Saturday, January 16, 2016

Unpacking Conspiracy Theories

The internet has given us unprecedented access to English language commentary from all over the world and has preserved it for us conveniently accessible for an indefinite period. Why not take advantage?

Back in October, the Hungarian Spectrum attempted to unpack the refugee crisis in Europe:

“Hungarian public officials quite openly expressed their doubts that such an unexpected migration of so many people could happen without some central direction.”

There are plausible conspiracy theories. Then there are those that are moonbat crazy.

Hindsight Is 20/20

The writer, Dr. Eva Balogh, who used to teach Eastern European history at Yale, couldn’t reasonably have anticipated the wave of largely immigrant-related violence New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany (the criminal complaints, mostly against migrant men and “refugees”, have now reached 516, a full 40% of which involved sexual assault). Thus she was naturally dubious about the suspicions of the Hungarian government a full three months before they had any hard evidence that uncontrolled migration to European countries might end badly.

So she shoots down the usual speculations about statist or anarchist plots: No, she says, it’s probably not the Americans. Neither do theories involving Israel, Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Arab States or even ISIS make any sense to the good doctor from her left-liberal perspective.

Her conclusion: “Forget about the conspiracy theories”.

The Theories That Won’t Go Away

But as the immigration crisis steadily worsens and European governments and the media in their pockets double down on the “nothing to see here” story, the conspiracy theories simply multiply: It’s “ethnic cleansing” of whites. It’s a (possibly coordinated) “mass evasion of the truth”. Perhaps the “unelected leaders of the EU want to make it into a superpower”. Or it’s an attempt by governments to justify “emergency measures” that will never be rescinded after the crisis abates. Or even that it’s a manifestation of the German struggle to escape the shadow of Nazism.

My favourite? “It’s the Illuminati”.

Sure. Why not?

The Question of Motive

The common thread here is this: batty as we may think each or all of these conspiracy theories, they uniformly offer the alleged conspirators some remotely plausible motive.

That is a whole lot more than biblical conspiracy theorists ever bother with.

Christianity, we’re now told, began as “a sophisticated government propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire”. Joseph Atwill claims “Christianity may be considered a religion, but it was actually developed and used as a system of mind control to produce slaves that believed God decreed their slavery”. The “peaceful Messiah”, Atwill says, was invented to encourage Jews to pay their taxes to Rome.

Uh … yeah, okay. Let’s explore that a bit.

Why Did the Jews Buy In?

Atwill is not the first to allege nonsense like this, and he won’t be the last. But while he can imagine a logical motive for first century Roman aristocrats to write a tale of death and resurrection, he cannot possibly explain that story’s acceptance by Jews within the very same century. Even with Jewish assistance, it is impossible that Rome could have concocted a phony story believable enough to make thousands of Jewish converts on the basis of events alleged to have occurred within their own lifetimes in the very place many of them lived. Worse, it was a story that made the Jews out to be the bad guys!

Furthermore, without more than five hundred Jewish witnesses to the resurrection, Paul would surely have been more cautious in his statements to the Corinthian church. But he could confidently aver that “most of” them were still alive at the time he wrote. What sense does this make if Paul himself was a fiction or a Roman pawn? He was still open to having his facts checked.

Why did thousands of Jews come to Christ in a single day? Not because of Roman “mind control”. Rather, it was because the narrative with which they were presented was not only logically compelling and spiritually convicting, but also attested to with signs and miracles witnessed by huge crowds.

Yet to the religious authorities of an oppressed pair of Jewish provinces in the first century Roman empire, the story of Jesus — far from being a convenient control mechanism for the overlords — merely added insult to injury.

Atwill’s is among the least plausible propaganda campaigns in human history.

The Ephesian Puzzle

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians spells out plainly the sheer offensiveness of the Christian message to the Jewish mind. He speaks of a mystery revealed explicitly to him, though certainly detectable in the Old Testament to those with the faith to see it:
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Israel already had their relationship with God, however poorly it may have been understood and appreciated by the Jewish masses. But this is a distinctively Christian message: the “Gentiles are fellow heirs”. Judaism offered nothing like this. It wouldn’t dare. Compared to this blasphemy, the passing notion observed by the Lord that his followers should “render unto Caesar” pales into insignificance. It would bother nobody.

Why on earth would Roman aristocrats choose this singularly divisive, spectacularly repugnant message with which to attempt to “mind control” the Jews?

They must have been the absolute worst propagandists ever.

How Did the Propaganda Spread?

These theories about clever Roman elites ignore the obvious: what about the apostles? For them, there’s no motive at all. There was no money to be made in first century Christianity, no power to be grasped, no indulgences to be bought and sold, no gold or jewels to accumulate on earth. Just tons and tons of work, then desertion by most of their friends, and finally a thoroughly unpleasant and ignominious death.

Conspiracy theories, in order to be plausible, require a motive. We can certainly debate whether any of the current Euro-conspiracy memes meets that standard.

Joseph Atwill’s absurd theory does not.

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