Conspiracies aren’t just political, they’re moral. Baked into conspiracy theories is a persistent vision or construction of good and evil. For many people, this is an immediate benefit. But it poses a massive problem, and a threat.
Conspiracy theories are less about revealing new information and more about confirming what we already suspect. This works politically, and morally. It’s the latter that needs our attention.
For example, it really is as simple as: “I believe Democrats are evil.” Working from that moral category applied to politics, maybe you’re more keen to believe Democrats operate a sex trafficking ring out of a pizza joint.
We need to grapple with conspiracy theories as morality. We need to attend to how how this morality will impact American society and shape corners of American Christianity.
Contained in a conspiracy theory’s vision of *imagined* evil is also a corresponding vision of good. For example, think about the moral question we’re faced with once we buy into the “Big Lie”: what must good people do in a country with an illegitimate President?
If you accept the premise that Biden wasn’t duly elected, your conspiracy theory works as morality. The danger here is that, for Christians, we often ask God to underwrite our vision of good and evil.
What is “good” if it’s based on “evil” as defined by a conspiracy theory? Again, this is posing the problem theologically. Theology generates a different set of questions, according to Brian Brock, that offer fresh insight to the Church.
Conspiracy theories short circuit the process of welcoming a wide range of moral considerations. This is practically important for our Democratic-Republic, where a moral consensus is crucial for self-governance.
On a practical level, we see this short circuit at work when we remember ho many could treat going maskless in a pandemic as an unqualified “good”. In that conspiratorial mind, the government represented tyranny, an “evil”. There were no other moral considerations necessary (like immunocompromised Americans) because the conspiratorial bent acted like flood water on down power lines. The power of ethical reasoning is cut off.
The problem for American society, and uniquely in my own community of evangelical Christians, is this: how can we do good when our vision of good and moral responsibility, is tied to an imaginary vision of evil? As a Christian, I believe the Church really does have something better to offer than short-circuited morality done from paranoia and resentment. But the short answer to that question is, I believe, we can’t. Conspiracies can’t do ethics for us. Better pathways exist. Let’s find them again.