The Internet is a great source for conspiracy theories. YouTube especially is rife with ominously voiced over expository segments on the Illuminati and the New World Order, most likely pored over by an inappropriately bearded man in a bomb shelter in the middle of the Adirondacks. It’s a perfect forum for such theorizing. Anyone with remedial media skills can create a mini-film divulging his deepest fears, and, thankfully, we get to hear all about them!
For those of you unfamiliar with the world of conspiracy theories on the Internet, they basically follow a similar pattern. They claim that events around the globe and even the course of world history itself are being manipulated by some sort of super-secret, uber-powerful Organization which has as it’s aim the implementation of a New World Order through the moral degradation of society and other methods.
If it’s not obvious from these first few paragraphs, I put very little stock in such claims.. It’s clear to me that they are derived from a sort of existential nervousness about one’s place in the Big Bad World, and, as a Catholic, I think to myself, “Well, Jesus is the Lord of history. There’s that.” The reality of the Resurrection commands my existential nervousness to leave.
I’m always surprised, however, when I find out how many Catholics and Christians buy hook, line, and sinker into various conspiracy theories, on a grand or small scale. If it isn’t the New World Order, then one can find in many Catholic comboxes the similar train of thought applied to the workings of the Church and Her hierarchy. Though begun in a similar place, this type of conspiracy theory is far more treacherous. One of the more common expositions of this inclination is the searching for these conspiracies in the workings of the Church hierarchy in events like Vatican II. Guys. Don’t. Do. That.
I can understand why Catholics could read into the recent history (for Catholics, since we super old, recent history means the last 300 years) some sort of overarching worldwide plan for the demise of man’s religious sense. The 20th century was an especially wild time in human history, to say the least. In addition to the two world wars, we watched a sexual revolution and the de-Catholicization of Europe. It would seem to make sense that there was some force who has hijacked the socio-political dynamics of the globe and is now actively working against the aims of the body of Christ.
However, just as Cardinal John Henry Newman once famously wrote, “To study history is to cease to be Protestant,” I would add that, “To study history is to cease to be a conspiracy theorist.”
In 64 AD, there was an uber-powerful organization that controlled of the affairs of the known world. There was an emperor who pulled all of the strings. Additionally, he was insane and considered himself a divinity. The shadowy fears referenced by the creators of those ridiculous YouTube videos were incarnated in a man named Nero. Our fledgling church was scapegoated by this world organization, and a persecution was swiftly leveled against Her in Her infancy. The Vicar for Christ, Peter, and Her greatest evangelist, Paul, were killed within a year.
In 64 AD, the Church faced a far more hopeless situation than the one we face now. Henryk Sienkewicz, however, captures the Christian views on the dynamics of history perfectly in his classic novel, Quo Vadis. (author’s note: careful, there are some severely bawdy descriptions of Roman excess. Approach with caution). In the climax of the novel, as Nero devolves into insanity, Peter is led up the Vatican Hill to his famous upside-down crucifixion. As he walks to his martyrdom, a crowd swells in procession behind him. The soldiers are confused by this public show of support for a displaced fisherman from Galilee who claims to follow the Christos. When the fisherman reaches the top of the hill, he turns to Rome, mired in its sinful excesses and made captive by the designs of the all-powerful Nero, and extends his hand in blessing. The message is clear; it is this simple fisherman from Galilee who holds the real power in this new era instituted by Christ.
Guys, the gates of hell will not prevail against her. I cannot state firmly enough how this is the principle of history. This example from the early Church is just one historical example of an epoch which proved equally if not more perilous than our current one.
The Cross is absolute foolishness. It was through the unjust death of His Son that the Father chose to bring health, freedom, and salvation. Note, however, the lack of triumphalism in the life of the Church in history, however. In this vale of tears, we walk the way of Our Lord who followed the way of abnegation all the way to a shameful death on the Cross. However, at the same time, the Church moves from glory to glory. In Him, we are more than conquerors. It is through our very humiliation that our glory will be pronounced and future generations will ring with the joy that is the lifeblood of the Christian.
Just think for a second of how many masses are being said all throughout the world right now. The power of the Resurrected Christ is again being brought to bear in world events each time He steps back into history and onto our altar. In thousands and thousands of places all around the world.
In some way, this instinct toward conspiracy theories is adopted as an answer to the problem of evil and suffering. Again, the early Church faced a similar problem. To account for evil, groups of people began combining Christian teaching with Eastern mystical/philosophical religions to form pseudo-religions which we now categorize under the term Gnosticism. Though it took various forms, the basic push of Gnosticism was a battle between good and evil. The evil forces control the world and the good force wants to liberate mankind from the material world which is a sort of cage for the human spirit.
The worldview constrained by conspiracy theories represents a kind of contemporary Gnosticism. They want us to believe that we are locked in a world which is controlled by evil forces and we need to be liberated from it. But, guys, this isn’t Christian revelation. Good has already won. God isn’t locked in some sort of epic struggle with the devil for control of the world. He took flesh and defeated sin/death/human weakness/anxiety/evil two thousand years ago and we’ve been living in the end times ever since. The final word on evil has already been spoken. Sure, there is an element of an “already-but-not-yet” which Catholic theology always contains, but we certainly can’t forget the “already” part.
Though I don’t believe they are, let’s pretend for a second that some of these conspiracy theories are true. It still doesn’t matter. God still brings good out of every evil and controls the events of history. Even if some evil world organization is attempting to stifle the Church and control world events, they will eventually go the way of Nero. Done-zo. Gone-zo. Papa Francisco, in all of his gloriously Christian humility and self-abnegation, runs this.
In our sinful state, we have difficulty finding confidence even in God’s plan for our own lives let alone the ebb and flow of world affairs. As Catholics, however, we have to see reality through the lens of the Gospel. We have to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Jesus Christ rose, and He lifted even the sinful dynamics of the world onto the Cross with Himself. Don’t forget it.