In our new COVID-19 world, there is a lot of confusion, misinformation, and even disinformation. The plethora of Internet-based news outlets and social media does not help matters. What are reliable sources of information? Who can you really trust?
Such a climate is fertile ground for generating conspiracy theories. Granted, it is very easy to pooh-pooh skepticism about conspiracy theories. After all, some conspiracy theories actually do happen. Here is just a partial list of some of the more well-known conspiracy theories, that turned out to be true:
- Watergate. The 1970s break-in attempt at the Democratic National Committee headquarters triggered a cover-up that brought down an American President.
- The Arrest & Crucifixion of Jesus: Jewish leaders, Roman rulers, and one of the insiders of the Jesus movement, who defected (Judas), conspired together, leading to Jesus’ Crucifixion.
- The Arrest of the Apostle Paul: As former persecutor of Christians, turned follower of Christ, Paul threatened the religious establishment of his day, in Jerusalem, which led to his arrest and final appeal to Caesar in Rome to resolve the matter.
In recent times, we have seen conspiracy theories emerging from the far left, as some advocates of the “Social Justice Movement” and “Critical Race Theory” have gone off the deep end, freaking out even those on the moderate left, …. as well as, from the far right, with the “QAnon” conspiracy theory… related to the 2016 “PizzaGate” craziness (if you have not heard about “QAnon,” then read, or listen to, this article from The Atlantic about it…. it will scare the daylights out of you). Sadly, you can find Christians on both sides that get drawn into these types of conspiratorial thinking.
Now, we have COVID-19. Did it come from a lab in China, not simply as a result of some possible accident, that was covered up, but perhaps even as part of some intentional bio-warfare? Is it somehow related to Bill Gates and the Mark of the Beast?
There are a lot of good questions that sit underneath some of these more overt questions. There is still a lot about COVID-19 that we do not know. But sometimes the lure of conspiracy thinking can easily take us down the wrong path. As a Christian, I get bothered when critics of evangelical faith create their own conspiracy theories about Christianity. But when Christians themselves foster conspiracy thinking, that lacks evidential support, we risk damaging our witness to an unbelieving world.
It is far better to follow the evidence we already do have, instead of speculating on the possibility of evidence we do not currently possess.
Look. The uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 crisis is extremely stressful. We are already seeing a great deal of civil unrest, partly related to the COVID-19 crisis. I know people who are currently out of work, due to the crisis. I long for the day when businesses can fully reopen, and our churches can begin meeting again, without having to worry about social distancing. Thankfully, as I am writing this (June 1, 2020), there are positive signs that things are slowly coming back to normal. But let us not needlessly complicate matters by giving into unwarranted conspiratorial thinking.
Some Christians will be offended by my post here. But I would encourage keeping an open-mind on these things. Consider this: How is your conspiracy theory helping to enhance the service of the proclamation of the Gospel? Are you building bridges of trust, or are you creating an unnecessary barrier, keeping others from hearing about Jesus?
It is important to say that the conspiratorial theorizing about COVID-19 should not be linked even to Young Earth Creationism. Todd C. Wood, a prominent Young Earth Creationist, with a PhD in biology, has written two blog posts encouraging fellow Young Earth Creationist Christians not to give into the conspiratorial rhetoric. Wood even likens the rise of conspiracy thinking among Christians to a revival of the ancient heresy of gnosticism. A couple of quotes from Wood stand out for me:
- “Everything about [COVID-19] is a classic, natural viral outbreak. I’ve seen absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The concern that prompted the drastic social distancing was the rapid rate at which this virus spread, combined with early estimates of a fatality rate about ten times higher than the flu. Have we learned more and revised those estimates? Of course we have, that’s what science does. We learn new things and revise our models. It’s not the sign of a scam…..
- …..Is COVID-19 really no worse than a bad outbreak of the flu? It’s far worse, or at least it has the potential to be. The flu has been around for years, and there’s a lot of resistance already in the population. Plus, the flu does not spread nearly as fast as COVID-19, and there are preventatives (flu shot) and effective treatments available for the flu.”
Wood even links to a video done by Robert Carter, of Creation Ministries International, who reviews the viral “documentary” film called “Plandemic. Part 1,” that some of my friends have sent to me as well in emails. Carter’s conclusion? “What a load of bunk.”
Also, a new edition of the Reasons to Believe podcast, RTBLive, tackles some of the questions surrounding conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19. Virologist A.J. Roberts, who has studied coronaviruses extensively, and Mark Clark, a political scientist and expert in national security, fielded a number of questions from listeners, offering a sound Christian perspective, grounded in good science and evidence-based reasoning. The program is about an hour and a half, but if you are looking for reliable information, that goes into some detail to answer questions many people are asking, it would be worth your time to listen. Some of the questions could not be answered in the RTB Livestream, but they can be found in the RTB Live Extra podcast, linked here: