Conspiracies And Controversies
I have a coworker who is Catholic – not in a Nancy Pelosi sort of way, mind you. He’s an ardent pro-lifer who really walks the walk – prays in front of a couple local abortuaries once or twice a month, and does a bit of sidewalk counseling as well. He frequents the Sacrament of Confession often, attends Mass during the week, supports the Pope – just a solid all-around Catholic guy.
He has this one quirk that befuddles me.
He’s a truther. And a birther. And lately, now, he’s become a deather. And not in some casual, “hmmm-that-sure-seems-interesting-as-a-theory-I-wonder-if-that-might-be-true” sort of way. He’s all in. Compared to him, Fox Mulder is a doubter. As far as I know, he hasn’t rigged his house a la Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory. Still, he’s firm in his opinions and isn’t afraid to express them.
Now, it isn’t a sin to maintain an incorrect opinion, no matter how outlandish it is, on issues unrelated to faith and morals. It may be stupid, but it isn’t necessarily sinful. But what about those conspiracies that focus on the Church? Not just the sex-abuse crisis conspiracy, or the sedevacantism one either.
Back to my coworker – he’s also of the mind that the entire 3rd Secret of Fatima hasn’t been released, that the revelation back in 2000 was incomplete and farcical. Furthermore, he believes the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was never fulfilled. To the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that Sister Lucia was replaced by a doppelganger, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did (I told him years ago I won’t discuss Fatima with him anymore, once I learned he’s a follower of Fr Gruner. It became too frustrating.).
And for good measure, he also believes Pope John Paul I was assassinated by Masonic plotters within the Vatican.
The purpose of this post is not to castigate my coworker – far from it. Rather – and I’m sure many of you know of one or more people who have similar beliefs to one degree or another: that there are sinister forces at work behind the scenes, from the Bilderberg Group to the Illuminati, from the Masons to the lizard aliens that rule Earth; that we’re being lied to at every turn; that there are extraterrestrial secrets buried at Area 51; and so on and so on – as Catholics, to what extent does focusing on such conspiracy theories – especially ones that center on the Church – negatively impact one’s ability to effectively evangelize?
Let’s face it – our creed contains claims that rival the believability of even the most credible of conspiracy theories. They are controversial to say the least. Our Savior is born of a Virgin. He performed miracles. He rose from the dead, three days after being crucified. He ascended into Heaven. We profess that someday there will be a Final Judgment at which all who ever lived will be standing before the throne of God, and will either enter triumphantly into Heaven with Him, or be cast into everlasting fire.
The Catholic Church makes additional extraordinary claims: our Church was the only one founded by Christ; at every Mass, we consume our God under the forms of bread and wine; the ordinary means of salvation are found solely within the Catholic Church; God is Three Persons in one. And so on.
The Catholic claims are The Controversies of our age. They force people to make a choice, to believe or not to believe. Just as each conspiracy theory demands of us to believe or to not believe, so do the tenets of our faith. But unlike conspiracies, the Controversies are not hidden behind a wall or concealed in a shroud of secrecy. They are open and available to all who seek the Truth. There are no passwords, secret handshakes or coded language (that’s right – Latin is not code). It seems to me, though, that if we want non-Catholics to come to know the Truth, we can’t engage with the world’s conspiracy theories that lead to doubt, denial and suspicion.
Yes, some theories are interesting and fantastical. But for the most part, they are distractions. They represent a strain of neo-Gnosticism, spread like an Internet virus, where folks seek to get infected in order to “be in on the secret”, or “in the know”. They suffuse into the gaps and spaces of the mind like mold spores, only to bloom later into a billowing fungus that can choke off the life of faith. After all, isn’t that how Satan tricked Adam and Eve way back when, by peddling a conspiracy theory? That encounter sent the entire world into a spiral of distrust, leading to separation, murder, and betrayal. A spiral that continues to this very day.
Personally, I ignore these conspiratorial thoughts and themes as best I can. Sure, they make for engaging entertainment from time to time – Dan Brown novels excluded – and even interesting conversation. But to be taken seriously? Not me. I don’t even care if they’re true. Their legitimacy is irrelevant when it comes to my faith in God and belief in the truths promoted by the Church. Satan wants us to expend time and energy on exposing and debating and arguing and considering his conspiracies, because it will lead to doubt for the weaker believers among us, less time on evangelizating, and the divide between “us” and “them” will grow ever wider.
The X-Files had the slogan “The truth is out there.” The Church proclaims “The Truth is in here.” Can Catholics have a foot in each camp, as my coworker seems to have, and be effective witnesses to the only Truth that matters?