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oswald-470x451Now that the Republicans are a handful of delegates away from nominating an ostensible conspiracy theorist* to be their candidate to lead the free world, it’s worth recalling this insightful post by Carl Trueman from  a few years ago:

Conspiracy theories have an aesthetic appeal: they make us feel more important in the grand scheme of things than we are. If someone is going to all this trouble to con us into believing in something, then we have to be worth conning; and the impotence we all feel in the face of massive impersonal bureaucracies and economies driven not by democratic institutions so much as multinational corporations is not really the result of our intrinsic smallness and insignificance so much of our potential power which needs to be smothered. Such views play to our vanity; and, to be brutally frank, the kind of virtual solitary vice which so much solipsistic internet activity represents.

Conspiracy theories don’t hold up, though. Nobody is that competent and powerful to pull them off. Even giant bureaucracies are made up of lots of small, incompetent units fighting petty turf wars, a fragmentation which undermine the possibility of the kind of co-ordinated efforts required to pull off, say, the fabrication of the Holocaust. History, humanly speaking, is a tale of incompetence and thoughtlessness, not of elaborate and sophisticated cabals. Evil, catastrophic evil, is not exceptional and brilliant; it is humdrum and banal; it does not involve thinking too much; it involves thinking too little.

For more, see Trueman’s excellent book, Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, especially his chapter on Holocaust denial.

* To be a bona fide conspiracy theorist is to believe said conspiracy theories. And while there is no doubt that Donald Trump persistently traffics in spreading or entertaining conspiracy theories and cover-ups—from Barack Obama being a Muslim who was born in a foreign country to George Bush intentionally deceiving the world about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to Ted Cruz’s father helping to kill JFK to Hillary Clinton causing the suicide of Vince Foster to Justice Scalia being murdered by means of a pillow to discredited urban legends about Muslim terrorists being executed with bullets dipped in pig’s blood—it is virtually impossible to know whether Donald Trump actually believes any of the things he says or if he is saying them just to garner attention and create disruption. Hence, I refer to him as an ostensible conspiracy theorist—one who at the very least enjoys spreading and entertaining them, even if he doesn’t believe what comes out of his own mouth.

I should also mention that Hillary Clinton has promised, if President, to investigate and reveal what the US government knows and may be hiding about aliens and UFOs.

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8 thoughts on “The Vanity of Conspiracy Theories and the Banality of Real Evil”

  1. Bobbi Brown says:

    LOL! God’s people may be in a rudder less, sail less ark, but we know God will bring us to a beautiful hiding place if we keep doing good and do not give up!

  2. steve hays says:

    Part of the appeal of conspiracy theories is that it makes those who espouse them feel more intelligent, wise, insightful than the gullible deluded masses who believe the “official” story. Conspiracy theories feel intellectual pride and a hankering to feel rationally superior. Put another way, it makes the conspiracy theorist feel “special”.

    1. Charles says:

      Good comment. As Trueman noted above, Conspiracy theories plays to our “vanity”.

  3. Curt Day says:

    First, we should note that not all conspiracy theories are false. People conspire to do things that are wrong thus try to hide what they have done. And because not all conspiracy theories are either right or wrong, the best we can do is to examine each one without possessing an eagerness to prove or disprove what we are examining.

    Below is a link to several conspiracy theories that turned out to be true–at least that is what is claimed. We could always examine them for ourselves to verify.

  4. Chris says:

    Dennis Prager has a good column on why people believe conspiracy theories…

  5. Well, I do agree, provided that these conspiracy theories are not true. I think that most of the ones that you mentioned in this article are blatantly false, but we need to recognize the important truth about the label ‘conspiracy theory.’ When anyone (ESPECIALLY the government) labels something a ‘conspiracy theory,’ they automatically imply that one is slightly gullible to believe it. In this way, the idea is discredited and those who believe it are also discredited. The Holocaust, for example, was a closely guarded secret in Germany, not revealed until the end of the war. Hitler ‘could have’ labelled it a conspiracy theory, and in that way, discredited those who talked about it. It is terminology like this that allows the government to discredit those who question what it may be up to, and encourages us to buy into the same version of events that they officially endorse. (Note: this is NOT coming from a Trump supporter!)

  6. First, as someone above said, everyone believes in conspiracy theories. They might be small conspiracy theories: Bob and Joe are conspiring against me to get me fired. Or they might be big: the assassination of JFK was not the act of one man.

    Anyone who recognizes the sinfulness and deceitfulness of men must recognize conspiracies as part of life. Scripture certainly does. It’s full of stories of conspiracy: men uniting together to do sinful things secretly.

    Psalm 83:
    O God, do not keep silence;
    do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
    For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
    those who hate you have raised their heads.
    They lay crafty plans against your people;
    they consult together against your treasured ones.
    They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
    let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
    For they conspire with one accord;
    against you they make a covenant—

    For example, consider the homosexual agenda. Many Christians have studied and explained the very intentional united planning that homosexual engaged in to change the nation’s view of homosexuality. See Michael Brown’s A Queer Thing Happened in America or Voddie Baucham’s talk here On this particular issue the difference is that the agenda was not secret. They said what they were doing. But if they had not chosen to tell the public what they were doing and Brown and Bauchum believed there was a deliberate agenda, they would be “conspiracy theorists.”

    The flip side of the coin, however, is that we are not omniscient. Thus we can never say definitively what has occurred in secret. We can have theories and hunches, but anyone who claims to know exactly how various forces are conspiring in the world needs more humility. But the same goes for those who denounce all conspiracy theories as invalid.

    I will leave you with this quote from John Robbins’ excellent essay “The Political Philosophy of the Founding Fathers”

    The Founders’ View of Conspiracies

    Because they were convinced that men were envious, ambitious, and untrustworthy by nature, the founders logically were suspicious of any evidence of intrigue, cabal, or conspiracy among men. Perhaps the most famous example of their concern with conspiracy is that found in the Declaration of Independence: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism….” This Declaration, of course, was written by Jefferson and passed by the Second Continental Congress, but the concern with conspiracy was pervasive. As Bernard Bailyn has pointed out,

    What the leaders of the Revolutionary movement themselves said lay behind the convulsion of the time – what they themselves said was the cause of it all – was nothing less than a deliberate “design” – a conspiracy – of ministers of state and their underlings to overthrow the British Constitution, both in England and America, and to blot out, or at least severely reduce, English liberties. So it was commonly said. But by whom? It was said not merely by acknowledged firebrands like Samuel Adams…but by every major leader of the Revolutionary movement in the years before independence: by John Adams, continuously, elaborately, year after year from 1765 to 1775, in his private as well as his public writings; by the cautious, conservative lawyer John Dickinson…; by Thomas Jefferson….[34]

    Not being under the sway of Marx or Hegel, the founders did not assign any importance to the idea that history was governed by blind, impersonal “forces” and that human thought and action were, at best, epiphenomena. Ideas did have consequences, but only if they were held by persons. One does not revolt against ideas, nor even against laws – if one believes that the lawmakers are not maliciously and deliberately making bad laws; one revolts against evil men with evil purposes. The Americans seceded from the British Empire because

    They saw about them, with increasing clarity, not merely mistaken, or even evil, policies violating the principles upon which freedom rested, but what appeared to be evidence of nothing less than a deliberate assault launched surreptitiously by plotters against liberty both in England and in America.[35]

    George Washington and George Mason, writing the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, declared that the problem had been caused by a “regular, systematic plan” of oppression. In a private letter Washington expressed his belief that “These measures are the result of deliberation…. I am as fully convinced as I am of my own existence that there has been a regular, systematic plan formed to enforce them.”[36]

    The issue of conspiracy, Bailyn writes, was the crucial issue. Without belief in a ministerial conspiracy against the freedom of Americans and Englishmen, there would have been no secession: “That this was the issue, for thoughtful and informed people, on which decisions of loyalty to the government turned is nowhere so clearly and sensitively revealed as in the record of Peter Van Schaack.”[37]

    Van Schaack, it seems, used the theories of John Locke to oppose the patriots; and the crucial issue in his mind was whether or not there was a conspiracy against the rights of Englishmen. If there were not, then, Van Schaack wrote,

    I cannot therefore think the government dissolved; and as long as the society lasts, the power that every individual gave the society when he entered into it can never revert to the individual again but will always remain in the community.[38]

    The founders’ belief in the evil of human nature, the untrustworthiness of men with power, and their disbelief in impersonal historical “forces” led them, quite logically, to a suspicion of conspiracies in high places.

    -John W. Robbins. Freedom and Capitalism (Kindle Locations 1084-1113). The Trinity Foundation.

  7. Dean says:

    I suppose its about context. The holocaust had its conspiracy when Hitler conspired to over throw the jewish people. It was clever & organised.

    Many (not me) claim the formulation of the canon was a type of conspiracy within Christianity. I think thats why people think they can manipulate history & politics given enough power today (media wars).

    Either way vanity is at play and many mistakes are made. Pslam 2:1-12.

    (Generally speaking)We are clever & we can manipulate the truth, particularly in the courts. Ancient Rome has plot after plot. In the ancient world it was customary to record the countries triumphs. Thats what makes the Bible unique. God’s patience & justice is constant even after multiple failings. Big corporations are known to silence & undermine the whistleblowers. Look what Joseph’s brothers did to him.

    Vanity & Conspiracy lay deep in the human heart.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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