A well known blogger and friend of mine has wearied of blogging because she says a blog is “an echo chamber.” I know what she means because it is hard not to repeat oneself. However, I take comfort from the fact that one of my role models–the great G.K.Chesterton–repeated himself a lot. Dale Ahlquist–who is probably the only living person who has read every word Chesterton has written agreed that the great man kept returning to certain themes and messages. Any preacher will also know that we repeat ourselves and that’s okay. We’re like the dog who barks at the train. He barks because he’s a dog, not because he thinks the train will stop.
One of the topics that exercises my brain is conspiracy theories. I’m intrigued by the underlying psychology of conspiracy theorists, the attraction of conspiracy theories and their endless fascination for certain personality types. It occurred to me this morning while ruminating that conspiracy theories are driven by an underlying, foundational level of fear in a person’s life. Faced with a wide world full of danger, riddles, seeming absurdities and evil, we look for answers. Realizing that there is, beneath the surface, other currents of power, ambition and forces too deep for words, we look for patterns to make sense of the threatening world. There must be some answer. Because it is mysterious, the answer must be hidden. There must be some cabal, some nefarious force of amazing power, wealth and networks organizing and scheming behind the scenes.
The reason this is so intoxicating is that there really ARE such forces. From the beginning of time wealthy, powerful people have met together to network and plan ways to become even more wealthy and powerful. This is what wealthy, powerful people do. That’s why they are wealthy and powerful and why they will become more wealthy and powerful. So, like all conspiracy theories, there is always just enough “evidence” to push the theory forward, and when there is no evidence, that becomes proof of how well the wealthy and powerful people covered up what they were doing.
You see how it goes.
During times of crisis it is natural for conspiracy theories to proliferate. People need to find meaning and purpose. We need to see a pattern and need to believe that someone is in charge somewhere. Someone caused these things to happen. This natural tendency, however, is driven by a deep, inchoate, foundational level of fear. This is not a fear of a particular threat or enemy. Instead it is the fear at the very foundation of our lives that is the simple result of being a mortal creature. It is the fear of the dark, the fear of the great unknown, the fear that stalks in the night. It is the fear that resides like the Minotaur in the dungeons below the glittering palace of our lives. This fear rears its head, pushes on the cellar door and intrudes in our lives and we deal with it instinctively by trying to give it a name and purpose. We devise theologies and ideologies and theories to make sense of this fear.
However, this is not the way of faith. In fact, there is a nefarious, underground force of darkness that wishes to control and manipulate and keep us in bondage. It is Satan, and to live in fear, to wallow in conspiracy theories is to put ourselves in bondage to the Prince of Fear, the Father of Lies, our ancient foe, the anti-Christ, the Lord of Darkness.
The way forward is the way of faith not fear. One of the most powerful verses in Sacred Scripture is 2. Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the Spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind.” This is such an amazing verse because it shows understanding of this basic level of psychology and spirituality–that the Spirit of Fear is there, but it is not of God. The Spirit of Fear is from the enemy. Conspiracy theories are the offspring of the Spirit of Fear. They are born in fear and they feed on fear. Furthermore, if we learn to feed on fear it becomes like a drug. It satisfies for a moment. The conspiracy theory answers our concerns and makes us feel for a moment powerful, wise and knowing. But it fades. The high of the drug vanishes and we need to go back for more.
This is not the Spirit of Faith. It is the Spirit of Fear and it lurks not only throughout human history and in every branch of politics and education, the military, business and finance–it also lurks within religion and when it is wedded to religion the mixed up drug is especially potent.
The Spirit of Faith is radically different, and it is there in that beautiful verse from 2 Timothy: God has given us the Holy Spirit–a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. What does this mean? Firstly, we are granted power. When confronted with a conspiracy theory I like to ask the person, “So what are you going to do about it?” Conspiracy theories, by their very nature, encourage the person to blame someone else. They are admitting that someone else has the power. Someone else is in control. But God says “I have given YOU the power.” What are you going to do about it? It is up to each one of us to do what we can with what we have where we are. Is there terrible evil and suffering in the world? Yes. What are you going to do about it? Claim the power God has given you through your free will and roll up your sleeves and do what you can. Align yourself with God’s power by saying “Thy will be done” and suddenly not only do you have the power, but you are working in and through and with God’s power. Shun the conspiracy theories and break the bondage of fear with the power God has given.
Secondly, you have the spirit of love. Love conquers all, and by “Love” I do not mean the sentimental hearts and flowers and boxes of chocolates romance we confuse with love. By “Love” I mean what Dante calls that power that “moves the Sun and all the other stars.” Love is the energy of God’s light and life in the world. Love is the dynamic, outgoing, creative force for good that should overflow in our hearts and lives. It banishes fear as St John teaches, “There is no fear in Love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) Love casts out fear. The word for “cast out” here is the same Greek word used for exorcisms. Perfect love drives out the devil of fear. What is this “perfect love”? It is a mystical boon. It is a grace. It is a divine gift. “Ask you you shall receive. The Father in Heaven will give good gifts to those who ask of him.” (Matthew 7) When you receive this gift your life will overflow with the grace and fear will vanish.
Finally, we are graced with a “sound mind.” Conspiracy theories are a kind of madness. They lead us to overlook obvious facts and believe dubious theories with artificial evidence. They lead us to produce plans and patterns to existence which simply are not true. They lead us to abandon common sense, the advice of people who know more than we do, the evidence before our very eyes and the things that are obvious to most simple people. When we are gifted with power and love, a sound mind follows. Another blogger is fond of saying, “Sin makes you stupid.” Fear makes you stupid too, and wallowing in conspiracy theories is to wallow in fear.
If you are prone to this fault (and believe me, I’m prone to them too or I wouldn’t feel so passionate about it!) then forsake the fear and live a more dangerous and glorious life of faith. Cast out into the deep –not of fear, but of faith. Do not worry about nefarious secret societies of scheming billionaires. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Live in freedom. Live in faith. Live in the spirit of power, love and a sound mind.