Did Bigfoot Assassinate JFK?
In 1993, comedian Mike Myers starred in a movie titled So I Married an Axe Murderer. In this film, Myers plays Charlie Mackenzie, a terrible beat poet with a fear of commitment. He breaks up with one girlfriend after another for the most trivial reasons. Myers also plays Charlie’s father Stuart Mackenzie. Stuart has a thick Scottish accent and regularly reads the Weekly World News (remember Bat Boy?) to get the facts. Stuart believes, for example, that Colonel Sanders is part of an elite secret group who control everything that happens in the world. I was reminded of this film again as I’ve been seeing more and more allegations of conspiracy related to various events in the world today.
Allegations of conspiracy are not new. Most students of church history are aware of Nero’s allegation after a huge fire in Rome that Christians were responsible. As a result of Nero’s conspiracy theory, many Christians were martyred by being burned alive. The Jewish people have been the victims of many conspiracy theories over the course of history. One of the most infamous of these is found in a 1903 book titled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book claims to detail the world-domination plans of a group of Jews called “the Elders of Zion.” The Jews have been accused of so many things over the centuries that I'm surprised no one has accused them of causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. Or maybe someone has. I should probably double-check.
Another group commonly accused of wanting to take over the world (or having already done so) is the Illuminati, a secret society founded in the 18th century in Germany. Apparently, the Illuminati are not very good at keeping their secrets because a lot of people on the Internet know everything about their plans. They show up in many allegations.
The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have given us many allegations of conspiracy, ranging from NASA’s faking of the moon landing to George W. Bush’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks; from the real culprits behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the coverup of extraterrestrials in Area 51. The allegations of conspiracy are legion. In our day, things have not slowed down. Social media is filled with conspiracy allegations related to many things ranging from the cause and/or actual existence of the COVID 19 pandemic to an alleged group of powerful sex-trafficking cannibal Satanists.
The most troubling thing about all of this is that many professing Christians are passing along and helping to spread some of these allegations without considering the ramifications of doing so if the allegations in question turn out to be false. Christians are called to speak the truth, not lies, and that includes what is said by posting something online. Lying is an abomination to God. If we know something is false and we pass it off as true, we are liars. If we pass along something as true that we are not sure is true, we are, at best, guilty of the sin of gossip. Depending on the content of what we have said, we might also be guilty of the sin of slander or libel. It is better to keep our mouths shut than to be involved in these sins of the tongue.
There are various ideas about why so many people are attracted to conspiracy theories. Some argue that in times of uncertainty and fear and lack of control, people have a heightened desire to understand why things are happening. Conspiracy theories provide an apparent answer. Others think it is primarily due to a desire on the part of people to be "in the know." These theories give people a sense that they have some secret knowledge that other people don't. Christians who understand the doctrine of God's providence and the limits of their own knowledge should not have these anxieties and desires, but we often do.
Whatever the causes may be and whatever our friends and neighbors may think about these things, Christians must be more discerning. We cannot pass along something as truth just because a Facebook “friend” posted it. We are responsible for our words and their truthfulness. This means we have the responsibility to check and double-check the sources. We have the responsibility to ask critical questions. Most “conspiracy theories” fall apart upon even minimal critical examination. Another important thing to do with any of these theories is ask whether there is any evidence that would falsify the theory in question in the minds of its proponents. One of the most common characteristics of false theories is that proponents count everything as evidence for it and nothing as evidence against it.
Real conspiracies have, of course, actually occurred in history because human beings at all levels of society are fallen and sinful. Nixon, for example, was actually guilty of the Watergate crimes. He and other presidents were guilty of lying at times about what was happening in the Vietnam War. As sinners, people do evil things, and people lie. However, while we acknowledge the total depravity of fallen man, we still have to recognize that something isn’t true just because you read it on the Internet and your cousin Bob "heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another they've been messin’ around." Anybody with a computer and a dime can write anything online, and it will be on the Internet forever. That doesn’t make it true. There is zero editorial control over the content of the Internet. The burden, therefore, falls on us as readers to exercise extreme caution and use discernment.
Our responsibility as Christians to speak truth and abhor lies should be enough to dissuade us from doing these things, but if not, there is also the matter of our witness to a fallen world. Consider what happens when Christians are spreading false stories and telling a watching world that we have good reason to believe these stories when we don't. Let’s say you as a Christian spread the popular story about shape-shifting space lizards who have disguised themselves and infiltrated our society (Why one of these space lizards would choose to disguise himself as Justin Bieber is beyond me). Let’s say your unbelieving neighbor sees your online posts about this and asks you why you believe it. You tell him you believe it because there is good evidence for this belief. A week later you try to share the Gospel with him, and he asks you why he should believe in the resurrection of Christ. You tell him that there is good evidence for this belief. How seriously is he going to take your comprehension of the nature of “good evidence”? When Christians buy into stories without verifying them in responsible ways, we are telling the world that we are essentially irrational people, and why would anyone pay serious attention to anything said by an irrational person?
Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not saying that we are to blindly trust this newspaper or that newspaper, this politician or that politician, this website or that website. All I am saying is that Christians are called by God to speak the truth and abhor lies. We have to use our rational faculties at all times. All manner of people in every position imaginable distort and twist the truth. Some do it on occasion. Some do it regularly. We are not to be gullible. We are to be “wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:13). There are a lot of claims and counter-claims flying around in every circle of the digital inferno known as the Internet. As Christians, we are not to contribute to the spread of lies and gossip. Unless you know something is true, don’t post or share it. All that spreading falsehoods does is bring shame and dishonor to the Church and to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is an abomination in the eyes of God.
Truth matters because our God, who is Truth, matters.
So, pop quiz time. You go to your social media feed today, and there's an article posted on your feed. You read it, and it says the following: J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth mythology is actually true, and it reveals a secret worldwide conspiracy that very few people know about. It turns out that elves really did exist in the distant past, and some of them still exist today. Tolkien tells us about the Vanyar, the Noldor, and the Teleri, the elves that have faded away, but did you know there was a another group of elves who were converted to the side of the demon Morgoth and his lieutenant Sauron? They are the orcs. Originally, the orcs were a fourth group of elves called the Keebleri. They were angry elves. They sided with Morgoth in the battles of Middle-earth, had extensive plastic surgery, and they are the only elves who have survived to this day. They are angry and upset that the race of men are now in power worldwide so they are seeking to take back control and dominion. In order to do this they have turned many of the ancient Mallorn trees into fudge cookie factories where they have added mind-altering substances into cookies that you find on store shelves around the world. When you eat the cookies, the orcish elves are able to control your thoughts and actions and make you vote for the candidates they are using as pawns in their efforts to create a new world order. A Tolkien scholar discovered this unsettling truth recently when he took an audiobook version of The Hobbit and played it backwards. When the recording reached the point where the elves of Rivendell are singing their silly songs, you can clearly hear the following words: 'Bombadil will rise again. All hail Tom Bombadil.' The truth is there for all to see.
What should your response be?
A. Share the post with comments suggesting that the article raises good questions
B. Comment on the post asking for more information
C. Scroll past the post because there's no reason to believe a word of it
D. Conclude that the elves killed JFK
E. Eat a fudge cookie