradually and imperfectly. Nonetheless Judaism, Christianity and Islam are strong rebukes to absurdity and the temptation to make-up explanations. Of course, not all Jews, Christians and Muslims sufficiently trust in God and so, particularly when guided by spiritually weak leaders, they resort to conspiracies.
The reality of objective truth is a fundamental belief in Catholic Christianity and in other Christian expressions. Christians believe that Jesus is the full divine revelation of God and that Jesus is Logos, Logic or Order. (See John 1:1) God has given humankind tools for discovering truth; namely social science, physical science, reason (philosophy), history (collective reflection on experience) and art. All small truth leads to big Truth. This is not to say that our perception of truth at any one time is totally accurate. Science, reason and art are on-going projects. That’s why we say the pursuit of science.
Imperfection in reaching the truth is one thing. Denial of the possibility of objective truth is another. The latter is a heresy. Denial of truth, by the way, is different from lying. People who lie still believe in truth; they just don’t want to face it. Then again, compulsive lying is a gateway to denial of any truth.
Those who deny the objectivity of truth use phrases like alternative facts, truth isn’t truth and it depends. Sometimes the denial of the possibility of truth is behind phrases like fake news or everything’s a hoax or stop the steal.
The foundation of Christian faith is objective truth and an appreciation for God’s gifts of science (always incomplete) and reason (always partial). God is Truth. God by God’s divine nature wants humankind to understand. God wants us to use the scientific method, applied reason and exploration of creation. Those gifts are means for getting closer to God. Yes, God occasionally reveals Truth in special ways. Jesus, who comes to us in a special way, is the unique self-revelation of God. And yes, now and then God might even execute an end-around science and reason with a miracle. But God’s normal way of revealing God’s love, which is grace, is through human exploration. Fides et ratio. Faith and reason.
Droel edits a printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)