by Maximus Nyssen.
As I continue to survey the American Christian landscape regarding responses to the coronavirus pandemic, my disappointment and bewilderment grows daily. Much of the responses from the Evangelical community – and especially those within the Pentecostal-Charismatic framework – have been frankly dangerous, conspiratorial, hyper partisan, scientifically illiterate and theologically bankrupt.
There are two dominant heresies alive in American Christianity today, which would be fundamentalism and nationalism.
Fundamentalism advocates an entirely unhistorical theological viewpoint that the Bible is a scientific textbook, and that any scientific hypothesis, theory, or fact that “opposes” some supposed scientific principle believed to be written in the Bible must be rejected as some sort of atheist attack on the faith.
This is a fairly modern heresy, one that entirely rejects historical theological discovery and exegetical studies, and only really came into prominence in the earlier part of the 20th Century. No one in antiquity, the early church, or the vast majority of the history of the Church held to any notion of fundamentalism.
Nationalism advocates the view that America is God’s “special nation” and that this nation is the best nation that’s ever existed anywhere, and implicitly propagates that all other nations, peoples, and races have something defective, lacking, wrong, or even evil in them.
Both of these roots have brought forth the modern fruit of utter insanity that runs the gamut of American Christianity, in all its discordant and vile glory. The spectacle is filled to the brim with non-sensical, incoherent, and bigoted conspiracy theories.
Because of the fundamentalist root that disdains science and empiricism, it feels like no amount of rational discourse or evidence can convince people trapped within this heretical bubble that they are plainly and factually incorrect; and because of the partisan-nationalist root, these people only trust the words of Donald J. Trump, against literally anyone else (even others that are inside the Trump administration).
And once one injects the Pentecostal-Charismatic alloy of mysticism into this heresy, then these individuals believe that only they know the “truth” since only they can “hear from God.”
Conspiracy theories are by and large already appealing for individuals that have some sort of gnostic and esoteric impulse, in believing themselves to be a part of some enlightened group that knows how things “truly” operate, against the readily accepted narrative of the world.
Similarly, Pentecostals and Charismatics, because of our attraction to prophecy, glossolalia, and other aspects of the supernatural, also have a somewhat commensurate impulse as well.
So when these two spheres intersect, it produces quite a powerful societal phenomenon. A typical conspiracy theorist will delight in their hidden knowledge but it usually begins and ends there; conversely, the Charismatic conspiracy theorist will intermingle prophecy and God’s sovereignty into the equation, producing an explosive cocktail of radicalism, for they believe God to be on their side in exposing “the truth.”
Now add social media into this cocktail, with its “bubbling” feedback-looping mechanism, and anyone already itching in this direction will now primarily only see posts, memes, and videos that reinforce these perspectives, day after day after day.
Obviously, some events that were initially considered conspiracy theories turned out to be true. So, yes, there are legitimate conspiracies and there are false ones (by far the majority).
How, then, should we distinguish between the two? I wouldn’t say this is a universal rule in every case, but I would venture a guess that when a conspiracy seems to want to expose injustice, that might be worthy of looking at with a closer eye, whereas if a conspiracy is predicated upon the esoteric impulse, then it would probably be worth rejecting. In the current climate, almost every conspiracy I’ve seen shared by Christians is esoteric (and really, entirely idiotic) and should be rejected.
There’s a lot of nuance and some semantics here, but my initial instinct would be to try to feel out what the “motivation” of said conspiracy is. If the motivation is to sell books, sell other merchandise, gain popularity, or to “prove” someone’s spirituality or prophetic accuracy, then it’s a scam, and one should flee from those.
Maximus Nyssen is a Cybersecurity Engineer with a layman’s passion for theology, history, philosophy, and politics. A Charismatic-Pentecostal and philosophical anarchist, he is also deeply attracted to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology. He and his wife reside in Orlando, Florida with their three daughters.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!