The Appeal of Conspiracy Theories

The Appeal of Conspiracy from St Stephen’s & St Wulstan’s on Vimeo.

25 June 2021

Many conspiracy theories are relatively harmless, such as the belief that NASA faked the Moon landing (although people who accept one conspiracy theory are more prone to accept others).  But some have more serious consequences, for example those which lead people not to be vaccinated against coronavirus.  So what is their appeal?

My thoughts here are far from fully formed.  But it seems to me that conspiracy theories appeal to our desire to know what is really going on, our fear that things are out of control, and the feeling that we are small and don’t matter.

What others have said seems to chime with this.  So, scholar and author Michael Billig has said: “The conspiracy theory offers the chance of hidden, important, and immediate knowledge, so that the believer can become an expert, possessed of a knowledge not held even by the so-called experts.”  While Stephan Lewandowsky, professor of psychology at the University of Bristol, says, “We do not like the idea that out of the blue something terrible can happen, therefore, it is psychologically comforting for some people to believe in a well-organised conspiracy of powerful people who are responsible for those events.”

What is surprising is that Christians are persuaded by these theories.  Surely the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to these desires and fears?  It’s true that we don’t know everything that is going on in the world, but we know the big things. God has told us.  He has “made known to us the mystery of his will … to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10).

Again, we may feel things are out of control.  They are out of our control, for sure.  But that doesn’t mean they are out of all control.  Instead, God assures us that “in all things [he] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

And as for feeling weak, powerless, unimportant – which we are in many ways – doesn’t our status as children of God help to answer that?  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Conspiracy theories offer security of one kind or another: the security of knowledge, of control, of significance.  Those are not all bad things.  But they are all much better, and far more secure, in Christ.

Father, you know everything, you are in total control, and I am you child.  Help me to find my security in you.  Amen.

Chris Hobbs, Senior Minister