Soul Care #4: Focus on Conspiracy

These thoughts come from another place in me. Maybe that does not matter, however for this to make sense you are going to need a bit of background.

When I was in Junior High / Middle School, I was not aware of much, but it was beginning to dawn on me that I looked at the world through a different lens. That was not good or bad – merely different. Being slow to pick up on this, later when beginning university, I was aware again of how much outside of the present milieu I was, with my thinking and perception.

What dawned on me was the realization that I was skeptical of almost everything I was being told.

It began in church, where my running buddies were often upset about what they were receiving and protested, and I wondered. Then later in university, in Social Science classes, I found myself resisting strongly what I was being taught – since to me, there was something missing in order for me to believe.

Spool ahead to graduate school, where all that I had been raised to believe was more than challenged – it was summarily dismissed.

All of this led me to deconstruct what I had been given both in school and in faith – and then to build what I believed in – on a personal level.

What I mean is that I knew that for me to know,
I simultaneously needed to own,
and that would take a different layer of thinking
than what I had generally been taught in church, with “just believe,”
and in science, with “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist.”

This binary, polarized way of seeing remained exceedingly unsettling.

Looking back, I know that I was beginning to intuitively practice “slow thinking.”

This was part of a ‘devotional’ I gave a few years back at the GTN Leadership Gathering. It is also the title of a book: Thinking Fast Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I was speaking about how difficult it is to find and bring awareness to ourselves of our own cognitive/emotional biases. We are not blank slates. We come preloaded with things, and life instills lots and lots of stuff into our ways of thinking and behaving for good or ill.

We are all biased, prone to jump to conclusions about the world, and support what we already believe (this is why I worked at the time to deconstruct or unmix the ideas I had been given). Bias can be useful. The bias to love your kids and to protect them even when they inflict sleep deprivation on you. But our bias can lead us to being unable to see or believe the awful things our kids might be getting up to.

We have so many biases. Maybe more than 185 delineated to date. Example: apparently, we are biased toward believing that things we make or put together with our own hands are more valuable to us. This explains IKEA.

Of all the biases we have, confirmation bias is the worst – that character in the movie of our life who struts around, glaring at and shooting down anyone or anything that might challenge what we already believe. Confirmation bias is where we unconsciously are looking for things to confirm what we already believe. And it means we also discount anything and everything… all evidence that contradicts what we believe.

Confirmation bias, like all of our biases, is a shortcut, a heuristic to help us process the demands of life as they hurtle towards us. [heuristic: enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves]

Now with this pandemic, the pace of change has been staggering and, in the information, bombarding us like a tsunami.

What gets activated in us is our “guardian” or “self-protective fast thinking.”

Maybe a cheap way to think about this is that
fast thinking is prone to emotional reasoning
where slow thinking accesses the whole of our capacity.
When what we need in this time is a
slow thinking basis for measured response.

This above is about a number of individuals who have asked about various conspiracy theories in the past few weeks. Note here that the primary function of conspiracy theories is to calm our anxiety with knowledge/explanation (sounds similar to what we chose in the Garden… alas, we are slow to get this).

I have had more than a few sermons sent to me, asking what I thought and attached websites touting this or that theory to make sense out of suffering and evil. And I do not think either will yield what we long for – only the anchored biblical message. I will give you some food to chew on here and some kind of practical examples to follow.

Nancy and I processed some of this today during a break, and I found myself thinking that there are two essential scriptural perspectives.

1)  The first one is found in Creation, where God made us to be faith-based creatures and we left that by placing confidence in what we saw. Then, we discovered that what we saw deceived us (i.e. the forbidden fruit).

**The first week in this series I wrote about evil’s nonsense, because we so seek an explanation, and then the grief that accompanies overwhelming change, followed by the stance of being a consummate learner through humility.**

Now, all of these pieces come into play by standing against gnostic knowing and choosing to seek only relational understanding of Christ in us.

What follows below is a response to a friend/inquirer regarding a particular conspiracy that purports to explain what is happening now in this pandemic, when the Scriptures have already responded.

2) 1 Peter 3:14-15, which draws from a passage in Isaiah (8:11-14a):

In Isaiah, it says that we are to walk in a different way from the context we find ourselves… In fact, v.12 says, you are not to say it is a conspiracy!

“…in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy,
and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it,
v.13 it is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread,
v.14 then HE shall become your sanctuary.”

Some last thoughts: if I begin here looking out from the ’sanctuary’ of relationship with the Holy, then I am pretty sure my perception will be a bit different than if I begin with what some other source can offer…

And for me, this diminishes the loud compelling arguments that come from such fearful/maybe paranoid-driven thinking…

Lest we think we are not privy to this vulnerability, I believe that shame undergirds fear and fuels it so the unguarded thoughts are inflated and we lose access to ’the mind of Christ.’

The short word from me is “Yes, I have heard some about this conspiracy and it is ‘boring’ in much the same way that listening to another alcoholic or eating-disordered individual is… the same essential story line… I think this happens with all of our adversary’s efforts – they are not creative, but repetitive and thus tedious, I am not curious enough to follow it’s toxic trails. Yes, many are deceived… however, I want to immerse myself in life-giving pursuits… which will not render us naïve… but unless I am called to study a distortion of truth, then it is healthier to stay in the relational sanctuary with the Holy.”

Here are my recommendations for how to survive conspiracy theories in a global pandemic and crisis:

1) Attitude: You can find the meaning and purpose your brain craves. But think slow and choose what you believe and take the time to stand back and be honest about your biases. This takes effort, but it is less effort than the harm conspiracy theories will bring you and others.

2) Be in relationships: Most disasters lead to people clinging together, and this one causes us to live apart. It’s one of the cruelest things about this pandemic. We need neighbors and community in disasters. Conspiracy theories drive us further apart and lead to alienation and more isolation. Don’t let a conspiracy theory cause you to be further separated from friends and family. And don’t let it herd you into connecting with other conspiracy theorists in online conspiracy bubbles.

3) Lower your anxiety: Pay attention to what you are paying attention to. Is your guardian brain causing you to scroll endlessly through social media, where algorithmically pushed conspiracy “porn” captures your attention? Step away from the news and social media. Hit the pause button when you think you have found something that answers everything. Agree in advance not to share until you step back and think slowly and calmly (see no.1 above).

4) Do the math: Use data, not emotion or your bias (i.e. have some working out for your theories and check that of others). Head to Snopes.com to find real information and data, instead of trusting your gut, fears and bias. Then if you read that and still believe the conspiracy, marvel at your brain’s cognitive bias in action, totally deceiving you. And as you interact with others, remember not to engage your emotional brain and lambast them. Share evidence and ask questions. Even if conspiracy theorist collaborators don’t believe you, others might see the reality you counter with, and avoid falling for those conspiracy falsities.

5) Train your brain: You really do deserve the truth. So, take the time to learn, to think well and better. You owe it to yourself. For all the Christians reading this, gullibility is not a spiritual gift. Satan is the father of lies and generator of conspiracy theories. Don’t let the devil hook you in. Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, fix your thoughts on these things.

Last week, in 1 Peter 5:6-7 we read about humility, and now we can read vs. 8-9 about the role of our adversary:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
(1 Peter 5:8-9)
By His Grace,
Hud
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