In 1997, Mel Gibson starred in a humorous satirical movie titled “Conspiracy Theory.” In the film, Gibson played a somewhat paranoid cab driver named Jerry who believed in a host of conspiracies. He constantly read about them on various websites and zealously warned people, especially his taxi passengers, about them. Then one day Jerry suddenly realized someone was trying to kill him. Apparently one of his pet conspiracies was actually true, and those involved really were out to permanently shut him up. Jerry’s problem, however, was that he did not know which conspiracy group was chasing him.
In this vain, one of my favorite syndicated op-ed columnists is Cal Thomas. He is a former reporter for NBC News, hosted a program on CNBC, and has acted as a commentator on PBS and Fox News. In December of 2008, Thomas ran an article in the World Jewish Review titled “Think Globally; Act Globally?” In the piece Thomas skeptically recited some of the common, and more colorful, world conspiracy theories that many people are convinced are true. Some even stake their lives and reputations on them.
Likewise, whenever there is a full moon, radio talk show host Michael Medved has “Conspiracy Day.” Listeners call in to argue for their favorite theory. Some of them have a modicum of sense. Most of them are ridiculous.
Many conspiracy proponents write best-selling books, produce films, and maintain popular websites espousing their theories. I can’t begin to tell you how many times over the years I have gotten letters and emails warning of some new (or recycled) conspiracy (some even accused me of being part of them). For example, beginning in the mid 1970s, Xerox copies of a petition began circulating in Christian churches. I first saw it in 1974 when a co-worker passed it around the bank where I worked. It contained a dire warning that notorious atheist and self-confessed Communist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was conspiring to get the FCC to ban all religious broadcasting from the nation’s airwaves.
Most versions read something like the following:
Madalyn Murry (sic) O’Hair, an atheist, whose effort successfully eliminated the use of the Bible Reading and Prayer from public schools fifteen years ago has now been granted a Federal hearing in Washington, D.C. on the same subject by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Her petition, P.M. 2493, would ultimately pave the way to stop the reading of the Gospel on the air waves of America. She took her petition with 287,000 signatures to back her stand. If her attempt is successful, all Sunday worship services being broadcast, either by radio, or television will stop. Many elderly people and shut-ins as well as those recuperating from hospitalization or illness, depend on radio and television to fulfill their worship needs every week.
You can help this time! We need 1,000,000 (one million) signed letters. This should defeat Ms. O’Hair and show that there are many CHRISTIANS ALIVE AND WELL AND CONCERNED in our country. This petition is NUMBER 2493. Sign, cut off and mail the form below. PLEASE DO NOT SIGN JOINTLY AS Mr. and Mrs. Let each adult SIGN ONE separately and mail it in a separate envelope. BE SURE TO PUT PETITION NUMBER 2493 ON THE ENVELOPE when mailing your letter.
Please send this letter out to anyone that can help in the cause.
Federal Communications Commission
RE: PETITION NO. 2493
1919 “H” Street
Washington, D.C. 20054
The petition had various versions and even in the 2000s was still being spread on the internet. Thousands of well-meaning Christians signed and mailed in “Petition 2493.” There was only one problem, the petition was a hoax. There never was an attempt by O’Hair, or any other group, to remove religious broadcasting from the air (though I am sure she would have been happy for that to occur). O’Hair was leader of the American Atheist (AA) organization and was famous for debating Bob Harrington, the one time “Chaplain of Bourbon Street.” She also was noted for her federal suit removing prayer from schools. However, that case was in 1963, way more than “fifteen years ago.” Ironically, O’Hair, her son, and her granddaughter, were murdered in 1995 by a former AA employee.
Who was behind the Petition 2493 hoax and what their motives were remain a mystery. It may very well have been instigated by mischievous atheists simply to make Christians look foolish and naive. In any case, it illustrated the way conspiracy theories can spread based on nothing more than rumor or misinformation.
That being said, here is a short list of some of the various global cabals that are supposedly plotting to rule the world, control the international economy, corrupt our national morals, or promote hate, etc. There is the World Communist Conspiracy, the Fake Moon Landing Conspiracy, the JFK Assassination Conspiracy, the World Zionist (Jewish) Conspiracy, the World Neo-Nazi Conspiracy, the “Vast Right Wing” Conspiracy, the World Satanist Conspiracy, the World Mormon Conspiracy, the World Evangelical Conspiracy, the One World Government Conspiracy, the World Bank Conspiracy, the World New Age Conspiracy, the World Illuminati Conspiracy, the World Masonic Conspiracy, the World Catholic Conspiracy, the World Humanist Conspiracy, the World Atheist Conspiracy, the World Skull and Bones Conspiracy, the World Tri-Lateral Commission Conspiracy, the World UFO Conspiracy, the North American Union Conspiracy, etc. ad nauseum.
Does that mean that none of the above plots have any kernel of truth? Of course not. There is no doubt that people in this country and around the world espouse many of the goals of some of the above movements and may even hatch plans to do devious things. For instance, it has been well documented how during the Cold War (1948 – 1990) the Communist Party USA manipulated many American celebrities, scientists, and politicians to further the nefarious aims of the Soviet Union.
Today, conspirators who still pose real threats are well known to the world’s security agencies who work constantly to monitor their actions and prevent their violent attacks. The most obvious example of a genuine modern conspiracy is radical Islamic Jihadist terrorism. The global growth and influence of such Jihadist organizations as Al Qaeda and ISIS has awakened the civilized world to a very real, deadly threat by well organized conspirators. Unfortunately, efforts to thwart the coordinated terror have not been totally successful as new attacks are reported in various parts of the world almost daily.
However, in most cases, the numbers of conspiratorial adherents are so small, or the plotters so unorganized, that they truly present no real threat to anyone. In fact, sometimes those claiming to expose such conspiracies pose a greater danger by believing their paranoid delusions justify bad behavior done to constrain their imagined foes.
So how do we know if an alleged conspiracy has credibility or not? Discerning Christians should ask many questions before buying into any such theory. The key is to ask: “What is the source of the allegations of the plot?” Here are four basic inquiries to test a source’s credibility.
1. Does the theory originate from the internet? The internet is a wonderful tool for learning and finding information on all sorts of subjects. But never forget, the internet is full of factual distortions and outright lies on many issues. There is no real filter to what is posted online. Even encyclopedic sites, like Wikipedia, can include false or biased information. Know the background of any website you consult.
2. Does it come from a book? The number of volumes that claim to expose conspiracies are legion. One good way to judge a book, contrary to the old saying, is by its cover. Look at the name of the author and check his or her credentials. Does he have a legitimate educational background? Is she a recognized authority on the subject matter? Also, check the name of the publisher. Is it a recognized publishing house or one known for producing junk?
3. Does it come from a magazine, newspaper, or other periodical? If so, which one and what is its reputation? How often do you scan the headlines of popular tabloid weekly papers at the checkout stand of your grocery store? I know it is impossible not to. They hit you right between the eyes. They are filled with all sorts of weird theories, sordid rumors, and half true (or untrue) stories (especially about celebrities). I am amazed that anyone would actually buy one of those papers. But they must, otherwise they would disappear from newsstands. My take is not to waste your time reading them. At best, they are exaggerations or, at worst, pure fiction! Stick to reputable news outlets and periodicals for your information.
4. And finally, does the source of the conspiracy theory have some sort of agenda to advance? Often those pushing unusual conspiracy ideas only want to sell books, gain notoriety for themselves, or improve television ratings. For instance, when the History Channel began in 1995, its stated purpose was to educate people about historical events. It constantly ran well produced, intellectually challenging documentaries about important events of the past. Sadly, now it seems most of its programs promote unusual ideas about UFOs, Big Foot sightings, Atlantis, and other pseudo-scientific or historically questionable concepts (note: it never includes programs produced from an evangelical Christian worldview). Predictably, the History Channel’s ratings have grown considerably relative to the bizarreness of its programming. It is what is called “appealing to the lowest common denominator” and has been the practice of most major networks since the beginning of the television era.
All that being said, the Bible indicates that our greatest threats come not from some real or imagined earthly conspiracy, but from a much more diabolical plot against our souls. The evil triad of the world, the flesh, and the devil actually do conspire to draw us away from God. They seek to entice us into sin, and we so often blindly follow them in. Perhaps we need to remember the words of the great philosopher Pogo who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The solution: Keep our eyes and hearts clearly focused on God and His Word! Perhaps if Jerry, in the movie, had followed that admonition he would never have needed to run for his life.
© 2016 Tal Davis