Here’s an interesting take, from a global perspective, on conspiracy theories.
Please pardon the profanity, but I believe the most interesting statement in this article is that “there’s a huge temptation among people to believe there is a master plan, because otherwise the suggestion is we’re interdependent and the world is chaotic — and that’s a mindfuck.”
In America, there are a very large number of fundamentalist Christians—people who believe that the Bible should be taken literally and that a savage (but somehow, at the same time loving) God personally orchestrates every little thing that happens on earth—from who lives or dies in the aftermath of an earthquake to who wins the Super Bowl. (No one’s ever satisfactorily explained to me how supporters of two teams can both deluge the heavens with their prayers, but one side or the other always loses.)
Surely it’s very comforting to think that nothing happens by accident and that everything we ever need to know can be found between the pages of a single book. But it’s also irresponsible. That kind of magical thinking separates reason from belief and makes people prone to believe pretty much anything. (In fact, it’s a tenet of many fundamentalist sects that God deliberately lays traps for reasonable people; a Ph.D. candidate in paleontology, of all things, once told me that God planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith.)
Of course it’s easier to believe—especially if you hang out with a group of like-minded individuals—than to think. Thinking is hard work. But there’s a lot of truth in the old adage, “God helps those who help themselves.” If you believe that everything happens for a reason, then we have brains for a reason. I submit that there is no God in his (or her) heaven playing a cruel game of cat-and-mouse in which reality is never what it seems and truth is encoded in an enigmatic and self-contradictory tome to which only a privileged elect have the key. (And oh, how pleasurable it must be to see oneself as one of the elect.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging either religion or Christianity—just fundamentalism, which essentially means blind adherence to a pre-packaged doctrine or set of beliefs. Nor do I think that everyone who attends church is prone to slavish, mindless obedience or blind faith. But the fact that religious beliefs are so often disconnected from reason and reality is one good reason to be adamant about ensuring the separation of church and state.
The intrusion of fundamentalism into the national discourse has caused a great deal of mischief, especially in recent years. The notion that “everyone’s entitled to their beliefs”—right or wrong, rational or just plain loony—is dangerous in a nation in which the beliefs and attitudes of the people continually influence and shape the government. I’m not at all sure that people are “entitled” to be wrong—especially when that wrongness is not the result of a mistake but rather of a stubborn, emotional adherence to beliefs that contradict reality on the basis of reasonable evidence. (Of course I'm speaking here about moral, not legal, entitlement.)
It takes open-mindedness to accept the fact that we are—increasingly—interdependent, both nationally and globally. It takes courage to concede that the world, if not exactly chaotic, is full of situations in which we may have to suspend judgment and struggle long and hard to find the truth.
Those are two things America could use more of—open-mindedness and the courage to tolerate uncertainty.