We are just weeks away from another contentious American election, which means we are just weeks away from roughly half of the American population savoring a great victory and the other half suffering a great loss. This being the case, we are, in all likelihood, just weeks away from the birth of new conspiracy theories. Why? Because conspiracy theories are for losers.
I suppose I’d better explain that. I’ll do so by way of a few building blocks.
First, conspiracy theories are about power. Specifically, they are about the use and abuse of power—how power is used to benefit a small number of people at the expense of many others. Whether the theories prove to be true (e.g. Watergate) or false (e.g. Protocols of the Elders of Zion) they are either meant to expose how powerful people are misusing power or to unveil the individuals who secretly hold the reins of power.
Second, because conspiracy theories concern power, they tend to be political in nature. Whether or not their proponents actually know and admit it, such theories usually advance some kind of a political agenda. The “truther” theories around 9/11 were meant to discredit President Bush while the “birther” theories were meant to discredit President Obama. The conspiracy theories were inseparable from their political causes.
Third, conspiracy theories tend to be adopted and spread along partisan lines. While conspiracy theories exist equally among liberals and conservatives, each is more likely to believe certain theories—the ones that align with their political perspectives and advance their political agendas. Few people believe a conspiracy theory that would delegitimize their favored candidate or party. Hence, it was opponents of President Bush who (at first, at least) believed theories that he was in some way complicit with acts of terrorism while it was opponents of President Obama who believed that he had been born overseas.
Fourth, conspiracy theories tend to arise when power has shifted or appears as if it may shift. This makes good sense, since it is when power is at stake that people are more likely to engage in illegal, immoral, conspiratorial acts. Theories that involve a conspiracy tend to resonate among those who have seen their power diminish and who now fear what will become of them. Such theories explains the loss and warn of a devastating outcome. Hence, it is no surprise that every modern presidency has been marked by conspiracy theories that were advanced by political opponents.
And that brings us to America in November 2020 where the context is political, immense power is at stake, the division is highly partisan, and one side or the other is going to suffer a crushing loss. Meanwhile, both major parties are convinced the other is willing to cheat and both candidates have preemptively indicated that they can only lose on the basis of a conspiracy: “The only way they’re going to win is by a rigged election;” “The only way we lose this is by the chicanery going on with regard to polling places.” It’s almost impossible to imagine either candidate and his party graciously conceding defeat while admitting the other fielded a better candidate or managed a superior campaign. Thus the table is set for a new set of conspiracy theories to take root. If conspiracy theories are for losers, we should expect they will primarily arise from the side that suffers defeat and we should expect that the goal of the theories will be to erode the legitimacy of the side that has gained power.
As Christians, we are people who are no longer under the dominion of the “father of lies” (John 8:44) but people who have been saved by the one who is himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is that which conforms to reality and, hence if we are to honor God, we must ensure that what we believe and what we communicate is true—that it conforms with reality. We must resist speaking half-truths or full-out lies. While we don’t need to be naive and act as if nothing ever goes on behind closed doors, beneath the surface, or outside of official narratives, we must also ensure we never make unfounded, reckless accusations, for truth itself is at stake! We dare not speak lies, for to speak lies is to imitate darkness rather than light.
It is likely that in the days to come we will be exposed to any number of conspiracy theories—theories that behind the results of the election is a group of conspirators who have rigged results or schemed chicanery. These theories may be true or may be false. It will be up to each person to weigh the evidence and decide. Of course the weighing of evidence is itself a matter of great controversy, but that will need to be a subject for another day.