What is a conspiracy theory? The term is comprised of two words: “conspiracy” and “theory”. It is a theory about a proposed conspiracy – something two or more actors are claimed to have agreed to do, often in secret, that is unlawful or malevolent. The question then is:
“Does evidence support or contradict the theory?” If undisputable evidence overwhelmingly supports a conspiracy theory, then we no longer call it a theory but a fact. We acknowledge that there actually was a conspiracy.
While some conspiracy theories have led us to unmask actual conspiracies, like the Watergate scandal, many conspiracy theories live on despite no real evidence to support them. What do we do about them? Should we take such conspiracy theories seriously?
I suggest we shouldn’t. But we should take the people who believe in them seriously. Trying to disprove a conspiracy theory to a believer will often be quite futile. Arguments and facts may not go far with someone whose beliefs are not fact-based and rational. But gentle, compassionate, and respectful interaction may open the way for meaningful dialog.
From studies, we know that people prone to conspiratorial thinking may be driven by a sense of fear, dangers and threats, distrust, anger, desire for explanations, need to feel certain and in control, as well as a need to boost self-esteem by feeling significant, in the know, and even special. Any attack, ridicule, or humiliation is likely to simply make things worse.
The better way in dealing with believers in conspiracy theories is probably to build relationships where there is compassion, honesty, humility, respect, and safety. Listen to their hearts, not just their words. Then maybe they will listen to you. Don’t try to fight a believer in conspiracy theories. If you do, people will probably just get hurt, yourself included. Instead, how about making friends and loving them?
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you… Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:27-28.35-36 NLT).