In The Princess Bride, Vizzini and the Dread Pirate Roberts are involved in a duel to the death (https://wiki.c2.com/?BattleOfWits). The burning question is this: into which goblet did Roberts slip the deadly iocaine powder (an imaginary substance)? During their verbal sparring Vizzini philosophizes, “Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy’s?”
That’s certainly a fair question: who would try to poison himself? Regrettably and increasingly, people are doing just that. They are drinking deeply from a venomous brew of false conspiracy theories served up daily on the internet. Mark Fenster in his Conspiracy theories: Secrecy and power in American culture (2008, University of Minnesota Press) does not mince words: as far as conspiracy theories go, the web has become a “Petri dish for paranoids.”
Conspiracy theories are an ‘equal opportunity deceiver.’ They are found on both the left and the right of the political spectrum and among most religious streams. Christians of all stripes (Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed, Evangelicals and Charismatics) are not immune. Most of us have at one time or another run into unsmiling adherents of some conspiracy theory.
At this moment there are hundreds of opinions circulating on the internet about the coronavirus pandemic: Does a pandemic even exist? Is it some kind of ‘plandemic’ plot? Who is to blame? Is it all due to 5G, to AI, to Bill Gates or …? Will civilization survive, etc.?
Conspiracy theories are dangerous whirlpools dragging us into turbulent and deep waters. The rapids on this wild ride pour over the waterfalls of paranoia and finally collect in the cesspools of anti-Semitism. What is a conspiracy theory? What kind of soil aids these wild seeds to sprout? What is the twisted reasoning that causes so many imprudent infantrymen to blindly march into self-deception?
Evil powerful people
Here’s a personal testimony about my first-hand experience with conspiracy theories. I was born into a conspiracy theory family. My parents were dyed in the wool Communists of the Stalinist stripe. Their world was clearly defined. Enemies were lurking everywhere – capitalists, fascists, political centrists and religious people. The FBI and the CIA were agents from the inferno. And of course, to make matters worse, most of these implacable foes were also virulent anti-Semites. I grew up in a world surrounded by evil and powerful people.
But there were also Robin Hoods in my universe. Union organizers and revolutionaries, spies and radical artists, musicians and writers, and especially Russia’s leaders – these were the safe and progressive folk on the correct side of the battle. My parents always reminded me that anti-Semitism was illegal in the Soviet Union. Had not Stalin himself declared this (www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1931/01/12.htm; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin_and_antisemitism)!
In the words of a Russia scholar, all conspiracy theories rely on “a melodramatic structure: a group of bad actors are manipulating events behind the scenes, and only a select few who know the truth can struggle against them. This is all actually quite comforting and optimistic, because it means that, when something bad happens, it’s not simply random – there is someone to blame and someone to fight” (“Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy After Socialism;” Cornell University Press, 2019; Eliot Borenstein, Professor of Russian and Slavic studies, NYU’s Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia).
Losing control in troubling times
Like mold oozing out of a damp wall, conspiracy theories thrive in times of societal stress, political instability and polarization. When people feel powerless, fearful and confused about developments, they crave the fast food of easy answers. “If you’re angry, conspiracy theories tell you why your anger is justified. If you feel like a victim, they tell you who to blame” (Borenstein, Plots). These theories “provide a frame of interpretation for public events” (“Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style of Mass Opinion;” J. Eric Oliver & Thomas J. Wood; March 5, 2014; page 953). Those who board this conspiracy train see themselves as having privileged access to, and knowledge of, what they think is reality.
It was once in vogue to assume that jihadists come from the lower echelons of Islamic society, and that their grievances are economic in nature. The truth is that most come from the middle classes and have above-average education and living standards. This same point is true concerning followers of conspiracy theories – its followers originate from the educated and the middle class. “The imagined model of an ignorant priest-ridden peasantry or proletariat, replacing religious and superstitious belief with equally far-fetched notions of how society works, turns out to be completely wrong. It has typically been the professors, the university students, the artists, the managers, the journalists and the civil servants who have concocted and disseminated the conspiracies” (“Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History;” David Aaronovitch, Penguin, 2010).
- Ironically, when things seem to be out of control in people’s lives, conspiracy theory people fantasize that all is actually under control – but that the instability they are facing is something controlled and manipulated by untraceable enemies, ‘invisible puppet masters.’
Destroyers of our nation and values
There are times when people feel that the earth is moving under their feet, and that the traditional common narrative of their nation is fading. These concerns and fears are the hothouse which catalyzes a mushroom-like spread of conspiracy theories. When people feel that society is under attack by ‘others,’ they want to know who these ‘others’ are. What’s the name of this group which is weakening our community and destroying our nation? Whoever this group is, it must be stopped/eliminated before they achieve victory over us, say the people. And so step by step the groundwork is laid. This is how the Nazi state rose to power in the Germany of the 1930’s. At that time the Jewish people were the targeted ‘other.’
Today some identify these ‘destroyers of society’ as being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. This targeted group is stigmatized as ‘not really belonging to our nation.’ Conversely, the target sometimes focuses on the opposite end of the spectrum – ruling and wealthy elites, depicted as traitors and international Rasputins. Recent developments in American politics have shown the fickle influence of both of these dynamics.
When a state uses conspiracy theories
In the Soviet Union, with a recognized history of state secrecy, people took it for granted that they were being lied to. “In the absence of reliable information, people fill in the blank spots with speculation” (Borenstein, Plots). Today the realpolitik of Vladimir Putin “leverages conspiracy theory by positing that Russia is always the victim of plots by hostile forces, both internal and external. So the conflict here is not between the people and the state, but the state and the forces that want to destroy it. The state is the hero” (Borenstein, Plots).
Russia’s leaders use anti-Western conspiracy discourse “in the public sphere with the aim of fostering social and national cohesion in the country. The notion of conspiracy linked to the actions of the West has emerged as a crucial functional element of the regime’s ideological underpinnings. Such a discourse exploits people’s nostalgic sentiments about their country’s past greatness, justifies the introduction of restrictive laws and serves as a substitute for practical actions in achieving community cohesion” (“Conspiracy Discourse in post-Soviet Russia: Political Strategies of Capture of the Public Sphere [1991-2014]; Ilya Yablokov, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Manchester).
When a conspiracy theorist is asked for proof of his or her assertions, his answers may vary and come from opposite ends of the spectrum. The most common reaction is that there are mountains of (supposed) evidence for the conspiracy theory in question. On the other hand, sometimes there is a totally opposite reaction: Do you really want to know why is there no evidence available to prove our conspiracy theory? It’s obvious, is the response. The lack of evidence in itself is proof of the top-secret nature of this conspiracy!
- Ultimately conspiracy theories becomes a matter of faith rather than something provable or not provable. They are a new form of Gnosticism where only the ‘initiated’ truly have access to these ‘hidden truths.’
Anti-Semitism as the ‘one ring to bind them all’
Anyone who begins to research the house of conspiracy theories quickly discovers that a hidden dragon of anti-Semitism is lying across the threshold. For many advocates of conspiracy theory perspectives, the Jewish people are intimately bound up in world control and manipulation. Conspiracy eschatology emphasizes the exact opposite of the Bible’s positive Last Days teaching regarding the centrality and priority of Jewish people, God’s key to life from the dead for the world.
We know people who have unknowingly bought into anti-Jewish conspiracy theories – e.g., that Jews control world banks and economy; that they control Hollywood and the music industry; that Zionists control America and its political parties, etc. Rachel and I have many times heard that:
the Jewish people control the Masonic movement
the Jewish people control the world through the Illuminati
the Jewish people control the world through Communism
the Rothschilds control the world through Capitalism and banks
the Jewish people are behind every major conspiracy
the Jewish people are behind the coronavirus
Biblical insight regarding evil conspiracies
The Bible clearly teaches about the reality of evil spiritual conspiracies:
- There is such a thing as spiritual evil, but even these evil powers are subject to the God of Jacob: “Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul” (1 Samuel 18:10)
- The God of Israel is not evil and nothing in Him is evil: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness. No evil dwells with You” (Psalm 5:4)
- There is an international conspiracy of wickedness which wars against humankind and against God’s kingdom: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12)
- Satan is the enemy of our souls and he desires to do us harm. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)
- Satan conspires to deceive mankind: “The great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9)
Satan may use human conspiracies as part of his warfare strategies – whether false teachers, cruel dictators, rapacious industrialists or bloodthirsty revolutionaries. Hatred is his language and his spiritual dynamic. We who are followers of Messiah Yeshua need to keep aware that our fight is not ultimately against flesh and blood. And “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
Satanic conspiracies – the targeting of Israel
Satan is aware that YHVH prioritizes the Jewish people in His created order (see Genesis 12:3; Numbers 23:9; Isaiah 43:3-4; Romans 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:1-2; 9:1-5; 11:28-29). Whatever God has chosen to cherish, Satan has chosen to destroy: “Then Satan stood up against Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1).
Revelation 12 unpacks Satan’s Last Days strategy – his targeting of the Jewish people for destruction.
Satan’s conspiracy to destroy the Jewish people is the stuff of future Middle East prophecy:
- God, do not remain quiet. Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people and conspire together against Your treasured ones. They have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.” For they have conspired together with one mind. Against You they make a covenant: the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites; Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined with them; They have become a help to the children of Lot. Selah. (Psalm 83:1-8)
The corona pandemic is a dry run. It can help us prepare for other future pandemics (see https://davidstent.org/passover-plagues-and-the-god-of-the-hebrews/). The medical challenges and economic shakings are significant, but not as intense as those future ones described in Revelation 6:7-8 or 11:6. Present pressures can aid us in gearing up and getting ready for times of more intense shakings.
- History shows us that when the economy shakes, Jews get blamed. This has been a recurring scenario in European history for hundreds of years. It will be a sobering reality in the Western world (and especially in the USA) in the future.
Little children, guard yourselves from conspiracies!
John the Apostle warned his brothers and sisters in the faith, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols!” (1 John 5:21). As the world trembles under the finger of God, let us find our shelter from fear, threat and instability under the protection of His mighty presence: “Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You! And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by” (Psalm 57:1).
The fruit of conspiracy theories are the deeds of the flesh – hatred, suspicion, enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions and factions (Galatians 5:19-20). Let us choose instead to walk in the Spirit (5:16) and not carry out the desires of the flesh!
How should we then pray?
- Pray for God’s Spirit to illuminate our understanding and remove all fear
- Pray for YHVH to grant believers worldwide a deeper understanding of Satan’s strategies here and how not to swing at the enemy’s pitches
- Pray for the God of Jacob to plant His strategies in our hearts in light of future shakings
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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