February 19, 2004

Daniel in the Conspirators' Den

Conspiracy theory? What’s that?

It wasn't long ago that conspiracy theory was the exclusive domain of a few rural, hard-right-wing Americans with a shortwave radio or satellite dish. But then TV shows like The X-Files and movies like Conspiracy Theory or Men in Black, or my personal favourite, Arlington Road, came along and propelled these underground ideas right into the mainstream. I'm guessing that the majority of my readers have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald really shot JFK. Probably most have heard claims that debit cards or "smart cards" or some other sort of biometric technology will be part of the new "cashless society" of the Antichrist’s one-world government. And what do you think of when you hear the words "new world order"?

Probably you have connected with at least one of the things on that list. That’s because in the last ten or so years, conspiracy theory and the American ultra-conservative subculture have become mainstream. This is in part due to programs like The X-Files. I think that when Chris Carter created that program, he really touched a nerve. It is also because of the escalation of right-wing domestic terrorism, most notably the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Fin-de-siècle anticipation contributed to this too, as it always does. But within the Christian Church, this has been mainstream thought for much longer. Here’s an example, taken from a video by Grant Jeffrey produced in the mid-90s:

They have already created a new European currency called the ECU - the European Currency Unit. And they have chosen a phenomenally interesting prophetic symbol to put on that currency. Unlike the Canadian dollar that has the picture of the Queen or the American dollar that has the picture of the pyramid, the Europeans have chosen for the symbol on their new European currency, which today is used only by banks and governments but by 1998 will be used by all citizens in Europe instead of the French franc and the Italian lira and the British pound, they’ve chosen the symbol of a naked woman riding a bull with two horns. Those who remember prophecy will remember that in fact John in Revelation prophesied that the Antichrist in his kingdom was represented by a beast with ten horns, representing the ten nations, and another beast with two horns. But then the false apostate church of the last days, an ecumenical world church would come together and would ally itself with this false dictator, the Antichrist. And John in Rev. 17 said I saw this false church symbolized by a harlot, a naked woman riding the beast with the horns. The European Parliament for their second election chose that very symbol of the half-naked woman riding the bull with two horns over the sea as their symbol. My friends, we’re living in amazing times.

The mainstream of Bible prophecy studies is awash in conspiracy theorists, including Jeffrey, Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and Texe Marrs. What they all have in common is that they believe, to some extent, in conspiracy theory, which I define as follows:

Conspiracy theory is a philosophy of history, based on fear, that claims secret alliances of evil men are manipulating world events to create a totalitarian world government.

Nothing ever happens by accident: wars, assassinations, depressions, elections - it’s all been planned in secret by an intellectual or political elite.

It certainly sounds plausible, which accounts for its popularity. And when you hear someone like Jeffrey explain it, it sounds biblical. But is it? Listen to what God told Isaiah:

For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, A confederacy [conspiracy], to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. (Isaiah 8:11-12)

The combined kingdom of Israel and Judah had a total of 13 kings in Micah’s career. It was a time of great uncertainty and instability. No doubt many people felt that events were spinning out of control, or that someone was plotting in secret to bring about Israel’s downfall. The times were not terribly different from our own day in that respect. And yet here is God with a message to one of his people: "Don’t be like these people, living in fear and blaming everything on conspiracies."

I am not trying to tell you that there is no such thing as conspiracy. That would be foolish. Certainly real conspiracies exist. One need only to look back a few years to September 11, 2001 to see the proof of that. But a proper view of conspiracies, a right philosophy of history, has to be informed by the Scriptures.

A Real Conspiracy

One of the most memorable stories in the Scriptures is that of Daniel and the lion’s den in Daniel 6. In this story, a hundred government officials were jealous of Daniel’s favour with King Darius, and so they manipulated the king into writing a law that specifically singled Daniel out. I take this story to be a good model of the biblical view of conspiracies, over and against the conspiracy theory view.

First, it says that real conspiracies are plotted in secret. This goes without saying; after all, the conspirators’ plan would have gone nowhere if they had been open about it! This is really the only thing that real conspiracies and conspiracy theory have in common. Whereas conspiracy theory deals in plots that stay under wraps, seemingly forever, real conspiracies don’t stay secret. At some point the conspirators must "go public." The plot against Daniel depended upon the conspirators making themselves known to the king.

The goal of real conspiracies is generally immediate. Daniel’s enemies wanted him gone now, not years from now. Conspirators want instant gratification. They are not idealists who are working for some sort of "new world order" that might occur centuries or even millennia after the plot is begun!

That brings me to a related point: real conspirators act out of selfishness. Daniel’s rivals were motivated by jealousy. So were Joseph’s brothers when they conspired to sell him into slavery. The Jews who plotted the death of Christ feared for their power. But in conspiracy theory, the conspirators are always driven by some sort of altruistic idealism - they don’t seek their own advantage, but they are supposedly working toward some glorious future that they will likely never see in their lifetimes.

Finally, real conspiracies are often not as successful. The Babylonian officials who hated Daniel didn’t manage to get rid of him. In fact, the king realized that he was being used to destroy his friend and, after God spared Daniel’s life in the lion’s den, Darius used that very punishment to turn the tables on all the conspirators. In conspiracy theory, on the other hand, the grand conspiracy is said to be so successful and so well planned that the lack of evidence for their existence is taken as "proof" of how successful they were! But I am not aware of a single successful conspiracy in the Bible in which the conspirators got away with it completely. If the conspiracy theorists are right, then why does the Bible paint a completely different, even inaccurate, view of things? Obviously, it isn’t the Bible that is wrong.

What is the news behind the news?

The conspiracy theorists have this much right: History is not accidental. It is being worked out behind the scenes - but not by whom they think. Turning again to Daniel, we find Daniel praying in response to another crisis that could have cost him his life, and we read, in Daniel 2:19-21:

Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding. . . .

So it is God, not men, that decides who rules the nations. Even a pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, was forced to acknowledge this in order that God would restore his sanity after taking it away:

I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever,
whose dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation:
And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing:
and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven,
and among the inhabitants of the earth:
and none can stay his hand,
or say unto him, What doest thou? (Dan. 4:34-35)

And this admission, that God does as he pleases, comes from the man who was at one time the most powerful and proud man on earth.

The whole book of Daniel has this one theme that recurs, over and over again: Despite present appearances, God is in control. Here is one more quotation from this book, just to drive the point home:

Seventy weeks are determined
upon thy people and upon thy holy city,
to finish the transgression,
and to make an end of sins,
and to make reconciliation for iniquity,
and to bring in everlasting righteousness,
and to seal up the vision and prophecy,
and to anoint the most Holy. (Dan. 9:24)

Whatever interpretation of the prophecy of seventy weeks you happen to hold (and there are several), this much is undeniable: God’s prophetic pronouncements are not mere predictions. God knows the future, because God has decreed the future - determined what the future will be. The sovereignty of God in history is a recurring theme all the way through the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

So again, by way of contrast: Conspiracy theory claims that it is shadow governments of shadowy men who decide who gets to rule. But the Bible is clear that it is God’s decision. Conspiracy theory claims that these manipulations go on in secret (indeed, that it’s one of the best-kept secrets in history!). But God works in the open. Amos 3:7 says, "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." While the Bible doesn’t tell us everything about God’s plan, we can catch a glimpse of it through the prophets. And all we need to do is skip to the back of the book, and we find out that we win!

And so we come to the second part of our text:

Say ye not, A confederacy,
to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy;
neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself;
and let him be your fear,
and let him be your dread. (Isa. 8:12-13)

We have no need to be afraid of men who have no real control over history. But we should be ` in awe of the awesome God who has determined the path of history from beginning to end.

Summing Up

To sum up the fundamental differences, then, between the conspiratorial and Biblical views of the world:

Conspiracy theory is based on fear of powerful men. Listen to radio programs like Texe Marrs, Alex Jones, and so forth, and you are left with the impression that the next Presidential election is going to be the last, and that whoever gets elected is going to turn the United States into a dictatorship. It’s fear-based: fear of the government, fear of the rich and powerful, fear of the police, whomever.

But the biblical view is based not on fear, but on confidence. 2 Tim. 3:7 says that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Thirteen times in the New Testament, someone is told to "fear not." We need not fear for the future because God cares about us; we know it will work out for the best because Rom. 8:28 tells us that "all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

Conspiracy theory says that conspiracies are the driving force of history. As I said earlier, nothing seems ever to happen by accident. When the plane John F. Kennedy Jr. was piloting crashed, killing him and his passengers, assassination theories started circulating within 24 hours. Apparently important or famous people never have bad luck or make mistakes - especially Kennedies! It’s all masterminded.

But if a grand conspiracy drives history, why is the Bible completely silent about it? No, the Bible puts conspiracies in their proper place: they are an occasional spectacle in history.

Conspiracy theory says that despite Biblical assurances, men, or Satan, are in control. To read or hear some conspiracy theorists, you would think that we were caught in a downward spiral so steep that even God couldn’t pull us out.

But the story of Daniel says differently. Every chapter virtually screams out that despite present appearances, God is in control.

Lastly, our only hope according to the conspirinauts seems to be escape. For some, this seems to mean that God will rescue his people at the last minute via the Rapture, and the best thing we can do is to sit tight and wait, and not try to avoid the inevitable in the meantime. For others, escape means buying provisions and ammunition and heading for the mountains to wait it out.

But both of these attitudes are defeatist. Our real hope is in victory. God wins! 1 John 5:4 says that if we are born of God, our faith shall overcome the world - not be overcome by it.

I’d like to close with two applications. The first of these is a warning, the second an encouragement.

Read the story of Balaam (Num. 22-24) or the book of Ezra. Both of those lessons stress the importance of not being like the world or opposed to God, and that warning applies just as much here as there. If you hear someone argue a view of things that seems to encourage you to fear some man or group of men, or some new law, or some new technology, he is not arguing biblically. He is imitating the world. Those outside of Christ have a good reason to fear; they have no hope. We do not.

For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, A confederacy [conspiracy], to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. (Isaiah 8:11-12)

But you also have to consider the source of these stories. Sadly, many "Christian" conspiracy theories, especially those dealing with money or banking, have their roots in the same sort of anti-Semitic scapegoating that fueled the Holocaust. Christian conspiracy theorists might talk about the "world bankers" or "global elite" instead of "the Jew," but the stories are the same. Hating Jews is the world’s way of thinking, not the Christian’s. "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God," (Rom 12:2).

But here’s the good news. We have no reason to be afraid. Romans 8:28 says that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." We can’t tell the whole future. We don’t know what God has in store for us, whether it will be easy living or trial. But we can be confident of this: Whatever plan God has for the rest of this age, it is for our good. Why be afraid? History will wrap up in the best way possible. Christ wins. Praise God!