In the world of media, we are hearing a lot about conspiracies these days. It seems that one of the quickest short cuts to the best seller list is to use the word “conspiracy” in your title. Conspiracy theories abound throughout our modern culture, but it appears that no community is more enamored of them than evangelical Christians. A lot of time and energy is spent researching suspicious movements and institutions in an effort to divine their mysterious evil intentions. Even more time is spent worrying about potential frightening outcomes should any of these groups achieve their objectives. With all the critical tasks facing the Church in America, have we ever stopped to consider whether a conspiracy obsession might be distracting us from more important responsibilities?
Let’s start by defining conspiracy. Literally it means “breathe” (spiro) “together” (con). Webster’s dictionary (1828) says that to conspire is to “breathe together, to band together, to agree or to concur to one end.” At this level of definition then, we are all conspirators. Any two or more people sharing even the thinnest common interest are by definition conspirators to some extent. Any time two people interact you have all the necessary raw materials for a conspiracy to be hatched. All that is needed is agreement toward a common end.
This perspective quickly deflates the mysterious and fearful image we have of conspirators. “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” Conspiracy is to commonplace that it is really quite mundane. We recognize that man must breathe to survive. But as social creatures, men must also breathe together too survive. Husbands and wives, families, roommates, sports teams and business partners all conspire together to achieve common goals every day. Most of us are probably involved with a dozen or more conspiracies at the same time.
There are three distinct types of conspiracy: (1) Conscious (2) Unconscious (3) Unwitting. Distinguishing between them is critical if we are to properly analyze the actions and intentions of everything from grammar school social cliques and inner city youth gangs to political parties, religious groups and multi-national corporations.
- Conscious conspiracies are made with people that you know or people that you know about.
- Unconscious conspiracies exist between people and groups that are either unaware of each other’s existence, unaware of the common purpose they share or, though aware of these things, are not organizationally linked in any tangible manner.
- Unwitting conspiracies exist where the participants are directed by unperceived spiritual forces.
On the surface these groups might even seem like they are working at cross purposes, but unbeknownst often even to themselves, they are really coordinated, guided or inspired by either the Holy Spirit or by demonic forces. The same conspiracy can operate in more than one dimension simultaneously, and there can be various combinations and relative weightings between these dimensions. We can even find all three types being manifested in unison to achieve the same common purpose. For example, most Christians working with their local prayer group, church or denomination are completely unaware of what millions of other Christians are doing in countless groups small and large around the world.
At the same time, the Holy Spirit is collectively guiding and strategically coordinating all of their activities according to a Master plan that no individual piece can comprehend. On the other hand, a devout believer in a new age cult conspires with his compatriots to proselytize others with his gospel of TM, yoga, crystals, astrology, ascended masters etc., but he is unaware that his fundamental assumptions about the nature of divinity, sovereignty, law and judgement are the same as those espoused by Marxism, evolutionism, Buddhism, Hinduism and a host of other “isms” that deny the truth of Christianity. And neither he, nor his unrecognized co-conspirators in the panoply of “isms” realizes that they are all unwitting executors of Satan’s relentless efforts to thwart the purposes of God for the human race.
We should recognize that conspiracies can be either open or hidden, and that they can be either good or evil. Open conspiracies, even if they are evil ones, are of little threat to a vigilant people, while closed ones are only dangerous if their goals are evil. Open conspiracies of any kind are relatively harmless, because the affected parties can see the danger far off and plan accordingly (unless their eyes are shut). And closed ones should not immediately be considered dangerous.
Businessmen and sports teams are not in the habit of announcing their game plans to the world, yet their private plotting is legitimate. At the same time, Jesus said that “everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20). Therefore we should expect that evil conspirators will place a high premium on the secrecy of their real intentions. In fact, the degree to which they feel free to reveal their true objectives is the degree to which the light of truth and morality has been extinguished from our society. The cockroaches only come out when the lights go off.
Our Founding Fathers understood man’s conspiratorial capacity for both good and evil, and they had a specific plan for controlling it: they instituted a free market for conspiracies. That’s right. In fact, this was one of the most unique aspect of our new Christian constitutional and republican form of government. James Madison took great pains in the Federalist Papers to elaborate on the genius of this approach as it pertained to partisan efforts to gain control of the Federal government. Remember that political movements are one form of large scale conspiracy.
Yes, every group would want to implement its own narrow agenda through the apparatus of the new central government, and yes, some of these groups might have immoral, dangerous or tyrannical intentions. Yet as long as political participation remained a free market commodity, the competing interests of multiple parties (that is, multiple groups conspiring to legislate their particular agendas), would serve as a forceful cross-checking mechanism that would never allow too narrow a group to enforce its will on the entire citizenry.
Thus evil conspiracies could never achieve widespread success, at least not without first converting a sizable portion of the population to their viewpoint. And of course, in the realm of open discourse the Founders were confident that the proponents of scriptural truth would be the ones to benefit from the persuasion and conversion process.
Evil conspiracies only become a significant threat when they manage to achieve some level of institutional power monopoly. The institution could be the military, civil government, public education, major universities, professional guilds (i.e. the ABA for lawyers), or the mass media (from Hollywood to CNN). Once they control such seats of power, malicious conspirators too often choose to fortify themselves, denying equal access to all other points of view. They may even try to entirely purge all expression of the viewpoints they find most odious. This is exactly what has been happening to the Christian community in the United States during the past several decades.
But how has Christianity arrived at such a precarious position if this nation was founded as a Christian nation with full civil and religious liberties? Were the Founders mistaken in their belief that truth can’t lose in a fair fight? No, they were correct, but their optimism assumed that the advocates of righteousness (that is those who conspired to advance the Christian faith), would be vigilant, diligent, forceful and faithful in their labors. The power behind all conspiracies is action. Truth has a power of its own, but it must still be contended for. Evil can win if righteousness defaults. And evil has this advantage: fallen man’s strong natural inclination to sin. Therefore, evil conspiracies have an inherent momentum, derived from their built-in appeal to fallen men. Godly conspirators can never rest. Moral vacuums naturally fill with wickedness, but virtue must be pumped in. Godliness does not advance by osmosis.
After the Civil War, American Christians began a long downward spiral of laziness, apathy, and excessive pietism. We ceased to promote our common interest in throughout our culture. That is, we ceased to conspire. Having stopped breathing together, we as a Body became increasingly weak. Evil conspirators though small, unorganized and incompetent at the start, slowly won out against our ever more meager opposition. Once they gained a temporary victory and obtained institutional power, they then sought monopoly power through the destruction of the same free market which permitted their rise (the very free market which Christians created).
It was not until the door got slammed in our face and the army of politically correct heresy hunters started combing the streets that parts of our community began to awaken from our decades-long stupor. Unfortunately, most of our Body is still asleep. Hardly more than a few fingers on one hand have begun to once again conspire together for the promotion of Christian civilization in our nation. But that can and will change, and a proper understanding of the nature of the conspiracies and conspirators that oppose us will be a critical part of that change.
In an article to be published in a later issue, we will examine why we should avoid excessive entanglement with conspiracy theories. We’ll see how our all too common obsession with conspiracies makes us appear foolish to unbelievers, and how it causes us to overestimate the strength of both Satan and his earthly surrogates while underestimating the power of God and of God’s children. We’ll also look at how too much conspiracy thinking reinforces faulty eschatology, makes us reactive and defensive, creates fear and paralysis, and helps us to rationalize our failures.