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.

Except…

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?

31 Responses to Conspiracies And Controversies

  • I’ve heard folks point out that a lot of the attraction of conspiracy theories boils down to being gnostic– hidden knowledge. See also, Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, the entire genera of Urban Fantasy, the appeal of the Matrix and any theory that holds that those who don’t agree just can’t handle the truth.
    (Handling the truth can come from being smart enough, objective enough, pure enough– some personal Virtue that lets you believe.)

    I can see how that would interface well with some questionable religious views, but doesn’t work so well with the we’re-fallen-and-saved-only-by-someone-else-TRY-not-to-screw-up-too-badly part of Catholicism.

    I do know that the best witness for someone is a person they feel a connection with. I’ve been able to witness and get a hearing from geeks, because I am one– I bet your coworker would be/is effective in talking to conspiracy theorists, because he is one.

    I know who I’d want on my side in any argument that has the Catholic Church as the unholy center of a conspiracy, as she is so often put!

  • I disbelieve all conspiracy theories unless they involve trilateralist elvis impersonating cattle mutilators, illuminati branch. They, and only they, are the true masters of EEE-VVV-III-LLL!!!***####!!! :)

  • One need not be a “truther” or a “birther” to engage in conspiracy theories legitimately. After all – and Americans don’t understand this at all – much of the world is run by “conspiracy.”

    Pakistan – obvious. Turkey – long has had a “deep state.” (Look that one up, very interesting – start with the Ergenekon). Italy. (Start with the P2.)

    Such groups are no joke.

    Second, there are loose conspiracies that do not need any formal cover-up, only wishful thinking as conventional wisdom (two I believe in are De Vere as Shakespeare and peak oil, especially since no one knows has the slightest idea about Arabia’s production capacity).

  • Oh, and given my Turkish background, I should also have mentioned the Donme. Someone should make a movie about this – very shadowy, very powerful, and very real.

    Where tribalism reigns, there will be conspiracy. It is unavoidable, and ethnic tribalism may well be our future as well. Abstracted ideology only holds for so long – eventually, it will be back to blood. One cannot have all three of the following – immigration, multiculturalism, and democracy.

  • The Arab world is rife with conspiracy theories and what these conspiracy theories have led to, massacres, oppression and an ever ready excuse for not looking in the mirror at one’s own society, are an object lesson where this mania can lead. Belief in a conspiracy theory without solid evidence is at best the pretense of knowledge and at worst an excuse for hate and paranoia. Conspiracies have existed throughout history, and for every real conspiracy there are hordes of false ones that people have believed in with calamitous results.

  • jonathanjones02 does bring up a good point– I personally know of a cover-up that was accomplished, not by some big agreement, not by some menacing threat, not by organization… but by a lot of folks who THOUGHT they’d be blamed if it got out, or who didn’t think the risk of blow-back was worth rocking the boat, especially not knowing how far up it went.

    (It was a prevailing attitude, and it turned around and bit those involved without a loss of life.)

    The term ‘conspiracy theory,’ as applied to the belief that Obama was born in his father’s country, the belief that 9/11 was planned and carried out with the knowledge and aid of the US gov’t, and those that think Osama was killed to hush him up also gets poorly applied to ANY belief that someone might, possibly, be obfuscating or acting out of other motivations.
    (For example, the belief that a politician will fight to cover up harmful information, the belief that the feds are incompetent enough to have had some indication that in hind sight means 9/11 might have been avoided or at least countered and the belief that choices around Osama’s death were influenced by political considerations rather than tactical ones.)

    We’ve got to be careful that we don’t turn off our brains just because someone claims something is a conspiracy theory.

  • “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t turn off our brains just because someone claims something is a conspiracy theory.”

    Or to puree our brains by gullibly accepting nutty conspiracy theories until we start sounding like Kevin Costner in JFK:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TTo8DI4r9s

    I have small patience for people claiming a conspiracy unless they have solid evidence to back it up. Most conspiracies, for example Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, are hidden in plain sight with plenty of evidence abounding. The slimmer the evidence, the more likely it is a nutball claim of conspiracy.

  • The slimmer the evidence, the more likely it is a nutball claim of conspiracy.

    Big claims take big evidence; small claims take small evidence.

    Part of why equating Truthers with Birthers annoys me so much; one holds that the gov’t knew, in advance, than thousands of our folks would be killed and actively helped it happen.
    The other supposes a politician hiding a non-malicious fact that the politician had no control over with the goal of political advancement.

    Look at the Pigford mess– or look at New York’s school system “rubber rooms.”
    Or any number of things that when you first hear about them, you wonder if it’s from a bad movie, since of course you’d hear about it otherwise.
    After all, these days there’s no way anything like an honor killing would NOT be national news, right?

    There is a world of difference between “conspiracy theories” and “people following their own self-interest” theories.

    I really do not appreciate the implication that asking for folks to discredit anything called a “conspiracy theory” on the merits, rather than dismissing it because it was called a conspiracy theory, means one goes about “gullibly accepting nutty conspiracy theories.” Popular Mechanics had the right idea. (I really hate the habit of debunkers to make a strawman and debunk that, ESPECIALLY when what they’re debunking can very easily be done properly. I’m looking at you, cryptozoology “realists.”)

    Incidentally, I seem to remember that Hitler’s massive death camps WERE considered to be rumor and/or propaganda.

  • We’ve got to be careful that we don’t turn off our brains just because someone claims something is a conspiracy theory.

    Foxfier – if I understand you correctly, what you mean is that there’s a difference between the cover-up of the Savings & Loan scandal all those years ago, and the theory that Apollo 11 never landed on the moon. If that’s true, then I wholeheartedly agree. I ought to have been more clear in my column that I’m exclusively referring to the latter and not the former.

    The point I was trying to get across in my column – and perhaps I didn’t express it all that well – is that a normal non-Catholic person may be even more skeptical of a Catholic who subscribes to crazy conspiracy theories, but also accepts the claims of the Church. He may ask “How can you accept the word of one authoritative body (the Church) but not accept the word of the government?” To that person, there would be a disconnect. Now, of course, there are reasonable responses to that question, but because the Church’s claims on Truth – as revealed by God and passed down via Tradition – seem so much more outlandish than any conspiracy theory, I’m wondering if the non-Catholic person would be even more skeptical than convinced by any reasonable response.

    My co-worker, for instance, because of his outspoken beliefs, is not taken seriously at all by any other people in our office with regards to the faith. I see firsthand how his perspective affects their attitudes.

  • “Incidentally, I seem to remember that Hitler’s massive death camps WERE considered to be rumor and/or propaganda.”

    Hitler had been calling for a “final reckoning” with the Jews since the Twenties. The British had firm intelligence of Einsatzgruppen murder of Jews in Poland in 1939. Churchill referred to the mass murder of the Jews in a speech in Parliament in 1941. Only the willfully anti-Semitic ignored the evidence before their eyes. That is the way it is with most real conspiracies. There is usually a huge amount of evidence with the conspirators often not being shy about stating their goals, if not always their means.

  • I really do not appreciate the implication that asking for folks to discredit anything called a “conspiracy theory” on the merits, rather than dismissing it because it was called a conspiracy theory, means one goes about “gullibly accepting nutty conspiracy theories.”

    My comment was not aimed at you Foxfier, but I view the burden of proof differently. Those who claim a conspiracy have the burden of proof not those who will not believe a conspiracy exists until solid evidence is forthcoming establishing a conspiracy.

  • The point I was trying to get across in my column – and perhaps I didn’t express it all that well – is that a normal non-Catholic person may be even more skeptical of a Catholic who subscribes to crazy conspiracy theories, but also accepts the claims of the Church.

    I tried to respond to that, although I did feel the need to clarify exactly where I meant it. ^.^ Been bitten too many times when I respond to what I think someone is saying, and they mean a phrase a different way.

    To elaborate more: In my personal experience, it only makes a difference (once you get past misunderstandings/things that ain’t so) if something else would have made a difference. Heck, most of the time folks will make up a reason to be skeptical. Some of the folks in my geek group would complain about how this or that religious leader can’t understand them because they hate X, Y and Z, and when I point out that they don’t– I think it was the Harry Potter/Pope thing, although it may have been the “D&D is Satanic” thing — it was as if the reason never existed, and there was some other reason to condemn them.
    My personal experiences tend to be with folks who are very strong minded on the area of religion, though, so folks who are more unformed might be very different.

    *topic switch!*

    Those who claim a conspiracy have the burden of proof not those who will not believe a conspiracy exists until solid evidence is forthcoming establishing a conspiracy.

    Problem being that “conspiracy” is accused frequently by skeptics and/or those who disagree when it’s not claimed by those who hold a theory. Belief that people won’t pass on information that will hurt their career if they can help it: not a conspiracy. Belief that there is some sort of organization dedicated to covering up information: conspiracy.
    Thinking folks will fail to pass on data that doesn’t fit their world-view: not a conspiracy.
    Thinking there’s an Int’l Let’s-Control-The-World-By-Global-Warming-Fraud group: conspiracy.

    Heck, look at the Journo-List scandal: it can be phrased like a conspiracy…or it can be phrased as like-minded folks trying to make the most powerful stories they can, no formal conspiring involved, just because telling stories is their JOB.

  • I find conspiracy theories interesting to investigate, but I haven’t believed one yet. I agree with Donald that the burden of proof of a conspiracy lies on the claimant; I don’t have to lift a finger to prove that they are wrong.

    Maybe I’m to objective and intelligent, but I just don’t see the connections people often make in their conjectures. I see A and I see C, I just don’t see their B. Like the Birthers: I see Obama’s live-birth cert and I see his father is Kenyan, I just don’t see how he’s not American since his mother was American.

  • This AM they’re reporting the arrest of two obama-buddies before they could create an atrocity in NYC.

    I got nothin’ to add.

    Just want to say, “Take that ‘9/11 was an inside job’ bumper sticker off your Prius!”

    It’s the legion of imbecilic intellectuals that claim “we” deserved 9/11 that make me “see red.” They’re even more stupider than those mentioned above.

    It’s all over in December 2012. Prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

  • As Catholics we have to follow our informed conscience. If a ‘conspiracy theory’ is not in contradiction with the teaching of the Church, we are free to believe or disbelieve. Conspiracies are real, they always have been, some are known, others remain hidden, most are lies. The devil is just like the little boy who cried wolf, he spreads so many lies, that when we hear the truth, we may miss it.

    The fact is that most human beings will believe the most outlandish crap if it fits in with their paradigm or neuro-programming. That includes the dismal of all conspiracies as hogwash. The most believable lies contain mostly truth.

    The most popular conspiracies are not even considered conspiracies. Look at man-made global warming for example, or that 40% of Americans became obese in 1998 with the introduction of the BMI.

    The underlying and dangerous conspiracy is the one that began with a third of the angels being cast down from heaven and there are humans who cooperate with them. One world government, total economic and political control and the suppression and persecution of our religion is a very real conspiracy and we know that just before time gives way to Eternity it will happen. May be it already is.

  • And for good measure, he also believes Pope John Paul I was assassinated by Masonic plotters within the Vatican

    That one I never understood. If the Masons are out to destroy the Church, and rumor was that JP I was going to change Church teaching on contraception which would have completely undermined the infallibilty of the Church, why would the Masons assassinate him?

  • And bmi is total bs.

  • c matt,

    BMI is bs, yet Americans spend billions trying to fit into it, which is unhealthy and we are told to go about it the wrong way, We are told to workout at superhuman levels (many women have their fertility cycle screwed up by this) and eat mostly fattening grains. Why is this conspiracy believed as fact?

  • Conspiracy theories have a long history in American politics. A lot of the early support for the American Revolution, for example was based on the belief that there was an active conspiracy to enslave the colonists. Jefferson and Madison believed that Alexander Hamilton was part of a conspiracy to reinstate monarchy. And so forth.

  • Conspiracy theories not only go back as far as Eden, it sounds like they’ll be around until Armageddon (“wars and rumors of wars”). I don’t think they’re more common in Catholic circles, but they’re very popular today. On another board, my lone Christian ally just started expounding on some very nutty theories, and I had to slam the door on her just to keep my own credibility. I think that doing so (and Larry, you might experience the same thing at work) allows you to position yourself as the clear-headed Catholic.

  • Here’s a “conspiracy”: that adult stem cell therapies are improperly classed as drugs for unrelated philosophical reasons.
    (This requires that each stem cell line be approved as a new drug, which means fetal stem cell lines can be easily mass-produced, but your own stem cells are considered a new drug. Philosophical because if there’s a magic treatment that’s made from dead babies, folks are less likely to object to the continued death of said babies. Much better hammer than the “punished with a baby” one.)

    There are a LOT of scientific “conspiracy theories” that, when you get down to it, are this claim: people don’t want to think their life’s work has been wrong.

    I trust that nobody here denies that there IS a world-wide push to normalize the contraceptive mentality, up to and including abortion on demand? Is that a conspiracy, or basic observation?

    Things at either end of the spectrum are (considering Sturgeon’s Law) really obvious, it’s the middle where it gets confusing.

    Was it more of a conspiracy theory to think Obama’s original birth certificate had damaging information, or that he was just being an ass? (current evidence suggests the latter)
    Was it more of a conspiracy theory to think that climate scientists were withholding information, against standard scientific practice, because they were hiding something or because they were jerks? (Current evidence suggests the former.)

    In both cases, it pretty much depended on which you found more believable.

  • Oh! Other conspiracy!

    Doctors give a lot of bad advice, and will utterly forbid things that won’t hurt anybody if you follow the directions.

    It’s utterly true, as any pregnant woman with a tendency to research can tell you, and it seems to boil down to a mixture of natural human failings (can’t remember how much was tested as bad, or how dire the results where, just “X is bad”– say herbal tea {some are} or tonic water {over a liter EVERY DAY for pregnancy causes shakes for a day or two in the newborn}) and the understandable Doctor assumption that most of their patients are idiots. (Most aren’t, but how can a doctor know that? That doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who will give their infant 40 times the maximum daily dose of baby cold medicine and kill the poor child, to pull an example from recent history.)

  • Was it more of a conspiracy theory to think that climate scientists were withholding information, against standard scientific practice, because they were hiding something or because they were jerks?.

    Technically, anything is a conspiracy where two or more agree upon a certain course of conduct to acheive an end, and perform an act in furtherance of that end. So both are conspiracies. The question may be which is more credible. Obviously, you withhold information to hide something (otherwise, you would not be withholding it). The motivation, most likely, was to maintain funding levels.

  • Kinda the point I was trying to make, and why I chose those two examples. Both are also cases where it was utterly reasonable to ask for the evidence to allow the ‘conspiracy theorists’ to fulfill the burden of proof, and ones in which those against the data being released claimed that asking for said evidence was shifting the burden of proof. (Obviously, the climate one is a heck of a lot more serious.)

    The motivation, most likely, was to maintain funding levels.

    Probably a decent amount of “well, we KNOW it’s true, and any day now we’ll be able to SHOW it, so until then we’ll just fix this flaw… and this flaw… and this flaw….” (I may be giving them too much credit, though; seems to be the unifying factor when I’m wrong about something that can be called a conspiracy theory.)

    Obviously, my personal definition of “conspiracy theory” in the derogatory sense includes “assumes that the conspiracy is motivated by atypical human goals, such as just being that evil” as opposed to those that think that humans will do questionable things to save face or promote what they think is a good goal, or to gain power in a manner that doesn’t interfere with their personal morality.

  • What a waste of time. Instead let’s focus on true prophecy.

  • Hm, exactly the attitude that alienated several of the geeks I know.

    If you’re going to dismiss other folks’ hobbies (or any other way they spend their own time) because they’re not holy enough, you probably shouldn’t be spending time on blogs, and you really shouldn’t be spending it on posts that aren’t holy enough for you.

  • Wow. Thank you so much for this article. I am currently at odds with a sibling who is chastising our local Office of Archbishop for his use of a term “multiculturalism” and the promotion for the up coming CYO Camp. Here they have a line where children will a learn to “care for the environment.” My brothers claim is our Archbishop is promoting the “leftist agenda” of multiculturalism and is indoctrinating our youth with the global warming goofiness.

    To my brothers credit he objected to a Lenten flyer given to his first grade student in a local Catholic school where it asked: “What are you doing for lent to help save our environment?” That was a ridiculous question in regards Lent or “Salvation” – if I might take that leap! The pastor agreed and it was removed.

    Thanks be God, our parents raised all of us as “traditional Catholics” with wholesome American values. I have heard, either in detail, or at least a mention of, almost every conspiracies mentioned in the great article and the fine comments which followed. I know people who want to “discuss” these theories. I tend to change the subject as soon as i can. This is much more difficult when it comes to a family member. Especially when one does not agree fully with him, you (myself) has become “a liberal”.

    I can clearly state i am not a liberal and nor is our newly appointed Archbishop. Yes, he probably inherited quite a liberal bunch when he was appointed, that is probably an understatement. But i do not believe he is, or I am, proclaiming a liberal agenda when we defend a CYO camp teaching children how to be better stewards of God’s creation – as “one of the topics” during camp. IT’S OUTSIDE, it IS with God’s beautiful gift of nature.

    I relate to LarryD article especially in part of where he states he can no longer discuss these matters with his co-worker. I find myself in that same situation with my brother. This bothers me deeply.

    Ultimately I believe we cannot take a “political” ideology; political terms, if you will, and blast our Church for using a “certain” term used by those of whom we disagree with. – Pray for me and my bro, people!
    >By the way, I have never left a comment on this site, I check this site everyday, love the site and its

  • Well, are they promoting what is commonly meant when one says “care for the environment”? Bad science, raising nature to personhood, etc?

    It’s kind of like the phrase “right to choose.” Right now, it means something TOTALLY different than such a simple phrase should.

  • Some Catholic blogs are pretty heavily invested in conspiracy theories. Their go-to sources? Messages from unapproved Marian apparitions.

    On one hand, who’s going to dismiss what the Mother of God has to say, but on the other, what if she’s not the one behind it?

    It’s why the Church takes a long time to discern and approve them. The Church isn’t going to put Herself behind something from the Father of Lies.

    I think chasing after unapproved apparitions is a waste of time and like someone else noted, a Gnostic-like need to be on the inside. The approved Marian apparitions and the Gospels are for everyone, not just a select remnant. That mentality makes me bats, so I simply don’t visit those sites and blogs any longer.

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