I have been learning a lot about conspiracy theories. A definition is “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.” Yet, in reading about typical characteristics of those who believe in conspiracy theories, I feel that I am reading much about people of faith–including myself
Some would say that the commonalities are strong:
- Desire for control–Roger Scruton wrote that faith’s aim is to provide reassurance of the unknown
- Secret knowledge–from the Bible’s writings, inner “promptings,” and “Reformed epistemology” that no one else can prove or understand.
- Moral superiority (by forgiveness by acceptance of and belief in a creed, in the case of Christianity) that saves us from danger.
On the other hand, there appear to be differences. Joe Pierre, a psychiatrist, wrote that a difference between those adhering to orthodox faith and “conspiracy theists,” as he calls them,
That makes conspiracy theories different from, for example, religious beliefs that are grounded in faith and arguably a wish to believe. Conspiracy theories, in contrast, start with disbelief in conventional wisdom in favor of a kind of secret, malevolent, “real story” that’s being hidden from the public through some cover-up. There’s good evidence that this disbelief is rooted in mistrust.
That does seem to me to be a significant parting of the ways. In fact, in this case, the orthodox accept what is believed to be true, and want to follow authority; whereas conspiracy theorists reject authority, perhaps because of deep seated distrust
There are certainly elements of faith that sound helpful; yet in the form of conspiracy theory, are very dangerous. And the fact that we share elements doesn’t mean that faith is false.
I hesitate to post this, as I don’t want to fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap of theorizing about areas of psychology that I don’t understand. If someone with training in that area can comment and clear things up more, I would sincerely appreciate it. Several of my friends and family are currently involved in conspiracy theories. Disagreement with them has caused me to introspect more.
I would be interested in your thoughts–why do those of faith fall for conspiracy theories so readily? How can we avoid that pitfall, and emerge more humble and willing to learn? Thank you.