Saturday, December 20, 2008

Discernment: Cults and Conspiracy Theories

Another Title would be: How to Avoid the FUD Trap.

FUD = Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. FUD is an attempt to influence people using vague information framed in a negative manner, almost invariably as disinformation that cannot be verified, or if it can be verified, turns out to not mean what the FUD pusher says it does. Silly example would be that Christians are ritual cannibals.

Cultic teachings often focus on the fact that they have the 'true' way. Among the heretical Christian cults, the Bible has often been 'corrupted' and this 'true' way is all about the 'real' Jesus. Note that this includes not only formal Christian cults, but can be found in individuals and loosely connected informal groupings within the Church. They always have their own special version and/or addition to add to Scripture. Sometimes the additional material is text, sometimes it is verbal and sometimes it is a mixture of both. This is why one must get them to define themselves and their teachings, because if it is not of Christ, then they will end up convicting themselves out of their own mouths and/or by their actions. The spirit that moves them cannot do otherwise. Vagueness of positions, cherry picking of proof texts, quoting out of context, ignoring of all contradictory evidence and appeals to emotion are hallmarks of this mindset. They have a strong tendency to be authoritarian and into group think practices.

It might be a formal structure with a leader, subleaders and followers in some variation or it can be an informal structure where all of the 'individuals' simply look or sound the same when pressed on their subject. I recall talking to some young girls several years back. They had wild makeup, wild hair, jeans with unpatched holes ripped out of the knees, more holes in their shirts and scuffed up shoes. These weren't old or cheap clothes, they were of decent or good quality and relatively new, the damage was inflicted by the kids. I asked them why they were dressed as they were and they told me it was to be 'different' and 'be themselves'. So I got them to watch with me while their peers came through a public area and even though the details might have been different, everyone was dressed the same in similarly mutilated clothing, some version of wild hair and (for the girls) excessive and wild makeup schemes. After getting them to really look, they realized that even though they thought they were being 'different', they and their peers were all just wearing the same 'uniform' with 'authorized' variations and none of them were really different or being themselves.

After you learn their jargon and sources and use them to debunk their false teaching, they still keep firm in their presuppositions, since it simply 'must' be so. When you push them on it, they always have a way of moving the goalposts of the debate until they find one that you cannot refute, usually framed in vague, unsupported allegations that call for a massive conspiracy. It doesn't matter, for them, the assertion is simply enough.

You also see it outside of Christian heresies among the Christ mythers and Christ deniers, they use the exact same tactics of making an assertion that could possibly be true, then denying any evidence that contradicts their presuppositions, counting the mere possibility as absolute proof. Commonly know as “Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.”

Regardless of whether they are antiChristian, antiBible, Christian heretical cults, heretic hunters, political conspiracy theorists or any other group, how do you identify these practitioners of the hypervictim mentality of conspiracy theorists? Look for some simple traits this mindset has in common.

  1. They know the 'Truth'. It is special knowledge that has been revealed to them. Oh, they may claim it is Biblical, but it isn't. Or maybe it is just something 'proven' by science. In any case, the root remains pride.
  2. The “other guys” aren't real bright, are deceived or just aren't rational.
  3. Logic doesn't matter much, various fallacies based on emotional appeal are used. Over the top sensationalist claims are often made.
  4. Reliance on personal revelation instead of Scripture. When Scripture is used, it is often twisted or used as trump cards with masses of verses being tossed out without commentary.
  5. Lack of primary research done. They will claim it, but if you call them on it, they obviously haven't done it. Refusal to acknowledge any sources contrary to their positions. Refusal to explain themselves.
  6. Use of forged documents or editing actual documents for proof texts (quoting out of context). Using definitions rigidly, see # 1.
  7. Ask questions aggressively and keep asking them, no matter how many times and ways they are answered until they get the answer they want.
  8. If they do find themselves getting refuted, they will resort to making assertions without backup or that logically contradict their claimed worldview. Tantrum throwing.
  9. They fail to use the simplest explanation, instead it must be even more and more convoluted to get beyond refutation. They keep moving the goalposts of what needs to be proven/disproven. If need be, everyone else is a liar and they are right, see #1.
  10. Strong ends justify the means flavor to their position(s) if you develop them by interacting. They don't care that they are wrong, as long as they are pursuing a 'righteous' cause. Fanaticism, not zeal.

If you are not familiar with the tactic of moving the goalposts, here is an example where antiBible Lite evolutionists try to 'prove' their point against young earth creationists:

“Creationists aren't scientists.” (Proof provided that there are YEC scientists.)

“Well, creationists aren't real scientists with real degrees.” (Proof provided that YEC scientists have real degrees.)

“Well, creationists don't have degrees in the relevant fields.” (Proof provided that the degrees are in relevant fields.)

“Well, creationists don't get those degrees from real schools.” (Proof provided that the degrees come from top scientific universities.)

“Well, creationists don't get published in refereed scientific journals.” (Proof provided they do.)

“Well, those aren't real refereed scientific journals.” (Proof provided they do publish in 'real' refereed scientific journals, as defined by the evolutionist.)

“Well, those papers don't having anything to do with creationism.” (Proof provided that they do.)

“Well, creationists don't understand how science works.” (Umm, your degree is in what? Your documented body of work if you don't have a degree? Your sources to back up your assertion?)

“Well, they just have to be wrong since there is a consensus against them.” (Point out how every current scientific theory and law was at one time a minority position.)

“Well, it cannot be scientific because it is just goddidit!” (As opposed to itjustgrowed?)

“Well, religious nuts cannot be expected to understand science!” (When the basis of modern science directly rests on the doctrines of Christianity?)

“You know, everybody knows it is just lying for Jebus!” (Any proof?)

“Well, there is that dinosaur park guy!” (Who isn't a scientist and who has been publicly corrected by YEC scientists for his use of disproven theories and unscientific stances, too bad evolutionists don't police themselves up a tenth as well.)

“Well, it is just lying, Dawkins and Gould said it, Professor Fuzzybrain at school said I should think more for myself, don't accept authoritarian religious controls, and believe in evolution totally! All creationists are liars!” (Uh, well, what do you do in the face of someone who has their mind made up and isn't interested in the facts.)

Other ways besides attacking credentials include finding smaller and smaller groups and shifting the groups around who are 'really in control' or making it a case of smaller and smaller geographical areas. In both cases, no matter what the personal testimonies of numerous people who should be “in the know” according to the conspiracy theory, those testifying must be either liars, not part of the 'in' group or in the 'right' geographical spot to see the conspiracy and are therefore deceived.

This is all about seeing the pattern. At times and places, several of those traits I listed above can be used legitimately by people, but you can usually tell from the context of the conversation which one is ranting and which one is simply telling them to put up or shut up. Again, the context will give you the pattern and when you see the pattern, hold onto your wallet. They may not want your money, but often enough, they do.

No comments:

Post a Comment