I know, the title is a bit of a mouthfull, but I did not find any shorter, or more striking headline for my post.

What is the difference between religion and conspiracy theories?

Recently I have run into a number of wild and even wilder conspiracy theories. As I have previously stated, their lure lies in, that the world is actually full of conspiracies. Big and small conspiracies are made by actual people to achieve a goal. “Conspiracy theories” however, are not conspiracies. They are the products of paranoid imagination. Attempts to guess what is behind this, or that complex phenomenon. They are most often precisely nothing but, wild guesses and poor methodology at trying to examine the reality.

Many of the wildest conspiracy theories are motivated by the need people have for safety. For example the people who claim, that there actually are no nuclear weapons, or the people who claim that there is no global warming going on. Both of these groups of people have chosen to live in denial of an unnerving fact, so they do not need to fear, or do anything against a threat in front of wich they feel totally powerless. The denial springs forth from the fact that they have no means to evaluate wether the phenomenon in question is a fact, or not. (Even though they think they can.) The view on the matter is chosen intuitively by being motivated by fear and all the subsequent argumentation and attempts at rationalization are only put forth to support this presupposed position.

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There are also those conspiracy theories, like the flat earth theory, or the moon landing denialism, to wich it is a bit more difficult to point out some pre-existing motivation. A nother reason why they are so popular is that they seem to provide explanation. Simply because of various reasons the theorist has come to suspect what has been told to them, they jump to a seemingly convinient alternative explanation. We humans are curious animals who want answers. Knowing about things is also a method to provide us with a sense of security. Because knowing gives us an edge to prepare ourselves. We fear nothing like we fear the unknown. Especially so, if the basic sense of security has been shaken. Wich it often is, if the person in question has poor methodology to evaluate reality. If they have been originally indoctrinated to simply rely on authority, and then it is revealed to them, that not all auhtorities are reliable, what then? What is clear, is that the people who have such misunderstanding of the reality around them, is that they have a very limited ability to evaluate the anything beyond their immidiate grasp. I see this mainly as a failure of the school system. In that the schools have traditionally taught kids what is true and what is not, much more vigorously, than how to find out what really is true and how to make the distinction.

There are of course various reasons why people believe what they do. If someone believes in the holocaust denialism, their motivations to fall for this trap are most likely political, but such political views come from a pre-existing misunderstanding of the world and history. Not to mention the methods of how history is studied, or how we know – really anything. Political views are a result of values we hold, but most people do seem to have a certain set of values because they have inherited a set of values from family and surrounding culture. Not so much since they have analytically evaluated various sets of values and chosen one by virtue of the kind of world that one tries to sell them. Even of those few who have, some have fallen for a trap of world views that sell their particular group of people some form of priviledge, instead of a world where we would all share and be equal. Most often people are taught, that such priviledges belong to them by mere birthright. Being born with a certain colour of skin, certain nationality, certain economic class and so forth. In the wide world any such group can hold on to this sort of priviledge for a while, but because it is based on nothing real, such structures are under constant change. Conservatism seems to come from the need to keep to the particular priviledge of the current generation.

How do religions differ from conspiracy “theories”? Religions are the result of ignorant people trying to guess and explain reality around them with poor methodology. You could claim, that this applies to all the other religions, exept yours, but then you should be able to explain how yours is different in this respect. Can you?

Religions often give us the guessed end result first, not unlike conspiracy “theories” and they seem to provide an explanation to the unexplained, unexplainable and the univestigated. From the history of religions we do know, however, that when we have a better explanation than the guess that there was some supernatural causation behind some extraordinary event, the supernatural explanation loses it’s significance. The question is why should we pay any attention to any supernatural explanation, because not one of them has ever been verified on any even remotely reliable level? The reason why people do this, is naturally the cultural tradition behind such a behaviour model, but it is only a part of the actual problem, wich is that people do not even know how to evaluate the truth of things beyond their immidieate grasp.

The most widespread conspiracy “theory” is creationism. Or if you please, Intelligent Design. The latter refers to a seemingly sciency version of superstitious belief, wich people mostly believe, because it supports their pre-existing belief in a divine and benevolent designer parent character. To cope with their fear of dying, wich has been extended from it’s natural form to elaborate measure by fairytales, that are virtually empty threats of eternal punishment they feel they need this parent figure, as if they were not adults at all. Do you see how the motivation for this belief is not so different from the climate change denialism, or nuclear weapons denialism? In fact, many of the people who belive one of these things also believe the other. They have the same very limited skills of evaluating reality and facing reality.

Religious beliefs like conspiracy “theories” often also come from our base values. The things we value, have been taught to value, and as such concentrate to a world view and eventually politics. Politics affect other people and the rest of the ecosystem. In my many encounters with religious people I have learned, that they are sadly often not unlike the conspiracy theorist, statistically illiterate, ignorant of history, physics, biology, geography, cosmology, and without the means, or even will to find out about the truth. They both, the conspiracy theorist and the Theist, have decided about the “truth” in their own subjective mind and are not even interrested about any objective investigation. Any “investigation” only exists for them to provide confirmation bias.

Are there no differences between conspiracy “theories” and religions? Yes there are. For example religions are by far more authoritarinistic, than the conspiracy theorists in general. The conspiracy theorist wants to reveal the truth hidden by the authoritities, while the religious person believes in some specific authority blindly and teaches the next generation, that this blind faith is a virtue. The conspiracy “theories” rather rarely include any supernatural explanation, but at least try to explain the complex reality within the limitations of observable, material reality of the universe. In that sense the average conspiracy theorist does not leap as far away from what could be verified to wild guesses about what can never be verified. It is just that their ability to investigate the reality is impeded.

There is one more major difference between religions and conspiracy “theories”. It is that because of our cultural history, religions are such a widespread cultural sets of beliefs, that no matter what science, be it about physics, biology, history, sociology, or any other field of study says, religions may not be mocked, are not mocked, as the average tin foil hattery even though in a sense they are even more removed from reality by appealing to unnatural causation.

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