When perusing my Facebook feed earlier today, I came across one comment thread in which a commenter shared his knowledge of supposed behind-the-scenes information linked to recent global events and well-known personalities, and a status update providing spurious information about ATM fraud.
This is hardly the first time I’ve come across such information on Facebook – in fact, it’s more or less a daily occurrence. And today, as usual, the common thread linking these two posts is that they had both been made by Christians.
Which leads me to two questions:
1. Why do so many Christians love a good conspiracy theory?
2. Why do many Christians appear to be so gullible?
Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn.
I’m the first to believe that there are dark and hidden forces at work in our world. I also believe there is much that is said, done and decided in the corridors of commerce and power that would raise both our hair and our blood pressure if we knew about it. This is not because I see conspiracies everywhere: it’s because I have a fairly realistic view of what people are like.
But there seems to be a significant proportion of Christians who delight in identifying and unveiling conspiracies behind all manner of past, current and future events. They are usually the same Christians who are constantly looking for people and events that they can tag with prophetic and apocalyptic scriptures. He’s the antichrist! That’s the whore of Revelation! Armageddon is coming! I know, because I kind of used to be one of these people when I was a young Christian. I never took it to the level of an obsession, but I was fascinated with organisations like the Illuminati, the New World Order, the Freemasons, and so on. And I lapped up books that linked geopolitical events and social trends to specific biblical prophecies. (It goes without saying, of course, that those prophecies were almost always completely removed from their historical and literary context.)
Now, I’m not saying organisations like the ones I mentioned above aren’t real, or that there are no hidden conspiracies at work at the world. But I believe that a Christian worldview that pays undue attention to such things is unhelpful, for a couple of reasons:
– It distracts us from the real issue, which is (or should be) growing in Christlikeness and incarnating the love of God to others – not unearthing, salivating over and fuelling the latest dramatic but ultimately unprovable conspiracy theory.
– It portrays Christians as people who cannot or do not live in the real world, preferring instead to absorb themselves in the pursuit of fantastic ideas.
You know the kind of thing. I’m sure you’ve seen it in your Facebook feed. “Apple has a thousand iPads to give away due to their seals being broken. Just ‘like’ the photo and one of them could be yours.”
I know it’s not always easy to verify the truth of claims that are made on social media. But it often is. I can usually spot a hoax in my Facebook feed a mile off, and there are plenty of hoax-busting websites out there; nine times out of ten, all it takes is just one Google search and a minute or two’s reading time to debunk most such dubious stories.
Alternatively, using your brain is always a good idea. Apple did not become the world’s most valuable company by giving away expensive pieces of equipment just because some plastic seals were broken. Think about it.
I’m not sure why Christians seem so prone to share such stories without thinking. Perhaps it’s out of a general desire to pass on helpful information and to adopt a posture of trust and belief rather than scepticism. While the aim is laudable, its application is problematic. Whatever the reason, I contend that sharing such information without verifying it is damaging. Christians are supposed to be lovers of truth – indeed, we claim to follow the One who is the way, the truth and the life. Why should anyone believe what we say about God, Jesus or the way to salvation if we’re quick to embrace and spread patently groundless stories on social media?
In their relatively short history, social media like Facebook have become incredibly powerful platforms for influencing and shaping how people perceive the world and each other. I certainly urge Christians to be as transparent as possible on social media, but at the same time I would submit that God calls us to be wise and thoughtful in how we steward this resource. There is enough unfounded and distracting nonsense circulating on the internet without well-meaning but naive Christians adding to it.
My suggestion: unless you have fairly compelling evidence that a story, promotion or piece of information is true, assume it isn’t and don’t share it. To do otherwise is to act like the tabloid press.
Be a seeker after truth, not a peddler of conspiracies and a swallower and spreader of made-up nonsense.