Conspiracy and Depravity
Several years ago I sat down at my computer to write a book that had been on my mind for a while. I started typing and basically nothing happened. A few months later, I decided to do it again. This time, I got kind of an outline and then about half a page. But at the end of the day, still nothing. This happened a handful of times over the next few years. Then, in March of 2020, I decided to try again. This time, I had the entire book in rough draft finished in less than a week! How strange. Something I wanted to write for all those years didn’t want to come out. Then suddenly, it poured out of me like a flood. Curiously, given the timing, that book was became what I called Conspiracy Theory: A Christian Evaluation of a Taboo Subject. Was it an accident that I could suddenly write it in March of 2020? Do you remember anything about that period of time?
At any rate, from time to time on the Og Blog, I will delve into thoughts about conspiracy theories. It’s one of my favorite subjects. For this entry, I want to focus on something that I’ve long thought is very strange, coming from both my Reformed circles (especially but not limited to internet interaction) who teach on a regular basis that depravity of mankind and the broader Evangelical world and Western church world which also believes in original sin. What is the relationship between conspiracy and human depravity?
First, what is a conspiracy? Before I say more, notice here that I’m not thinking, per se, about conspiracy theories, but the more fundamental idea of conspiracies. I use Webster’s 1828 definition in the book. A conspiracy is, “A combination of men for an evil purpose; an agreement between two or more persons, to commit some crime in concert; particularly, a combination to commit treason, or excite sedition or insurrection against the government of a state; a plot; as a conspiracy against the life of a king; a conspiracy against the government.” It’s interesting that Webster has conspiracies going against the government, but not from the government towards the people. More on that below.
Second, what is human depravity? I’ll go with the typical Reformed answer for this one. Basically, the Scripture teaches us that every single human being is both born in original sin (that is, the sin of Adam is imputed to us) and our every thought goes astray from birth into sin. As Genesis puts it, “Every intention of our heart is only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5). It isn’t that we are as evil as we could be, or that all of us does all evil, but rather that like a glass of water with red dye put it, everything we do is tainted with sin, nothing is left untouched. This, in turn, effects everything we say and do.
The remarkable thing to me about combining these two ideas is how many people I know and interact with who say they hold to the latter will not carry this through logically into the realm of “conspiracy theories.” For a moment, I am not talking about those theories. You know, the “C-T” phrase? That great boogieman of our age, something that only crackpots and nutjobs think about? No sane person actually believes in conspiracy theories, right? I mean, especially by the government or big pharma or big tech! (A few more are willing in 2023 to consider this than they were in 2020, but still, not that many, at least in my experience, or, if they do, they will not consider big overarching conspiracies, only small ones, but that’s for another post).
In this post I simply want to raise a question. How can it be that one believes in human depravity at such a pervasive level and yet simultaneously, the same person couldn’t possibly let their mind seriously entertain an idea that something like these particular stated parties would plot to conspire an evil secret deed perpetrated against the population? It seems to me that the two do not comport. They are incompatible. That’s not to say that every conspiracy theory is true (or not true). That’s a different discussion. This is a more fundamental question. It is a question of even allowing oneself to stop for two seconds and consider that real conspiracies actually happen, and they happen all the time. Isn’t that what the doctrine of depravity should cause us to presuppose?
How can it be that someone would hold to a doctrine like total depravity and turn around and say that their government would never mean anyone harm? It would be easy to make extra-biblical arguments such as have they never read about the things governments did in the 20th century to their own citizens? But I’m interested in the basic theology of it here. There is often a disconnect, for reasons I do not fully understand, between this stated doctrine people say they believe and think is true of all people, and the notion of conspiracies which they turn around and say rarely happen, at best.
I simply want to challenge the reader here with a theological point. If your default position is that conspiracies on a macro level cannot or really do not happen (or rarely happen), then is this not betraying something about your basic theology of human sin on a practical level? Sure, maybe there is some theological way to counter my question here. Maybe you could say that God’s common grace overcomes our depravity or something. Or, maybe, that actually doesn’t quite work and you are left with the question that you haven’t really wrestled with.
We can say we believe a doctrine all day long, but when the rubber meets the road and it comes time to prove it, that’s when we find out what we really believe. As for me, my starting point is that humans are not basically good and that given even little temptations, let along huge ones, it is incredibly easy for even the best of us Christians to fall prey to our own sinful inclinations and commit conspiracies against others. How much more those who hate God?
For more in conspiracy theories, see my book Conspiracy Theory: A Christian Evaluation of a Taboo Subject.