The Danger of Christians Entertaining Conspiracy Theories.
With the Donald Trump presidency, it was inevitable that we’d have a resurgence of conspiracy theories breaking into mainstream political conversations. The president himself has been a longtime supporter of conspiracy theories often espoused by Alex Jones on InfoWars, a far-right website that deliberately spreads propaganda and disinformation masked as real news, or as the president would actually call it, fake news.
As Christians, we are called to do two things that on the surface may appear contradictory. We must live by faith on the one hand, but also be skeptical and think critically on the other. Put into better context, the Bible speaks frequently about dealing with skepticism from others about the Gospel. 2 Peter 3:3, for example, points out that “mockers will come with their mocking” and asks, “Where is the promise of His coming?”
In these situations, we’re called to have faith in the Son of God and reject doubt, but too often, we believe this translates to putting more weight into enticing ideas that don’t have real evidence, citing verses that can be twisted to suit a fact-less narrative. For example, the story of Thomas, who doubted Jesus, can be interpreted by some as a call to reject skepticism altogether.
This has been an increasingly important issue for Christians due to a recent primetime interview on NBC News between Megyn Kelly and Alex Jones, which had to be re-edited after widespread scrutiny from the public. Many people of differing political identities decried the interview before seeing it because it purportedly gave a platform—and therefore, sense of credibility—to the radio show host, who has claimed and stands by unfounded theories that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax staged by the U.S. government and that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., among many other alarming conspiracies claimed without real evidence.
Kelly even points out in the segment that these conspiracies are “dangerous” and based on “reckless accusations” instead of fact-based research. Despite this, millions tune into Jones’ show and believe much of what they hear, anyway. The argument from critics is that giving Jones airtime can give his conspiracies a chance to enter the minds of viewers and get confused with real information over time.
For Christians, there’s a danger in how these conspiracy theories tap into an existing confirmation bias that all humans essentially have. The tenets of Christianity are based in a mutual understanding that we are not of this world, so trusting the opinions and advice of the “mainstream” can be considered riskier than putting faith into the ramblings of an outsider.
The bigger problem is that when these conspiracy theories are repeated in our heads without proper scrutiny and discernment, we can more easily internalize their most dangerous facets and start believing complete and utter lies because we’ve failed to properly question the source. This flies in the face of 2 Peter 1:5, which says to “supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge.”
For this reason, it can be more damaging than helpful to lend exposure to conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, even if there’s an ardent effort made to diminish his ideas. On the other hand, NBC News is in a strange place because InfoWars has been supported and validated by the sitting president, who has even been on the show himself as a presidential candidate.
But critics still argue that the president’s opinions of fake news sites like InfoWars are irrelevant to the real-world consequences of baseless conspiracy theories. The Sandy Hook conspiracy, for example, has resulted in distressing problems where victims of the shooting have been harassed by Alex Jones fans who truly believe that these people were paid off to keep quiet about a fake shooting, all while they’re trying to mourn the loss of their children.
In some cases, these conspiracies have even led to violence. Last year, Jones boosted a false conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair, John Podesta, ran a child prostitution ring in the basement of a Washington D.C. pizzeria, even though it doesn’t have a basement. Not long after, a gunman entered the pizzeria with an assault rifle and fired multiple shots. The video that inspired the shooting claimed that Hillary Clinton “personally murdered children” and had over 400,000 views before its removal in November.
How does it get to this point? It really is about confirmation bias. Jones’ Sandy Hook conspiracy borrows emotional weight from the gun control debate, as he claims that the massacre was orchestrated to strong-arm the public into accepting stricter firearm regulations. By tapping into a political issue that is more accessible, Jones can persuade and entrench his followers.
Many people believe in conspiracy theories because simply put, they satisfy one’s existing beliefs with new and convenient information, despite having zero evidence. But because our existing beliefs are acceptable enough for us to cling to in the first place, anything confirming that bias is immediately believed without the need for fact-checking. Conspiracy theorists know this and have built entire businesses out of abusing this fact at the expense of Christians in particular, with sites like InfoWars using fear mongering to incite divisive hatred between Christians and other groups.
Of course, there’s no doubt that this also happens with all political sensibilities. But when it comes to accepting information that is provably untrue and ultimately damaging to others, we as Christians are without excuse… BY JON NEGRONI.
'Didn't you guys burn down the White House?' Trump uses War of 1812 to justify Canada as security threat.
Some men from Canada did burn down the presidential mansion in 1814, but they were all technically British.
A contemporary illustration of the presidential mansion after it was burned by British troops in 1814.Wikimedia Commons.
During a testy phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. president Donald Trump reportedly cited the War of 1812 in order to justify seeing Canada as a security threat.
“Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” he told Trudeau, according to sources cited by CNN.
The reason for the call was the U.S. imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, which Trump has justified on national security grounds.
The new tariffs, announced last week, sparked disbelief from across the political spectrum in Canada. For more than a century, the United States has had no problem building military equipment out of Canadian raw materials. Most famously, the country’s first atomic bombs were fuelled in part by Canadian uranium.
“Canada is a secure supplier of aluminum and steel to the U.S. Defence industry, putting aluminum in American planes and steel in American tanks,” Trudeau said last week. “That Canada could be considered a national security threat to the United States is inconceivable.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland made the same argument in a CNN appearance, saying “do you really think Canada … represents a national security threat to you?”
Trudeau was apparently arguing Canada’s loyalty directly to the U.S. president when Trump fired back about the Burning of Washington.
In August of 1814, the U.S. federal capital was indeed invaded and burned by troops based in what is now Canada. Facing little to no resistance, the soldiers destroyed both the U.S. Capitol and the presidential mansion in one day of looting and destruction.
The current-day White House, from which Trump was likely taking Trudeau’s call, had to be mostly rebuilt as a result of the fire.
However, the soldiers who sacked Washington were all British.
Granted, at the time Canada was still a British colony and any resident there would have been considered British.
However, the soldiers who burned down Washington were all expeditionary troops sent direct from Great Britain, unlike the local militias and Indigenous warriors who had done much of the fighting during earlier U.S. attempts to invade what is now Ontario.
And, of course, the nation of Canada that Trudeau represents would not officially come into being until 53 years after the events of that war.
Nevertheless, the War of 1812 remains the last full-scale conflict that pitted Canadian against American, and it remains a point of contention between both countries. Notably, the citizenship guide for both the United States and Canada each claims that their country won the war.
In retaliation for the U.S. tariffs, Canada has proposed a $16.6-billion tariff package on common Canadian imports from the United States, including beer kegs, appliances and decorative candles.