A cutaway view of Bigfoot’s winter headquarters. Not to scale. (‘Bromley86’ via Wikimedia Commons)
“Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
What if Macbeth was not really written by William Shakespeare, and a group of people has been suppressing this truth for hundreds of years? What if the moon landing were a hoax created by network executives to boost television ratings? What if an alien spacecraft really did crash in Roswell, New Mexico in the 1940s and the government has hidden the evidence all these years? For that matter, what if all the conspiracy theories are true?
The word conspiracy could be defined as “a secret agreement between or among multiple parties that exists to conduct unlawful behavior.” Do some conspiracies exist? Of course. Conspiracies have existed at many levels of society over the years. Both Old and New Testaments speak of conspiracies, and several popes have written about conspiracies in official documents. For instance, in 1937’s Divini Redemptoris, Pope Pius XI wrote about a “conspiracy of silence” regarding communism. In 1995’s Evangelium Vitae, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote about a “conspiracy against life.”
But for every actual conspiracy, there are undoubtedly countless theories with no underlying conspiracy. Conspiracy theories prove to be resilient not only because they are virtually impossible to disprove, but because fallen human nature seems to be attracted to possessing some knowledge that largely remains a secret from others. The ancients Greeks had a word for it: gnosis. Even going back to societies that pre-date Christianity, the possession of secret knowledge has sometimes taken on a religious or quasi-religious component. Today, many people not only eat heartily at the smorgasbord of conspiracy theories, but seem hungry for more.
I’ll admit that I’ve never quite understood the attraction to conspiracies. Even if a certain conspiracy exists, what then? How does that affect my life?
To answer that question, let’s look at my typical, very ordinary day as a Catholic husband and father. I wake up early and begin writing on my computer in bed, say morning prayers with my wife, eat breakfast with my family, attend Mass if I can, help homeschool my children throughout the day, work on my writing projects and online courses, eat dinner with my family, take my sons or daughters to their basketball games, come home and lead the family in the Rosary, turn on an episode of The Rockford Files, and promptly fall asleep in front of the TV.
If I believe the moon landing to be a hoax, how should I spend my day differently?
It’s difficult to see how the focus on conspiracies—true or false—could be helpful to the spiritual life. It’s easy, however, to see how this focus on things we cannot control could be a fruitless distraction from the things we can control, including the duties of our states in life. I have a duty as a father to spend time with my children; I have no concomitant duty to discover the “real story” behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
One last thought. Some might argue that there is a global conspiracy against Christians, and we ought to concern ourselves with that particular conspiracy. There is certainly a global persecution of Christians, which I’ve written about, as have many others. But remember that a chief ingredient of conspiracy is secrecy. In former ages, there were conspiracies against Christians and against Christianity—that is verifiable. But what we have today is not a secret at all. Rarely before have anti-Christian forces evil been so bold and so pronounced. Simply put, if there is a conspiracy to destroy Christianity, it’s the worst-kept secret in history.
By spending too much time pondering things we cannot control, our spiritual lives can suffer, as our obsession becomes a distraction for ourselves and others. Perhaps that is why we read in 2 Timothy 2:23, “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Whatever is going on in the world, the way to address the troubles of the world is to perform acts of charity, prayer, and fasting. And practice an unwavering trust in God.