Thursday, October 14, 2010

What motivates conspiratorial thinking?

Atheists say it's the religious.

The right says it's the left.

The left says it's the right.

The religious say it's the atheists.

So what is it that motivates conspiratorial thinking and the (sometimes violent) actions that result? It seems that conspiratorial thinking has been a part of our human culture throughout history. We see it in ancient tomes all the way to modern texts that espouse an essentially equal viewpoint. "They" are behind what's happening. "They" whoever (or whatever) "they" may be, move and shape history to their nefarious ends. One commonality in every conspiracy theory is that the offended group is always innocent and the enemy is always evil. In this I see a common psychological defense against anxiety and fear. Whether it's the John Birch Society or radical Marxists, or nutters of any sort, they each betray a Manichean mindset that simply won't allow for anything in between their starkly black and white world. Complexity of reality is verboten to this mindset and like the Athenians in war with the Spartans, simply won't be allowed.

I understand the impulse. When a scenario ensues that threatens comforts and even basic necessities, it's very easy to give into arguments that posit some external enemy as the cause of all our problems. However, the sad truth is, I know myself a little too well. And if you're honest too, you'll admit it too. We're the enemy. We always have been. So if we admit this, what should we do? One thing is to say that we see things in a limited way.

One aspect of conspiratorial thinking that constantly confronts me is how "certain" it is. That alone tells me that it's a gnostic impulse that should be rejected by both the Christian community and any intellectual skeptics. If even the apostle  Paul says we (including himself) see through a glass glass darkly, and post modern philosophers say the same in spades, how can we dare say that we have the "inside key" to how history turns?

So whether you're a skeptic or a Christian, I ask you to put your thinking cap on and consider each moment in history critically, with a mind to our own intellectual and moral limitations.

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