Conspiracy thinking

Last week two young Dutch ‘you-tubers’ were arrested in the United States after having entered the terrain of the ultra-secret US Airforce base Area 51. They were subsequently condemned to pay a fine of 4560 dollars. Ties Granzier and Govert Sweep were planning to take pictures of the base. When they were arrested they were in the possession of camera’s, a laptop and a drone. They will most likely have to leave the USA without these goodies.

Area 51 has lately received a lot of publicity A Facebook campaign was launched (and later aborted), asking people to ‘storm’ this secret Airforce base, north of Las Vegas, on September 20. The idea behind this was to investigate the persistent stories about aliens who are supposedly being kept prisoner in this facility, after their UFO or other spacecraft crashed in the vicinity. All kinds of conspiracy theories have developed around the activities of these aliens. According to a 2017 report, almost twenty percent of all Americans claim to have seen a UFO, and almost half of them believe that aliens regularly visit our earth. To my surprise I read a few days ago in a Dutch newspaper that 5.4 percent of all Dutch people are also convinced that the US government is hiding aliens somewhere in the Nevada desert.

Conspiracy theories are as ubiquitous as they are dangerous. Many of them suggest that dangerous forces are secretly at work at all levels of our society. They pose an enormous threat and must, therefore, be exposed by whatever means that may require. These conspiracy theories can be a real threat to our democratic societies. But such theories take on a very special form when they are given a religious content. And we must accept the unfortunate fact that religious conspiracy theories seem to thrive in many religious groups. Sad to say, a lot of Seventh-day Adventists are also attracted to them. Some right-wing speakers travel the world with their sensational messages and in many places find eager audiences. These ‘brethren’, many affirm, dare to speak the truth, whereas most pastors no longer want to talk about the signs of the times! Their dvd’s find their way across the globe and, more often than not, their content is uncritically absorbed and accepted as full truth. The Catholics—more specifically the Pope and the Jesuits—and various secret societies are usually the most prominent culprits.

The approach of the conspiracy theorists in many respects resembles that of best-selling author Dan Brown. The recipe seems to be: You take a few undisputed facts; you then add a large number of unknown facts that are extracted from obscure sources that are difficult to check, and which are at most only partly true; and you mix all this until you have a powerful concoction for the sensation-hungry consumer. It seems to enhance the attractiveness of the resulting product when the speaker assures his audience that the official church, with its ecumenical tendencies, neglects to proclaim these precious truths. And no wonder, for the church has been infiltrated by the very same forces of darkness that the speaker has come to expose!

The recipe is as successful as it is dangerous. It results in fear. It polarizes churches. It cultivates suspicion of church leadership. It fuels that prejudice in the mind of many around us that Adventism is, after all, a sub-Christian sect. But, most serious of all: it eclipses the good news of the message of the gospel by irresponsible innuendos and unbridled speculation, and by an unhealthy sensationalism. A fascination with conspiracies and wild stories about what is happening behind the scenes and is aimed at destroying the Adventist Church, can easily become so overwhelming that one’s faith is no longer a trust relationship with God, but rather a proud sense of satisfaction with knowing things that are hidden to most people around them.