An old friend, an ordained minister, sent me an e mail about my Chicago Tribune piece.
As a Christian I find that I do “maintain that a single vast conspiracy suffices to explain the better part of human affairs.”….Do you suggest that any vast explanation of evil in the better part of human affairs is a delusion?….Somehow, I would expect that a definition of a conspiracy theorist would exclude those who believe in a transcendent reality, that we are all spiritual beings affected by the spiritual realm that includes good and evil. It is the influence of this good and evil, God and Satan, that brings understanding to the awful truth of things gone so awry.
My response is complicated. Unlike many skeptics, I am not reflexively opposed to religion. Though not exactly a believer, I am not a principled disbeliever either. I look askance on any and all totalizing systems, supernaturalistic and naturalistic alike. Economic determinism, natural depravity, Satanic malice, imperialism, Illuminism, Manifest Destiny are all heuristics, some more useful than others.
I’m not anti-religion, but I wouldn’t hire a faith-based architect to build my house. Not that I wouldn’t hire a Christian architect…. but I’d expect him to use the practical side of his brain when he’s on the clock. If he feels compelled to tell me that he believes that it’s morally wrong to build an energy inefficient house that blocks its neighbors light, that’s perfectly reasonable. But if he says that he doesn’t have to set it on a strong foundation because a voice told him that angels would hold it up with their hands, then I would have to fire him.
I regard conspiracy theory as a misbegotten, debased form of theology–one that begins with a set of often hateful and vindictive first principles and then reverse engineers a fantastical version of reality that comports with them. If my first principles don’t include the possibility of a black man being president, for example, then I might conjure up a set of circumstances in which he’s isn’t, even if he got elected and lives in the White House. No, being religious doesn’t automatically make you a conspiracist, nor does the belief that we are part of a larger spiritual realm that includes good and evil. But if your first principles posit a world that’s neatly divided between Satan and God, in which all of us belong to one camp or the other, and in which everything and everyone is part of the war, then it wouldn’t be surprising if you were.