Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chaos and Conspiracy Theories

by Ben Howard 

4% of your fellow citizens believe the United States government is run by “lizard people.”

For those of you who are curious about the validity of this number, it comes from a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling last April and the margin of error was 2.8%. That’s right, not only does this poll say 4% of Americans believe lizard people are running the government, it’s also within the margin of error thus making it a statistically significant portion of the population. I always knew that democracy was a bad idea.

Now, I don’t really think this number is accurate. I would be shocked to find out that 1 out of every 25 people really believe that advanced lizard people have taken control of the government in order to…well, I don’t really know what they’re doing. It strikes me as far more likely that approximately 2% of the population likes to mess around with the heads of their friendly neighborhood pollsters, and that another 2% of respondents don’t understand how polls work.

But maybe a few of the people who said, “Yes, I do think Barack Obama is a reptile” really meant it, and though I may believe these people are delusional, I also envy them. I envy them in the same way that I envy the 28% of Americans who believe in the New World Order, or the 7% that believe the moon landing was faked, or even the 51% who believe that JFK was killed in a conspiracy.

I envy them because they live in a world where things make sense, where there are always people in control, and where chaos does not direct the major movements of life.

Even if all these conspiracy theories point to a kind of dystopian society, it’s still an appealing idea. While it may be a bit disheartening to think that the government deceived us all by faking the moon-landing, at least you believe in a government that has the capacity to perform to the highest level when the occasion calls for it. And while it’s a bit depressing to believe that the world is run by a secret international cabal of financiers (led by Beyonce of course), at least it means the world is manageable.

We fear chaos. We are afraid of the uncontrollable, the untamable, and the unpredictable.

It makes me wonder if we believe in God for the same reasons that some believe in conspiracy theories. It’s certainly part of the story of how God interacts with his people. In Genesis, God binds in the chaos of the waters, in Exodus she controls nature, and in Israel he directs the rise and fall of an empire. In Jesus, we see God conquering the chaos and destruction of diseases, even death. Paul tells us that Christ’s resurrection overcomes the chaos of sin.

So is God a conspiracy theory? Is God a way in which we comfort ourselves that though things seem unmanageable, there is someone with the power to control, someone to whom things make sense, someone directing the major movements of life so that chaos will not overcome us?

Or perhaps God is the chaos. When we attribute a natural disaster to the hand of God, are we just trying to make sense of of the senseless? Maybe the stories we tell about God, or more specifically, the stories we tell about humanity and God, are our way of rationalizing something that we can’t possibly hope to understand, the interaction with the divine.

What if the stories we tell ourselves, the faith we pass along, the narratives we read, the religion we profess, the Bible, the miracles, the theology, what if all of that is the conspiracy? What if it’s all an attempt to manage and reckon with the chaos of a God who will not be confined, will not be managed, and will not be tamed?

What if all the constructs of religion and faith that we’ve built are simply an attempt to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense?

What if this chaos is what we call holy? 

Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87. 

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Image Credits:
Image #1 via Roy Niswanger 
Image #2 via Jingjing Cheng 
Image #3 via Cody Cox 
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