by John Ellis
Possibly the most famous conspiracy theory in history is connected to the heart of Christianity. First posited over two thousand years ago, many people still believe its destructive lie. Contemporary Christian apologists continue to use the eye witnesses’ testimony to refute the conspiracy concocted by the priests, elders, and soldiers who had been guarding Jesus’ now empty tomb that the executed and clearly dead man’s body had been stolen away in the night by Jesus’ ragtag team of frightened disciples (Matt. 28:11-15). That’s not the last time Christianity found itself in the crosshairs of demonic lies. Those Christians who suffered persecution and martyrdom as a result of Nero’s shift-the-blame strategy can tell us all about the deeply rooted malevolence of conspiracy theories. If God is the God of truth, and He is, who do you think the god of conspiracy theories is? That’s a rhetorical question.
I haven’t seen any hard data, as of yet, so I’m going to steer clear of making absolute statements about a whole demographic. I do believe that it is safe to point out that a large number of white evangelicals have been busy these past few weeks and months, if not years, of not only swallowing conspiracy theories but actively disseminating them. I’m not sure if this is a bug inherent in the very structural features of Western white evangelicalism or if it’s simply warp and woof of Western epistemologies in general. Most likely, constructing a Venn diagram would reveal quite a bit of crossover. I do know that the unscientific eye-test, so to speak, offers a plethora of anecdotal evidence that a sizeable percentage of white evangelicals in this country have embraced conspiracy theories about COVID and the 2020 presidential election, among other things. And, really, any percentage of professing Christians who sign their name, a name supposedly owned by their Savior, to lies and deceit is too high of a percentage. But wait, those of you who’ve I just labeled purveyors of lies and deceit, I understand how offensive to you what I just wrote is. Read a little further, though, this is important.
Last night, before going to sleep, I “borrowed” my wife’s phone and opened her Facebook app. I do this from time to time to check up on a few select friends and family – the only thing I miss about Facebook is the ability to peek into the lives of loved ones far away – but I almost always regret doing so. Last night was no exception. Sadly, I scrolled past update after update from people I know claiming that the election was rigged, and that Donald Trump is the true winner. One common theme among them is the proud assertion that they do not get their information from the MSM (main stream media) but from the new, truth telling conservative media. The implication being, I guess, that those, like me, who believe that this pandemic is serious, masks work, and Joe Biden won the election fair and square are being lied to by our sources. And this is where the seemingly insurmountable divide exists, at least one of the divides.
What seems blatantly obvious to me is perceived as a full-on lie to the other side, and vice-versa. I’ve struggled with how to knock down this divide, or at least find, if not create some fissures and holes by which we can actually communicate with each other. Like Pyramus and Thisbe, I think I may have discovered a chink in the wall through which we can attempt to kiss. And, yes, that analogy is intended to communicate my skepticism; sadly, we, too, will likely end up crying, “I kiss the wall’s hole, and not your lips at all.”
There is a third option besides “my media” and “your media”. To be clear, I don’t have a preferred media source, no matter the accusations tossed my way. Other than ESPN, which is my go-to media source for scores, highlights, and sports stories, in general, I don’t privilege CNN over FOX or NBC over ABC. Or The New York Times over The Wall Street Journal (I rarely, if ever read either of them owing to the paywall – and that applies to any media source with a paywall). I prefer primary sources, meaning that I use the headlines of MSM articles, or I spend the time necessary to skim the articles looking for links or key words to use in my Google search. I’ve stated this before, but I find it puzzling that those who’ve attended college proclaim with such certainty beliefs and opinions based on sources that would’ve earned their research papers in college returned with a big fat red 0 at the top until they updated their bibliography page and incorporated citations from legitimate sources into their argument and the body of the paper. For the record, CNN is not a proper source. Neither is FOX News. Nor OANN, Newsmax, Breitbart, PJ Media, et al..
One difference, though, between the MSM and the new, conservative outlets is the vast amount of daylight between what’s covered and not covered and also between what the articles link to.
Having gone down the rabbit hole that is the conservative media’s coverage of the pandemic, I focused this time on the election. Searching sites like OANN, Newsmax, Breitbart, and PJ Media, and reading scores of articles, it was next to impossible to find even a mention of the growing number of lawsuits and motions made by Trump’s campaign that are being tossed by conservative judges, much less find links to the court transcripts (or even merely quotes) that I was searching for. I did find a lot of opinion pieces and links to conservative talking heads decrying the fraud being perpetuated on the American people by the Democrats. I also found a steady drumbeat of coverage of Justice Alito’s stay concerning a batch of ballots in PA. Although, in that coverage, not once did I read the fact that the Commonwealth of PA had already set aside those ballots before Alito’s stay and that the number of ballots in question wouldn’t even come close to overturning the results. And I’m not saying that there aren’t articles on those sites that link to court transcripts or that reference the truth behind the PA ballots, I’m saying that after reading dozens upon dozens of article, I’m tired of looking; if I have to look that hard, that’s a problem. Reading those sites, the verdict is already in: President Donald Trump is the clear winner and Democrats, MSM, and a cabal of elites pulling all the strings behind the curtain that covers everything and is able to game the election for the president but not, apparently, for the legislative branch have conspired to perpetuate the greatest fraud in American history. But, again, it would’ve been nice to read at least a few of the court transcripts.
Thankfully, before beginning my hours of scrolling through and reading articles on the new conservative media sites, I had already read many of those transcripts. You see, clicking on stories published by sites like CNN and FOX News, I was able to find links to the court transcripts. I don’t remember reading a single article about the election in its entirety published by the MSM. Why would I? Ad fontes, after all; I had found what I was looking for.
So, here’s my plea to those who believe this election is in the process of being stolen by Joe Biden and his backers: Read the court transcripts before making up your mind. Find out what’s happening in the actual courts (I deleted an entire paragraph revealing some of the things that have happened because no one should take my word for it. I trust that the primary sources will make my point better than I can and I trust that many of you are intellectually honest enough to respond correctly to the evidence from legitimate sources). While doing so – while reading court documents and transcripts – ask yourself why President Trump’s lawyers aren’t including most of the “evidence” being proffered on your social media newsfeeds? If all these smoking guns really exist, then Donald Trump has hired the Apple Dumpling Gang as his legal team. Also ask yourself, what’s more likely? That the conservative judges are ruling with truth and justice or that they are part of this vast, increasingly complicated conspiracy theory? Think Ockham and his razor.
Two final thoughts: Search your heart. Be honest about how you will respond if the courts rule in Biden’s favor, and declare that the 2020 presidential election was conducted fairly, no wide-spread fraud that affected the outcome exists, and Biden’s new chair in the Oval Office was earned fairly. Because if you continue to resist and cling to conspiracy theories, that’s a problem and reveals that you’re not acting in good faith. It’s a problem for many reasons. For one, and a cottage industry has sprung up attempting to divine Trump’s endgame, the Trump administration has been laying the groundwork for delegitimizing this election for years. You may be the mark Donald Trump has recognized who will help prop up his ego as he leaves the White House, allowing him to tell himself that millions upon millions of Americans, including you, consider him the real winner. And, frankly, that the best-case speculation. At worst, clinging to conspiracy theories may very well play a role in the rising violence and hatred that is already threatening to consume this country as Trump plots a coup (I’m not saying he is, because I don’t believe he is, but, come on, I know very few people, even those who now support him, who would’ve taken Trump’s character, or lack thereof, into consideration prior to 2016 and then concluded that Donald Trump plotting a coup is outside the realm of possibility).
And finally, as followers of Jesus, we’re to be characterized by our love for truth, no matter the personal cost. When you repented of your sins and submitted to Jesus through faith, you surrendered many things that you love and that made you temporarily happy. Acknowledging the truth of your sins was more important than clinging to your “rights” and pleasures. Through the advantage of history’s lens, conspiracy theories have been ridiculed for good reasons. I’m afraid that future generations are going to laugh at white evangelicals who swallowed and promoted conspiracy theories in the early 21st century. Worse, I’m afraid that the name of Christ will be besmirched by future generations because so many white evangelicals have connected the name of their Lord and Savior to unsubstantiated theories and demonstrably proven lies. Please don’t allow yourself to stand in service to conspiracy theories at the expense of your service to King Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
 I’m also pretty sure that I’m going to now have to clean my computer of spyware and malware that is the cost of doing business when clicking on conservative media sites. I’ve also screwed up my Google search algorithm, and Infowars and a whole host of other “media” sites I was previously unaware of dominate the top of my searches, no matter what I’m googling. And that’s scary (not personally, but societally and for my family and friends who almost exclusively consume this type of media).