This article was originally published on Advocates for Truth under the title “Christians and Conspiracy Theories.”
From the moon landings to 9/11, from QAnon to chemtrails, from Covid-19 to vaccines— conspiracies abound in American society. And according to many surveys and studies, Christians seem to be more likely than other groups to believe them. Should this be the case? How should Christians discern true conspiracies from false ones?
What is a Conspiracy Theory?
Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a conspiracy theory as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.” Encyclopedia Britannica says it is “an attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy.” What we can see in common in these definitions is an element of secrecy (or a cover-up), powerful groups or individuals working behind the scenes, and usually, the conspirators are trying to do harm to people.
Conspiracies in the Bible and Christianity
The Christian Church is no stranger to conspiracies. The Bible itself records numerous examples throughout its pages.
A. Divine Conspiracies
In Scripture, we can see that there are divine conspiracies afoot! When God created our world, he created it with meaning and purpose. He has enacted his will according to his eternal councils and plans (Isaiah 14:24-27, 25:1). God’s ultimate plan, the gospel, was foreordained before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28; Ephesians 1:9-10, 3:9). This shows us that not everything which is conspired or planned beforehand is necessarily evil. However, when we usually hear the word “conspiracy,” we usually associate it with negative intent. To that point, there are also conspiracies set in motion by the devil (John 13:2; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 4:4; Ephesians 6:11-12; Revelation 12:7-11). Of course, the devil’s schemes will ultimately amount to nothing (Revelation 20:1-10), as will anyone who sets themselves up against the Lord and his Anointed (Psalm 2:1-4). God’s will is what will prevail.
B. Old Testament
Next, we can observe many conspiracies in the Old Testament. In the beginning, we can see that Satan spreads the first conspiracy theory. When tempting Adam and Eve, he says, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5) The devil lied and convinced them that God had conspired to keep something back from them that they deserved to have, and this led them into disobedience. Later in Genesis, we see Jacob and his mother Rebekah plot against Esau to have Jacob inherit the blessing from Isaac (Genesis 27). Likewise, David tried to cover up his murder of Uriah in order to conceal his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12).
C. New Testament
We can also take note of numerous examples of conspiracies in the New Testament. The Pharisees conspired against Jesus on multiple occasions to have him discredited or killed (Matthew 12:14, 22:15, 26:4; John 11:53). It was ultimately a conspiracy between his disciple Judas Iscariot and the Jews that led to his crucifixion and death (Matthew 26:14-16). (This was in accordance with God’s plans (John 17:12; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28)). During the events following Jesus’ resurrection, the chief priests bribed the guards to change their testimony of witnessing the angels roll the stone away from the tomb. They created a conspiracy theory that said that the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:11-15). After Jesus ascended to heaven and commissioned the disciples, we see numerous occasions where the Jews plotted against the apostles (Acts 9:23-24, 23:12-13).
D. Church History
Lastly, we can look to church history. Throughout the last 2000 years, the Christian Church has both been the victim of conspiracies and has sadly victimized others through belief in unfounded conspiracies. For example, Nero blamed the burning of Rome in A.D. 64 on the Christian community. As a result of this conspiracy, Christians were harshly persecuted. Even in our modern culture, conspiracy theories like The Da Vinci Code are fabricated based on little to no evidence to try and discredit the historical narrative of the Bible and church history. On the other hand, for hundreds of years, Christians created conspiracies that victimized Jews. One such conspiracy, called blood libel, said that Jews killed children to harvest their blood for religious rites. This conspiracy theory resulted in thousands of unjust arrests and deaths. Some of the same elements of blood libel can be seen in conspiracy theories today like QAnon.
After all this evidence, we can firmly conclude that conspiracies DO exist. However, this does not mean that we should presume all conspiracy theories are true. Christians are still called to be wise and discerning and test everything (Proverbs 14:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Therefore, we need to recognize how our Christian worldview can help us think clearly about conspiracy theories and whether or not we should believe them.
Principles for Conspiracy Theories and Christian Belief
Here are 8 principles that all Christians should consider when dealing with conspiracy theories.
1. Be watchful, yet cautious.
On one hand, Scripture tells us that we are to be watchful and to discern the times and seasons, particularly as it pertains to the Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13; Luke 21:29-36; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Revelation 16:15). However, in our attempt to do this, Christians can often get caught up in conspiracy theories that are neither true nor profitable.
Scripture specifically warns Christians against engaging in “foolish, ignorant controversies” (Titus 3:9-11, 2 Timothy 2:23), “irreverent, silly myths,” (1 Timothy 4:7), or “irrelevant babble” (2 Timothy 2:16-17) especially if they cause us to be divisive or quarrelsome (1 Timothy 6:4-5, 2 Timothy 2:14). Such things are “worthless” and “unprofitable” (Titus 3:9) in comparison to the truths of the gospel and God’s character. The Bible warns that pursuing such things only promotes “speculation” (1 Timothy 1:4) and will lead to ungodliness that will spread like a disease (2 Timothy 2:16).
Thus, while we seek to discern the times and seasons, we should not chase down every rabbit trail or explore every conspiracy theory. We cannot use the “pursuit of truth” as an excuse for neglecting our present duties and responsibilities. The most important truths and everything that we need for life and godliness are found in God’s Word and through his Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:3-4). His Word is truth (John 17:17).
2. Sin does lead to conspiracies, but not all evil can be explained by conspiracies.
The Christian doctrine of sin explains the evil and sinful intentions of the heart of humanity (Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-22, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 4:22). It is in human nature to conspire to do evil (Genesis 6:5, 11:4). So, in one sense, our belief in sin should make us more conscious of conspiracies.
However, not all evil can be attributed to conspiracies. Scripture also tells us that the world is fallen and affected by sin (Genesis 3:17-18, Romans 8:20-23). Natural evils such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, viruses, diseases, etc. happen without it being the direct result of a conspirator. Additionally, bad things can happen because of human finitude. People make mistakes or are sometimes powerless to stop an evil from happening. Not every bad action results from bad intent. There is a principle called Hanlon’s Razor that says, “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence.” Small mistakes can often lead to disastrous results. Horrible events shouldn’t necessarily lead us to conclude that some group was working behind the scenes to bring about such evils. In fact, some conspiracies (such as those surrounding lone-wolf shootings) actually downplay the sinfulness of individuals by attributing the evil to a group shrouded in mystery.
3. Slander is sin.
Conspiracy theories often make false or unprovable accusations against individuals or groups that damage their reputations. Scripture condemns slander (See Ephesians 4:31, Proverbs 6:16-19, 1 Peter 2:1, Colossians 3:8), bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16, 23:1; Proverbs 19:5), as well as lying (Proverbs 12:12, 19:9; Colossians 3:9-10). Christians should not make or spread such accusations without good evidence, regardless of how much we might disagree with these individuals or how corrupt their character might otherwise be. Think twice before you share something on social media! Sharing false information out of ignorance, neglect, or even genuine belief in its truthfulness is no excuse for your actions or the damage that they can cause. Do not let sins like slander slide simply because it’s against someone we might already have a reason to dislike (Matthew 5:43-48). We will all be held accountable for every careless word that we say (Matthew 12:36-37).
4. As a Christian, you are always God’s representative, even when you promote conspiracies.
Christians are called to be wise and discerning (Proverbs 8:11-12, Romans 12:2). We are to be people of the truth (Ephesians 4:25), for we worship a Savior who claimed to be the Truth (John 14:6). If we promote conspiracy theories that are not true, not only does our reputation suffer harm but so does the reputation of our Lord and Savior whom we represent (2 Corinthians 5:20).
5. Avoid social bubbles.
Proverbs 18:17 tells us, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Conspiracies often breed when we only surround ourselves with people who agree with us and reinforce our own ways of thinking. We need to make sure to listen to other sources of information that we disagree with. And, no, the 2-3 friends who consistently argue with us on social media don’t count as “listening to the other side.” Go beyond them. Read widely from multiple perspectives. Listen to the best presenters and information that the other side has to offer. Don’t rely on information from email chains or your favorite websites or news outlets. Read from reputable sources, both in mainstream media and outside the mainstream. The more widely you cast your net to gather information, the less likely you are to fall into false conspiracies.
6. Accept that we won’t have all the answers.
Whenever we see evil, our natural instinct is to seek an explanation for why it happened. People are often driven into conspiratorial thinking because it is easier to accept difficult events when we can explain why something happened or see the meaning and purpose behind them. The knowledge or understanding that a conspiracy provides can bring a sense of peace, control, or satisfaction that we crave. Sometimes, we lack the patience for the real answers to come out or we lack the humility to accept the fact that we won’t ever have the full answer. Instead of being drawn towards conspiracy theories, we should be patient and humble, drawing our peace from knowing that God is sovereign and in control (Psalm 46:10; Proverbs 19:21, 21:30; Philippians 4:5-7).
7. Do not fear.
We are reminded throughout the Bible not to fear because our hope and security are in God (Joshua 1:9, John 14:27, 2 Timothy 1:7). Isaiah 8:11-13 specifically warns about fear and conspiracies. It says, “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” Even if a conspiracy theory is true, it should not cause us to live in fear or lose sight that God is in control. If any conspiracy is rooted in fear or leads us into more fear, it should be avoided.
8. Avoid classic signs of conspiratorial thinking.
This can include things such as:
- Believing something because it “makes sense of things” rather than it being based on hard evidence.
- “Connecting dots” between seemingly random or unrelated events. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.
- Believing conspiracies that are so complex or would need to involve so many people that it would be impossible to pull off or keep concealed from the public.
- Attributing sinister motives to events that could just as easily be explained by more innocuous causes.
- Accepting speculation as fact when no proof of its claim exists beyond the framework that the conspiracy theory provides.
- Reliance on logical fallacies like arguments from ignorance.
- Claiming things so broad in nature that they can neither be proven nor disproven.
- Setting up straw man arguments such that your side is always proven right and the other side is always proven wrong.
- Being dismissive of alternative viewpoints or evidence, and only listening to points of view that already agree with you.
- Taking facts out of context such that they become partial truths in service of the conspiracy.
- Taking facts or narratives given by conspiracy at face value without corroborating it through other independent sources.
Conspiracies do exist, and Scripture is full of countless examples. Nevertheless, Christians are to be people of truth above all else. To quote the title of a recent Christian book, live not by lies. This may lead us to expose the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), avoid foolish controversies (Titus 3:9), or rebuke those who are spreading lies and misinformation (1 Timothy 5:20). We must remember that in doing so, we continue to represent our Lord and Savior, who will expose every conspiracy of man and Satan when he returns again.
- Advocates for Truth – The QAnon Phenomenon
- 9Marks – Reflecting on the Growth of Conspiracy Theories Among Christians (with Dan Darling) | Journal Talk
- GotQuestions.org – Should a Christian be interested in conspiracy theories?
- International Fellowship of Evangelical Students – Bearing False Witness? Christian Response to Conspiracy Theories
- Albert Mohler – How should Christians respond to conspiracy theories?
- Desiring God – How Should We Respond to Christian Conspiracy Theories?
- Lifeway Research – Christians, Conspiracy Theories, and Credibility: Why Our Words Today Matter for Eternity
- The Gospel Coalition – Christians Are Not Immune to Conspiracy Theories
- Scientific American – The Conspiracy Theory Detector
- Reasons to Believe – Think Again: Questioning Conspiracy Theories
- David French – Why Is it So Hard to Reach the Christian Conspiracy Theorist?