A few months ago, I was eating a disappointing breakfast sandwich in a restaurant at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport when I overheard a group of people mention the word “theology.” Being a sucker for theological inquiry, I slowed my chewing and listened a little more closely. To my surprise, the group was not discussing Athanasius or Thomas Aquinas (the fact that this surprised me tells you a lot about who I am), but rather the Illuminati and their sinister plot to take over the world. For those of you who are not up to date on your conspiracy theories, the Illuminati are supposedly a secret cabal of wealthy and powerful individuals bent on world domination. While this narrative is boilerplate for any self-respecting conspiracy theorist, I was curious to hear it framed in terms of Christian theology. The group of people I heard talking in the airport apparently believed that the Illuminati’s secret control of the world was part of God’s plan to bring the world to an end. Several members of the group repeatedly said things like, “God has already set the plan in motion” and “It’s only a matter of time.” When I decided I could no longer remain in the same room without holding my tongue, I abandoned my sandwich and wandered to my gate.
Though I was initially surprised by this marriage of old-school conspiracy theories to dispensationalist theology, it occurs to me that these worldviews have similar perspectives. Those who subscribe to both of these worldviews are convinced that someone else is in complete control of the world, that there is nothing they can do to influence the course of history. In both of these worldviews, the only solution is enlightenment; the only way we can deal with our lack of control is to realize that we have no control, to realize that the puppet strings are being held by someone else. And I think that both of these worldviews stem primarily from fear of the unknown. The only way some people can deal with the very human fear of uncertainty is to deny that anything is uncertain. If it’s all part of the plan, and they realize that it’s all part of the plan, then they can take solace in their enlightened understanding of the world. Both conspiracy theories and dispensationalist theologies, in other words, can be sources of profound comfort.
Yet, by denying the reality of uncertainty, these worldviews fail to help people deal with reality. Not only that, the idea that God has set a definite plan in motion is not terribly Scriptural. As I mentioned yesterday, one of the central affirmations of Christian theology is that we have free will, that we have a choice to be in relationship with God. In fact, St. Paul argues that our reconciliation to God occurs because of Christ’s faithful obedience, because of Christ’s exercise of his freedom. Faithfulness, therefore, is not about being certain about what is going to happen next, it is about trusting that God will be faithful to us even when we don’t know what is going to happen next. Faithfulness is not about believing that God is controlling every aspect of our lives, it is about trusting that God is with us as we move through this life. As you walk the way of the cross during Holy Week, I pray that you will be comforted by the fact that God is with you even in the midst of uncertainty.
2 thoughts on “Fear”
A wonderful post. I also would have been caught off guard by that off marriage of topics. Like you, the more I thought about it the more sense it made (being able to connect them that is.)
There is a unique fear in conspiracy theorists. An “us vs. them” mentality where the “them” may even be a shadowy figure. There are some particular theologies which maintain this odd mentality. My question is what makes a person feel so insecure they must ground themselves in the shadows.
David, thanks so much for your posts. I’m learning something every time I get on line.