Last week I began a discussion of conspiracy views of history. I distinguished small-scale conspiracies within history, such as criminal syndicates, corporate agreements to “fix” markets, and state secrets, from grand conspiracy theories that attempt to explain the course of history by the work of a small, secret group like the Masons or the Illuminati. The former types of conspiracies certainly exist. But I proposed that the latter, the grand conspiracy theory, generally violates certain basic principles of the proportionality of historical causation and human nature in relation to secrecy. This week I discuss two other principles of human nature and governance that grand conspiracy theories violate. I conclude by revealing the one grand conspiracy theory that the Bible supports.
1. Grand conspiracies assume an efficiency and an evil that public institutions and workers generally do not possess – I worked for the government in Washington for a number of years. Whenever I hear conspiracy theories about government, such as the claim that the United States government orchestrated 9/11, my response is that “governments are just not that good or that bad.” They are not that good in efficiently carrying out large events and keeping them entirely secret. Nor are they generally that bad in purposefully pursuing horrific evil, especially when it would be incredibly counterproductive politically.
Governments on the whole are operated and run by people like you and me, possessing a combination of good and bad instincts and desires. Like all humans, they are morally complex, capable of wrong, but also sensitive to issues of fairness and justice. In my experience, on the whole, civil servants desire to serve the public trust as best they can. Those elected to political office can become star-struck with their own importance and charisma, and act with a sort of narcissistic blindness to others. But most civil servants, who are usually anonymous to the public, don’t have to deal with those sorts of temptations.
While government workers have the same tendencies as all of us to procrastination, insensitivity, and inefficiency, I never met a co-worker during my time in government who actually wanted to hurt members of the public. And yet for most grand conspiracy theories to work, there have to be lots of ordinary people within the government pulling levers for evil causes against their own citizens and keeping horrible secrets from them. This is not only contrary to my experiences, but also to the Biblical view of government, which states that, at least generally, civil leaders are "God's servant to do you good." Rom 13:4.
Some might point to the Holocaust or Stalin’s Russia or the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as examples of government agents killing their own citizens. Indeed, these are good examples of where civil leaders strayed from Biblical guidelines for the state. And yet again, these stories show the limits of secret state action. The governments in these cases were working against weak, unpopular minorities, or at least political enemies of those in charge. The events were not entirely secret, even at the time. Hitler had made his hatred of the Jews publicly apparent in his book Mein Kampf, the Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn had detailed the workings of the Soviet labor camps in his Gulag Archipelago, and Hollywood itself graphically illustrated the violence of the Khmer Rouge in The Killing Fields.
It is true that government leaders often use a crisis or tragedy to further their own agendas and plans. Their philosophy often is “let no crisis go wasted.” But rarely will political leaders cause a crisis or tragedy to further a political goal. Causing a disaster or tragedy is a reckless gambit that usually only those on the outside looking to gain power will undertake. Such an example would be Hitler and the Reichstag fire, which he had set to provide an opportunity to seize power. Again, we know about this event because even very powerful, very evil people have a great deal of difficulty keeping major secrets.
The difficulty of secrecy is compounded enormously in the age of the Internet and groups like Wikileaks, anxious to embarrass and expose any group with sensitive secrets. That the U.S. Government could have orchestrated the events of 9/11, and then kept entirely secret about their involvement, is just not plausible, given what we know about government efficiency and the short-shelf life of truly explosive secrets.
2. Lack of Susceptibility to Contrary Evidence – A final point to be made about the grand conspiracy theories is that they are faith positions rather than based on meaningful evidence. This is shown by the fact that most grand conspiracy theories are immune from disproof. Anything that might count against them actually serves, according to their proponents, to support the theory. The government denies that it knew anything about 9/11 ahead of time? Of course they would deny it, that is part of the conspiracy. Why does the mainstream media not report evidence of government knowledge or even collusion in 9/11? It is because the media are part of the conspiracy.
When all proposed evidence that challenges a conspiracy theory is just explained as evidence supporting the theory, then you know you are facing an entrenched ideology rather than a meaningful hypothesis about actual historical causation. History is messy. We can never know all the facts. Most large events will have multiple causes. The swirl and confusion surrounding the facts mean that some evidence will point one way, and some another. If all the evidence only lines up on one side of a question, it is often because the real uncertainties and contingencies of history are being ignored. Rather, a pre-conceived overlay is being pressed down on the messy facts of reality.
All historians face the temptation to press facts to fit pre-conceived historical hypotheses. But grand conspiracy theorists view the vice of pre-conceived ideas as a virtue to be embraced. Their commitment to their “secret knowledge” is one of the marks of the elect—those in the “know” who need not worry about messing with the difficult facts of history.
3. The one true grand conspiracy theory: The Great Controversy – The Bible reveals, especially in the books of Daniel and Revelation, that the world is a battleground in a universe-wide, spiritual conflict. This conflict is not of human origin, but is guided by supernatural principalities and powers. The book of Job, considered to be one of the oldest parts of the Bible, reveals that certain earthly events, whether tragedy or success, are part of a cosmic conflict between forces of good and evil. The Biblical grand conspiracy really consists of two sub-conspiracies: one for evil, orchestrated by a powerful being termed Satan, the other for good, coordinated by God and His angels.
But these same scriptures also reveal that both God and Satan do much of their work not directly, but through secondary causes. One does not have to deny the existence of miracles to recognize that the Bible sets out much of the work of God and Satan as occurring through normal, earthly cause and effect. Those that choose to follow God’s ways and principles are often rewarded by healthy lives, relationships, and finances. These blessings, though, are usually the result of following principles of temperance, kindness and discipline. Those that engage in destructive and evil acts are also typically rewarded by unpleasant consequences to body and spirit. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes affirm this view of cause and effect.
Even books that reveal more direct interventions of God and Satan show them often working through earthly agents. The tragedies that befell Job consisted of what appeared to be ordinary, earthly causes: his children were killed by raiding Sabeans, his camels and servants were killed by the Chaldeans, some other children were killed by a tornado, and his greatest challenges came from his friends and wife. In the book of Daniel, the prophet is told that a visiting angel was delayed because of a conflict with the Prince of Persia. It seems apparent that even supernatural intervention interfaces with and respects to some degree the natural order of cause and effect that makes up the world.
Thus, while the Bible acknowledges the existence of this larger grand conspiracy of good and evil, it is one that generally operates within the principles laid down above: the proportionality of cause and effect, the difficulty of absolute secrecy of major actions and influences, the mixture of good and evil within all people.
Some may point to Christ's death on the cross as an example of the violation of the proportionality principle. The death of one person saves the entire human race. And yet remember, that one person was God. Thus, the cause was, in a sense, infinite. It also was not a secret event, but many people have known about it. Indeed, even those that were not or are not directly aware of the cross itself believe in the struggle between good and evil that it represents. This universal struggle is seen by all, the Bible merely reveals the main actors and fills in some details. It explains the evil that does reside in both people and institutions, but balances that by pointing out that good resides in them as well. It is a faith view of history, but there is significant evidence upon which that faith is based, both in the natural world as well as in scripture.
Pastors, theologians, historians and Christian thinkers of all types who believe in the Great Controversy view of history found in the Bible will immediately bring discredit upon themselves and their message should they promote other types of grand conspiracy theories. Yes, the United Nations, the Masons, and even the Illuminati are historic, real world entities. It can be a legitimate exercise to study and understand them in their historical contexts. But attempts to elevate them to positions of grand control, as if their actions can explain the grand sweep of history, are misguided, counterproductive, and unbiblical. We must remember that in the real Grand Conspiracy of history, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Eph. 6:12.