The Conspiracy Theorists

I have not yet read Jamie Bartlett’s book The power of unreason: Conspiracy theories, extremism and counter-terrorism, but I gather from reviews that he emphasises the way in which conspiracy theories tie the group together against an external enemy. The glue is the delusions of fighting an existential struggle against an evil threat.

I should read the book to see whether he classifies Christianity as a conspiracy theory, and if not why not. His paradigm may not seem particularly relevant to genteel Anglicanism, or even Catholicism, but it is a perfect fit with the essentially Dualist outlook of the more excitable evangelicals and charismatics. Not only do these think of themselves as a little band of brothers and sisters who alone know the Truth and alone fight for the Right, but they inhabit the same paranoid universe as the revolutionary, in which anybody can be a double agent for the Other Side – a term they often use. It is not quite that they fear you might be an actual fallen angel masquerading as a Christian student to infiltrate them, it is usually expressed in vaguer terms of Satanic “influences” that you have admitted into your life by contact with secular literature and people. But this merely takes it into tinfoil hat territory.

It is said that the big draw of the classic conspiracy theory is the unwillingness to believe that what happens to you can be mere happenstance or accident. In part this derives from the belief that big effects must have big causes: if, for example, a death has profound social or political repercussions, then it must be murder. In part it derives from narcissism: we need to feel that the shit that happens to us has been made to happen to us by somebody, or else our lives would seem unimportant. This, too, fits the religionist like a glove; he inhabits a mental universe in which absolutely everything that happens to him, and absolutely everything he does, is of infinite significance, and may even affect the cosmic struggle between god and satan. Neither the conspiracy nut nor the zealous religionist can bear mundanity. As the old joke has it, the worst thing a revolutionary can hear is that Big Brother is ignoring him.

Posted on April 9, 2012 at 09:05 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Design Fault

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on April 9, 2012 at 14:07
    Permalink

    God and Satan aren’t ignoring us. Even without existing they have better things to do than count the hairs on our heads or cater to our insecurities. What sentient being–imaginary or otherwise–wouldn’t?

    Why must all-things-human reduce so easily to narcissism? Is that really all that keeps us going?

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