Merriam-Webster defines “conspiracy” as (1) the act of conspiring together; (2) an agreement among conspirators; (3) a group of conspirators. “Conspiring” means to plot or contrive.
I’m intrigued by the way “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory” have come into such widespread use in the past few years. The terms seem to have become a synonym for “deceptive fiction” or even a lazy way to “refute” the beliefs of those with whom we disagree. The problem with this word-hack is that historically there HAVE been real conspiracies, and there continue to be. But instead of investigating whether a conspiracy “theory” (story) is true or not, it is too easy to just slap the label “conspiracy theory” on it and everyone shakes their heads and wonders how anyone can believe such falsehoods. Rather than doing the hard work of investigation and refutation with facts, we just label it.
While it seems to me that use (misuse) of the term “conspiracy theory” has exploded recently, this approach is certainly not new. 2000 years ago, a resurrection rumor circulating in Jerusalem was “refuted” by simply noting that there was a conspiracy by Jesus’ disciples to steal his body and hide it. I suppose the prudent thing for a rational first century Jew to have done would have been to recognize that was probably what happened, and get on with life. Only the unhinged fringe would investigate whether the theory had any truth to it, or if there might be “alternative facts” refuting the priestly account.
I’m not suggesting that all the ideas circulating today, whether by QAnon or others, are worth even spending time investigating. But I am saying that I think we have gotten lazy with our use of the term, and we are also using it to avoid investigating some phenomena that perhaps we SHOULD investigate.
Edward Snowden recently said that the most dangerous conspiracies are the ones in plain sight. Anyone who 20 years ago suggested that the government and big corporations were tracking everything you said on your phone and recording and storing all your movements would have been accused of promulgating wild conspiracy theories. Now we know it’s true.
Within the denomination, and within the pages of Spectrum, there has been a long-running discussion of a coordinated effort to prevent women’s ordination to gospel ministry. If I call it a “conspiracy theory” does that mean it isn’t real?
Within the COVID-19 context, where the label is widely used and social media platforms are censoring content falling under the label, the misuse of the label has damaged honest discussion, including among doctors and scientists, in the midst of a health crisis when global communication is essential. For an example, see the FLCCC alliance’s recent discussion by Dr. Kory on the role of the pharmaceutical industry and its capture of health agencies in the suppression of alternatives to expensive patent medications. This is a legitimate concern and shouldn’t be dismissed as mere “conspiracy theory” even though it indeed resembles a conspiracy.