scepticism

Finding Our Way in an Age of Conspiracy Theories

12 November 2021

6.3 MINS

Cynicism and scepticism can be healthy, but they can also be destructive. How can the Christian wield these attributes well in an age of conspiracy theories?

Cynicism and its twin sibling scepticism are on the rise — especially on social media.

These two characteristics are twins because they are essentially the same thing: a strong and deep doubt or distrust towards others. I would define cynicism as a deep distrust of the honest intent of others; and scepticism as a deep distrust of what they say. The underlying doubt and distrust come from the same source: fear and unbelief.

This isn’t to say that cynicism and scepticism cannot be exercised in an intellectually healthy way. Both have their place in how we think and reason about the world. But they should be utilised selectively. I suggest that we only use them in situations where we are unable to tell whether someone or something is true. And their purpose should be a spur to dig deeper.

Perhaps the best example of the correct use of scepticism is its essential use in the proper practice of experimental science. Scientific researchers are actually required to pit any and every contrary explanation against their own theory. This is known as falsification.

Used this way, scepticism is actually the ultimate exercise of intellectual humility!

The kind of scepticism and cynicism we should avoid, then, is what we find at the opposite extreme. We must avoid using them as a protective shield against opinions that challenge or contradict our own.

What Atheists Taught Me About Scepticism

I first was exposed to this fixated mindset nearly 15 years ago when my friend Roy Williams published his book, God, Actually. The book immediately came under fire from Richard Dawkins’ blog site, even before it was on the shelves! Roy mentioned this at the book’s launch and asked people to go in to bat for him.

That event got me involved in online debates with atheists. Later I gravitated to other online forums where atheists gloried in the label “rational sceptic” — as though they wielded their scepticism with virtue.

It didn’t take long to work out that rational thinking was not their strong point. These self-styled “rational sceptics” regurgitated the same old challenges and “gotcha” questions time after time, the rebuttals to which are only an easy web search away.

If you refuted their challenge with hard facts, up went the scepticism as a kind of protective force field against any kind of challenge to their worldview. They dismissively waved away any rebuttal as “unconvincing” or a “tired old argument”.

Being Cynical About Our Own Cynicism

Many claim that there is insufficient evidence for God and that the onus is on Him to reveal Himself. Some have suggested that if they looked up and saw clouds or stars align into words like “I am God; believe in Me” — that they definitely would. But that ignores the more obvious alternative: that they would assume they had become delusional, and go to a psychiatrist or give up certain stimulants!

In Roy Williams’ book, I came across a quote he used by the former head of the Fairfax media conglomerate in the mid-20th century. Sir Warwick Fairfax was a Christian, though he held some rather unorthodox beliefs. He presented a perfect picture of this logical dilemma — and as a newspaperman, Fairfax was ideally equipped to speak to the issue. He said, “In the nature of things, there can never be proof that will satisfy the sceptic since he must cease being a sceptic before he can find it”.

Tim Keller also shines the same light on this fact when he writes, “Cynicism lives only by refusing to apply the same razor edge to itself as it does to all else. Are we ever cynical about our cynicism?”

These warnings are timely, since negative scepticism and cynicism increasingly influence the mindsets of so many on both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ of the political spectrum. Christians are not immune.

The rise of these twin siblings also explains the proliferation of conspiracy theories. Many such ideas percolate up through our society through an increasing distrust of our politicians, bureaucrats, global corporates, and other institutions whose inner workings are not clearly seen by those of us on the outside looking in.

One only needs to see how many times the terms “Great Reset”, “One World Order”, “Big Government” or (especially at the moment) “Big Pharma” are bandied about to see this cynicism in action.

The Ancient Origins of Cynicism

As deep doubt and distrust reign supreme, we end up with all kinds of irrational ideas. The sad fact is that I now see the same practice of blinkered and biased doubt and distrust — once the exclusive domain of “rational sceptics” — prevalent among Christians. This is especially so on social media. There, many display the same self-protective inability to engage with reality when their bubble of unbelief is popped.

All of this at the time in history when information and facts have never been easier to find!

My late father-in-law had a favourite saying: “It’s not what you know that counts but knowing where to look”. Out of everyone, Christians “know where to look” since we have the ultimate source of truth. But even so, many Christians are still susceptible to lies, damned lies and conspiracy theories!

With all this in mind, Christians need to be aware of the prime example of cynicism and scepticism: Satan. From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Satan perceives that Eve is unsure why God warned them not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Consider how he played on her fear and doubt about God’s true intent when he asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” In this way Satan passed his own corrupted expression of cynicism and scepticism onto humanity.

Thankfully we have a contrast which shows us the proper response. Satan tried the same ploy on the Lord Jesus in the wilderness, but He refuted Satan conclusively by saying, “It is written…” and “Away with you, Satan…” (Matthew 4:4-10).

The Lord Jesus described Satan’s objectives as “to kill, steal and destroy”. He comes to kill our trust in God and His plans for our lives. The enemy’s intent is to replace our trust with fear; to steal our reasoning and replace it with irrational biases; and to destroy our unity in the Body of Christ by sowing division.

The Christian’s Weapon of Choice: Discernment

But we have an antidote for all of this: discernment. Christianity.com describes discernment this way:

In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.

To “think biblically” comes from a regular and consistent engagement with the Source of Truth, God Himself through His Holy Spirit.

In light of this, I would say to those who express genuine concerns about our current situation that you have every right to air them. After all, how else does “iron sharpen iron” (Proverbs 27:17)? But bear in mind that these genuine concerns encourage those with a more sceptical or cynical outlook. As such, I believe there’s a responsibility to correct or even censure oneself that goes with that right.

One of my favourite quotes, “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety”, seems appropriate here. All of us must be vigilant about our own thinking and reasoning. We must guard against the corrosive and mindless confirmation bias of the sceptic and the cynic, to ensure we don’t join their swelling ranks and see our own rank among believers shrink away to nothing.

Don’t Forget That God Reigns

Do you give attention to conspiracy theories about “Big Government”, “Big Pharma”, “The Great Reset” or the “One World Order” or a “Pandemic”? If so, remember Who you serve. You serve the Almighty Creator God, who is never taken by surprise. He isn’t concerned at those who aspire to overcome Him or we who serve Him:

He who sits in the heavens laughs,

The Lord scoffs at them.

Then He will speak to them in His anger

And terrify them in His fury, saying,

“But as for Me, I have installed My King

Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” (Psalm 2:4-6 NASB)

It is King Jesus, who said just before ascending to His throne, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matt 28:18 NASB). Now it is we who, as the Body of Christ, wield that limitless authority. We are also filled with the Holy Spirit, our Divine Counsellor, who John 16:13 declares will guide us into the full truth.

It is from this position that Paul admonished the church at Colossae:

“…that they would attain to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments… See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over every ruler and authority.” (Colossians 2: 2b-4, 8-10 NASB)

We need to fully understand both our place in God’s kingdom and our spiritual authority. That way, when people mention globalist aspirations or conspiratorial intents of powerful people, we will be immune from their appeals to operate from a cynical or sceptical mindset.

Because our God reigns, and we reign with Him!

Image by Susan Q Yin at Unsplash.

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3 Comments

  1. Stan 12 November 2021 at 10:34 am - Reply

    They aren’t conspiracy theory if they are true, but none the less God does laugh at their plans, because He does reign

  2. David Vowles 13 November 2021 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Some wise person said that the difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is about six months! Let’s see what the next 6 to 12 months reveals about what is happening in our world.

  3. Kim Beazley 10 November 2022 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Well, it’s now twelve months later, and the casualties were the anti-vax conspiracy theories, not the vaccinated.

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