Conspiracy Theories

Estimated reading time: 22 minutes

Christians and Conspiracy Theories

Many people who consider themselves Christians — and thus could be expect to know a thing or two about truth — believe in various conspiracy theories and other hoaxes.

That’s right: while they ‘follow’ Jesus — who said he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) — they prefer to spread myths.

Some conspiracy theories are relatively harmless (e.g. the Well into Hell hoax, or the belief that moon landing was faked). But others are a downright dangerous. For instance, many self-proclaimed Christians were involved in the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol. Having put their trust and faith in the decidedly unchristlike Donald Trump, they engaged in outright terrorism.

Some of the rioters carried American flagsConfederate battle flags,[6][240][241][242] or Nazi emblems.[243] For the first time in U.S. history, a Confederate battle flag was displayed inside the Capitol.[240][244] Christian imagery and rhetoric was prevalent. Rioters carried crosses and signs saying, “Jesus Saves”, and “Jesus 2020”. On the National Mall, rioters chanted, “Christ is king”. One rioter carried a Christian flag. Rioters referred to the neo-fascist Proud Boys as “God’s warriors”.[245][246] These were mainly neo-charismatic, prophetic Christians who believed that Trump was prophesied to remain in power and anointed by God to save Christian Americans from religious persecution.[247]

Although a few evangelical leaders supported the riots,[245] most condemned the violence and criticized Trump for inciting the crowd.[248] This criticism came from liberal Christian groups such as the Red-Letter Christians, as well as evangelical groups who were generally supportive of Trump.[245][249] This criticism did not affect evangelical support for Trump; investigative journalist Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, argued that many white evangelical Christians in the U.S. create an echo chamber whereby Trump’s missteps are blamed on the Democratic Party, leftists, or the mainstream media, the last of which being viewed as especially untrustworthy.[25

1 in 4 White Evangelicals swayed by QAnon conspiracy theories

As reported by Religion News Service, and published in Christianity Today, a survey by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, reported 29 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of white evangelicals—the most of any religious group—believe the widely debunked QAnon conspiracy theory is completely or mostly accurate. 1

“QAnon Conspiracies Sway Faith Groups, Including 1 in 4 White Evangelicals,” the magazine headlined.

According to Daniel Cox, director of AEI’s Survey Center on American Life, the report suggests conspiracy theories enjoy a surprising amount of support in general, but white evangelicals appear to be particularly primed to embrace them.

“There’s this really dramatic fissure,” he said.
[…]

Asked to explain why white evangelicals appear disproportionately likely to embrace conspiracy theories, Cox noted that, as a group, they do not fit a stereotype of conspiracy theorists as people disconnected from social interaction. Instead, most retain strong connections to various social groups.

But white evangelicals stand out in a different way: The vast majority say some or a lot of their family members (81%) or friends (82%) voted for Trump in the 2020 election—more than any other religious group.

“People who do strongly believe in these things are not more disconnected—they are more politically segregated,” Cox said.

The resulting social echo chamber, he argued, allows conspiracy theories to spread unchecked.

“That kind of environment is really important when it comes to embracing this kind of thinking,” he said. “You’re seeing people embrace this sort of conspiratorial thinking, and everyone in their social circle is like, ‘Yeah, that sounds right to me,’ versus someone saying, ‘You know, we should look at this credulously.’”

White evangelicals express robust support for other conspiracy theories as well. Close to two-thirds (62%) believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election—despite numerous experts and courts at all levels refuting such claims—and roughly the same percentage (63%) believe President Joe Biden’s victory was “not legitimate.”

A majority (55%) also said they believed it was mostly or completely accurate to say “a group of unelected government officials in Washington, D.C., referred to as the ‘Deep State’ (has) been working to undermine the Trump administration.”

How QAnon uses religion to lure unsuspecting Christians

Four months before the attack CNN described, “How QAnon uses religion to lure unsuspecting Christians”

Although QAnon’s conspiracy theories are baseless — they allege that a famous actor is a secret sex trafficker and a leading Democrat participated in Satanic rituals — the dangers the movement poses are very real.

The FBI has called QAnon a domestic terror threat and an internal FBI memo warned that “fringe conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”
[…]

Facebook finally pledged to ban QAnon content earlier this month. And YouTube announced Thursday that it is “removing more conspiracy theory content used to justify real-world violence,” including QAnon videos.

Still, some Christian conservatives are falling for QAnon’s unhinged conspiracies.

“Right now QAnon is still on the fringes of evangelicalism,” said Ed Stetzer, an evangelical pastor and dean at Wheaton College in Illinois who wrote a recent column warning Christians about QAnon. “But we have a pretty big fringe.

“Pastors need to be more aware of the danger and they need tools to address it,” he told CNN. “People are being misled by social media.”

Some Christian pastors are actually leading their followers to QAnon, or at least introducing them to its dubious conspiracy theories.

To cite a few examples:

During services in July, Rock Urban Church in Grandville, Michigan, played a discredited video that supports QAnon conspiracy theories. “The country is being torn apart by the biggest political hoax and coordinated mass media disinformation campaign in living history — you may know it as COVID-19,” the video says. The church did not answer requests for comment and has removed the video from its YouTube channel.

Danny Silk, a leader at Bethel Church, a Pentecostal megachurch in Redding, California, has posted QAnon-related ideas and hashtags on his Instagram account. Silk did not respond to requests for comment.

Pastor John MacArthur of California, an influential evangelical who is battling county officials over the right to continue indoor services at his Grace Community Church, espoused a theme popular in QAnon circles when he misinterpreted CDC data and informed his congregation that “there is no pandemic.” MacArthur declined CNN’s request for comment.

There’s even a movement, led by the Indiana-based Omega Kingdom Ministry, to merge QAnon and Christianity — with texts from both the Bible and Q read at church services.

Christians who believe in conspiracy theories are on thorny ground

Professing Christians who believe these theories are on the dangerous thorny ground Jesus described in Matthew 13:22, where, as William Hendriksen puts it, “Constant anxiety about worldly affairs fill mind and heart with dark foreboding.” Instead of being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace through humility, gentleness, patience, and love (Eph. 4:2–3), they produce the works of the flesh, fostering dissensions and divisions that cause believers to take sides, argue, and fight with one another (Gal. 5:20). When things reach this point, the Devil has succeeded in using his age-old tools of deception and division to disrupt the church, and it underscores Peter’s caution that “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19, ESV throughout).

How do conspiracy theories begin? Some originate from the noetic effects of sin—flawed thinking. But others originate with “the god of this world,” who blinds “the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). The Devil’s lies and deception began with Adam and Eve, and conspiracy theories were widespread as far back as Isaiah’s day (Isa. 8:11–13).

In the New Testament, Jesus warned his followers concerning his second coming: “See that no one leads you astray” (Matt. 24:4; Mark 13:5). Paul urged believers to “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (Eph. 5:6) and “Let no one deceive you in any way” (2 Thess. 2:3). John says, “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 John. 3:7).

“Foolish and stupid arguments”

Conspiracy theory believers claim to be privy to impossible knowledge, such as the doings of secret world governments and other cabals. These armchair detectives confidently state — without any proof whatsoever — that the FBI, the media, Interpol, the Illuminati, and, say, a pizza restaurant are all involved in crimes, cover-ups, and attempts to take over the world. Facts do not matter to them.

Millions(!) of American crackpots, including many who proclaim to be Christians, believed that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. To them, facts mean nothing. They prefer myths over verifiable information.

The apostle Paul told Timothy, who at time time headed the church in Ephesus, to “instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3,4 HCSB)

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One of the dictionary definitions of a myth is “a widely held but false belief or idea.”

Paul also urged Timothy to having nothing to do with “foolish and ignorant disputes” (2 Timothy 2:23, HCSB). The New International Version puts it this way: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

When you seriously examine today’s conspiracy theories you discover they are not based on, or supported by facts. They are myths — foolish and stupid ideas.

Nowadays, many pastors, Christian leaders, and others who profess to be Christians misuse the Bible to promote false rumors. Some even claim that God gave them special insight or revelation regarding these matters.

Unfortunately, countless Christians are sorely lacking in spiritual discernment. That means they lack the tools needed to examine whatever they are being taught. Thus they are easy prey for false teachers.

And this is what he told the Philippians:

… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons

The troublesome result of a lack of discernment, is seen in this heads-up Paul gave Timothy:

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. 

People who abandon the faith are known as apostates. Instead of being led by the Holy Spirit, they pay attention to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons (evil spirits who are led by the devil).

Now, the context shows that Paul was referring to events that evidently took place during his lifetime. In his letter he is warning Timothy against an early form of gnosticism — through which many heresies were introduced into the church.

But false teachers and false teachings have plagued Christians since the days of Jesus. In the book of Acts. Luke quotes Paul as saying,

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.

Do not gossip

Throughout the New Testament, the apostles warn against various heresies, deceptive philosophies, and even “foolish and stupid arguments.”

The Bible also repeatedly warns against gossip. The dictionary defines gossip as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” It is also described as “idle talk or rumor.” Gossip is not just confined to tattling about others, but also pertains to events and issues.

In the Bible, the sin of gossip is in bad company. For instance, Paul tells the Corinthians, “For I fear that perhaps when I come I will not find you to be what I want, and I may not be found by you to be what you want; there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12:20 HCSB)

And in talking to the Romans about gentiles, he says, “because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.” (Romans 1:28-32 HCSB)

Then what are we to think of people who claim to be Christians, but engage in gossip by spreading conspiracy theories about people, events, and issues? The lies they spread certainly marks them as untrustworthy and undiscerning.

Consider this: how do you expect people to trust your testimony regarding Jesus Christ if you engage in gossip, spreading lies?

Whatever is true

Paul encouraged the Philippians as follows:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

If you are someone who has bought into conspiracy theories, ask yourself whether your current state of mind matches what Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote.

Read Next: Discernment

Christian discernment
The Bible teaches that all Christians should grow in spiritual discernment. Discernment is to identify the true nature of a spirit, doctrine, practice, or group; to distinguish truth from error, extreme error from slight error, the divine from the human and the demonic. Learn how to do that.

Research Resources on Conspiracy Theories

More resources will be added over time.

Articles

  • Christians and Conspiracy Theories: A call to repentance Excellent article by Dean and Laura VanDruff, showing why Christians should be careful in what they believe or repeat.
  • Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia: Notes from a Mind-Control Conference Evan Harrington, Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 20, No. 5, September/October 1996
  • Disinformation Fuels A White Evangelical Movement. It Led 1 Virginia Pastor To Quit, Dalia Mortada, NPR, Feb. 21, 2021

    According to a recent study by Lifeway Research, 49% of Protestant pastors say they frequently hear members of their congregations repeating baseless conspiracy theories. The recent study by the American Enterprise Institute showed that 27% of white evangelicals — the most of any religious group — believe that the widely debunked QAnon conspiracy theory about political leaders running a child sex trafficking ring is “completely” or “mostly accurate,” and that 46% say they’re “not sure.”
  • The dark truth about conspiracy theories: They’re everywhere! Can they be stopped? German scholar Michael Butter on how Trump and the Capitol riot leveraged an entire universe of conspiracy theory. Paul Rosenberg, Salon, March 6, 2021
  • How dangerous is Jordan B. Peterson, the rightwing professor who ‘hit a hornets’ nest’?: “Since his confrontation with Cathy Newman, the Canadian academic’s book has become a bestseller. But his arguments are riddled with ‘pseudo-facts’ and conspiracy theories” Dorian Lynskey, The Guardian, Feb. 7, 2018.

    The key to Peterson’s appeal is also his greatest weakness. He wants to be the man who knows everything and can explain everything, without qualification or error. On Channel 4 News, he posed as an impregnable rock of hard evidence and common sense. But his arguments are riddled with conspiracy theories and crude distortions of subjects, including postmodernismgender identity and Canadian law, that lie outside his field of expertise. Therefore, there is no need to caricature his ideas in order to challenge them. Even so, his critics will have their work cut out: Peterson’s wave is unlikely to come crashing down any time soon.”
  • How QAnon Conspiracy Is Spreading In Christian Communities Across The U.S. [Listen, with transcript) NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with journalist Katelyn Beaty about the spread of the QAnon conspiracy theory in Christian communities in the United States.
  • Fantasies, Legends, and Heroes: What You Know May Not Be So and How To Tell The Difference, by Bob Passantino, of Answers in Action.
  • List of Cognitive Biases. Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from norm and/or rationality in judgment. Cognitive biases include tendencies to systematically draw conclusions on the basis of insufficient information, or to exclude information that contradicts an individual’s beliefs regarding a particular issue. As this Wikipedia entry notes, “These biases affect belief formation, reasoning processes, business and economic decisions, and human behavior in general.” Applicable to the problem of conspiracy theories.
  • List of Fallacies. Often called ‘Logical Fallacies.’ A fallacy is reasoning that is logically incorrect, undermines the logical validity of an argument, or is recognized as unsound. Wikipedia entry. Many, if not all, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and fake news items can be sifted out merely by correct reasoning.
  • The QAnon orphans: people who have lost loved ones to conspiracy theories, by Cecilia Saixue Watt, The Guardian, September 23, 2020. Believing in conspiracy theories has terrible consequences: “For some Republicans, QAnon is an opportunity to garner support. But for those who have lost loved ones to it, QAnon is a destroyer of families and relationships.”
  • Should a Christian be interested in conspiracy theories? Brief article by Got Questions.
  • Too many evangelical Christians fall for conspiracy theories online, and gullibility is not a virtue: Here’s what church leaders and concerned laypeople can do. A column in The Dallas Morning News, written by Ed Stetzer, a professor at Wheaton College and executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and by Andrew MacDonald is associate director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. May 17, 2020.

    An extended quote: “At their root, conspiracy theories are illogical and embarrassing. The audacity of recent COVID-19 conspiracy theories demands that President Donald Trump, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the media, and the scientific community are all in league together. More outlandishly, they ascribe the virus to secret plans to end religious liberty, to connect a potential vaccine to the mark of the beast, and loop in 5G towers as a bizarre bonus.

    But as evangelicals ourselves, we think it is time that the church recognizes the growing foothold conspiracy theories are gaining in our midst and what this means for our credibility and witness. These theories are gaining power in the church, and during this crisis when many are at home and online more than ever, the theories are a headache we can no longer ignore.

    […]

    At the core of the issue is the need for Christians to recognize how conspiracy theories actively hurt our Christian witness. When evangelical Christians indulge conspiracy theories, we damage our credibility. While some might see this as unimportant, our credibility to know and profess the truth lies at the core of our witness, whether we are effective evangelists for what we believe is the truth. Central to our faith is our profession that Jesus dwelt among us as fully God and fully man, died on the cross that we might be forgiven, and was raised and now reigns. We believe these things in truth, not as a moralistic story.

    Thus, when Scripture calls us to be wise in resisting the temptation to foolishness and warns against those who “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4), its point is not only in how this hurts us, but rather how it reflects the Gospel we profess. Christians have a responsibility to not be fooled. As we’ve argued before, gullibility is not a Christian virtue. Believing and sharing conspiracies does not honor the Lord. It may make you feel better, like you are in the know, but it can end up harming others and it can hurt your witness.

    How are others to interpret our claim about the resurrection when we are cavalier with conspiracies on social media? It is critical that we recognize that we cannot proclaim the truth of the resurrection of Jesus to a skeptical world and in the same breath rant about 5G towers spreading the virus.”
  • When it comes to conspiracy theories, is Christianity part of the problem or part of the solution? By Aden Cotterill

    I want to offer an honest self-examination of Christian belief. To this end, I want to explore a number of “epistemic skeletons” in the Christian’s closet — those beliefs that might predispose Christians to embracing conspiracies — and a number of “epistemic treasures” in our tradition — those beliefs that might help inoculate Christians against conspiracy theories.
  • Why do many Christians seem so prone to believe in conspiracy theories? By S. Michael Houdmann, at Got Questions.

Books about conspiracy theories

A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy, by Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum

Conspiracy theories are as old as politics. But conspiracists today have introduced something new―conspiracy without theory. And the new conspiracism has moved from the fringes to the heart of government with the election of Donald Trump.

In A Lot of People Are Saying, Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum show how the new conspiracism differs from classic conspiracy theory, how it undermines democracy, and what needs to be done to resist it.
Amazon.com book description

The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, by Jan-Willem van Prooijen, an Associate Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at VU Amsterdam, and Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement.

The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories debunks the myth that conspiracy theories are a modern phenomenon, exploring their broad social contexts, from politics to the workplace. The book explains why some people are more susceptible to these beliefs than others and how they are produced by recognizable and predictable psychological processes.

Featuring examples such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and climate change, The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories shows us that while such beliefs are not always irrational and are not a pathological trait, they can be harmful to individuals and society.
From the book description at Amazon.com

Secrets, Plots & Hidden Agendas: What You Don’t Know About Conspiracy Theories, by Paul T. Coughlin. A dated book (published in Feb. 1999). But, as one reviewer points out, “However, he still gives a lot of useful information about conspiracy theories in general and Christian theories in particular, and the misuse of end-times prophecy to justify highly questionable if not downright ugly.” Coughlin is the Founder & President of The Protectors, an international, freedom-from-bullying organization. He’s an international speaker and teacher. Coughlin has authored a number of books, including “No More Christian Nice Guy: When Being Nice —Instead of Good — Hurts Men, Women and Children

Were the government actions at Ruby Ridge and Waco “planned executions?” Has the national debt been deliberately increased to give international bankers control over the country? Is there a secret organization of top political, economic, military, and religious leaders whose goal is to control the entire planet? The people who answer “yes” to such questions are not just extremists; they number in the millions, wear suits, and pay their taxes.

News of conspiracies has spread broadly by the Internet, by declassified government reports, by prominent leaders who publicly favor global government, and by interpretations of Bible prophecy. But what is the truth? In this book, Paul Coughlin uncovers the facts about prevalent conspiracy theories and discusses the reasons that so many people believe them to be true.
Book description as posted at Amazon.com

Books — Online

The Conspiracy Theory Handbook [PDF] Conspiracy theories attempt to explain events as the secretive plots of powerful people. While conspiracy theories are not typically supported by evidence, this doesn’t stop them from blossoming. Conspiracy theories damage society in a number of ways. To help minimize these harmful effects, The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, by Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, explains why conspiracy theories are so popular, how to identify the traits of conspiratorial thinking, and what are effective response strategies.

Conspiracy theories attempt to explain events as the secretive plots of powerful people. While conspiracy theories are not typically supported by evidence, this doesn’t stop them from blossoming. Conspiracy theories damage society in a number of ways. To help minimise these harmful effects, The Conspiracy Theory Handbook explains why conspiracy theories are so popular, how to identify the traits of conspiratorial thinking, and what are effective response strategies.
The Conspiracy Theory Handbook

The authors identify “seven traits of conspiratorial thinking, summarized (and more easily remembered) with the acronym CONSPIR:

The seven traits of conspiratorial thinking. From The Conspiracy Theory Handbook.
  • Contradictory
  • Overriding Suspicion
  • Nefarious Intent
  • Something Must Be Wrong
  • Persecuted Victim
  • Immune to Evidence
  • Re-interpreting Randomness

The authors then state,

The self-sealing nature of conspiracy theories means that any evidence disproving a theory may be interpreted as further evidence for the conspiracy. This means that communication efforts need to clearly differentiate between different target audiences. If conspiracy theorists re-interpret evidence to mean the opposite, then they require a different strategy to those who value evidence. The following pages look first at communication strategies for the general public, then for conspiracy theorists specifically.
The Conspiracy Theory Handbook

Excellent material. Download The Conspiracy Theory Handbook for free.

Videos about Conspiracy Theories

The Psychology behind conspiracy theories, BBC, July 12, 2022
We look into the psychology behind conspiracy theories to try to understand why certain people are more easily drawn into them and what effect they have on our brains.

Why conspiracy theories are so hard to challenge, BBC, July 25, 2022
As conspiracy theories have evolved over the years, they have become a reflection of what’s relevant in our society.

Social media has had a huge role to play in facilitating the spread of conspiracy theories in the modern age, and as such they are becoming harder to combat. But what happens in our brains when our strongly held beliefs are challenged and how can we change our mindset to protect ourselves from conspiracy theories?

About this post

This article is posted by Anton and Janet Hein. It has been resurrected (and greatly expanded) from a very old post that was first published on May 3, 1997. More research resources are added from time to time.


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Notes:

  1. Survey conducted late January, 2021

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First published (or major update) on Sunday, November 28, 2021.
Last updated on November 19, 2022.

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