Archive for October, 2014


DeceptionAheadThere seems to be a fair number of Christians who are hooked on conspiracy theories. The secret government plot behind 9/11. The Jesuit conspiracy to pervert modern Bible translations. The mass mind control techniques being used by pop stars in their concerts and music videos. A multitude of excellent blogs have already been written on this subject. Like this one, for example, that analyzes why conspiracy theories don’t hold up to careful scrutiny in the light of history (it’s actually a two-part series). Or this one, which is an impassioned appeal from a fellow young pastor to stop focusing on fearful speculation and instead focus on Jesus. Or this one, which emphasizes that our job as Christians is to shine light into the darkness, not to delve into the darkness trying to ferret out all its secrets. I highly recommend reading all of these pieces; they’re not that long. It will take less time to read these blogs than it will to research a new conspiracy theory.

This is a somewhat dangerous subject to blog on. Some people may be defensive about it. Also, I may risk repeating what someone else has already said more eloquently. But I humbly undertake this risk to highlight a very grave end-time threat that I see in conspiracy theories.

End-Time Deception

Remember the warning Jesus gave to His disciples: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). Jesus was talking about the events that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and also the final events that will precede the second coming. His disciples certainly saw this fulfilled in their day. Numerous false teachers and false messiahs arose and led many Jews astray. Not only that, they led people into rebellion against the Roman authorities, and thus to their deaths.

The deception in the last days will be even more deadly. Satan, the enemy of God and His people, will try to lead people astray from God’s truth and thus to their eternal destruction. In Revelation we find that Satan (the dragon) works through earthly powers (the beasts) to deceive the whole world (Rev. 13:14). Everyone who does not follow God ends up following the beast—and the beast ends up in the lake of fire (Rev. 13:8; 19:20). Clearly it is extremely important to be aware of the last-day deception and to avoid it.

And actually, that’s the reason why some Christians are so interested in conspiracy theories. Uncovering the enemy’s schemes is a way to defend ourselves against them. It gives us confidence that we will not be deceived. If we know what the deception is, we won’t fall for it!

Truth, Deception, and the Elect of God

But notice again what Jesus warned: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” Jesus didn’t say that only the unenlightened “sheeple” of the world would be at risk. He specifically warned that the elect, those who know and follow the truth, would be deceived if it were possible. In other words, the deception will be so overwhelming that even godly people are at risk of falling for it.

How can this be? Deception is, by definition, tricking people into believing something is true when it really isn’t. If you knew that you were being deceived, you wouldn’t be deceived! That’s redundant, but I’m trying to make a point: In order for the elect to be at risk of being deceived, the deception must come in a form that they are likely to believe.

Let me give a couple examples of things that would not deceive the elect. If a crude and profane rapper boasts of being like God, you’re not going to think he’s spiritually uplifting and start listening to his music. If a popular movie tells a well-known Bible story, but conveys a very different version of the story than what’s actually in the Bible, you’re not going to fall for it. These are not things that seem true to the elect.

But you know what might seem true to the elect?  The idea that there is a small, secretive group of people behind popular movies and music who are trying to brainwash the general population and control their minds. The reason that seems true is because there is an element of truth to it. Ultimately Satan is working behind the scenes to deceive people, and he will use any means available to promote error, even music and movies. But is he working through a secretive cabal of world leaders who are bent on coalescing the reprogrammed masses into a New World Order? That’s what some conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Despite a lack of tangible evidence, they pull together tantalizing clues to weave a tangled web of associations to support their theory. And some Christians believe it’s all true.

The Danger of Conspiracy Theories

If the last-day deception will come in a form that the elect are likely to believe, then conspiracy theories are a good example of how that deception will work. I’m not saying that conspiracy theories are the last-day deception, only that they work on similar principles, and they could potentially lead to last-day deception.

One of the most disturbing aspects of conspiracy theories is that even when they are based on demonstrably false information, Christians will still believe the overall theory because the conclusion fits with their worldview. It seems that the specific details don’t matter if they like the big picture. It’s the opposite of missing the forest for the trees; they can’t see that the trees are fake because they’re too busy admiring the picture-perfect landscape. An example of this is the conspiracy theory that the translators of the NIV intentionally removed verses from the Bible in order to undermine vital theological truths, like the deity of Christ. Walter Veith, a prominent conspiracy theorist in the Adventist church, makes the outlandish claim that “up to 60,000” words have been removed from the NIV. The New Testament has about 180,000 words. One could easily compare the NIV with the KJV and quickly confirm that the NIV is not, in fact, missing the equivalent of one-third of the New Testament.

Another claim Veith makes is that all references to Jesus as Lord have been removed from the NIV. That’s a serious charge, and if true would be a grave threat to the very foundation of Christianity. But even a cursory examination of the New Testament will prove this to be false. There are plenty of references in the NIV to Jesus being Lord. It took me a few seconds of searching my computer Bible program to locate one of the most obvious: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

My purpose here is not to belittle Walter Veith. Many people say he is a wonderful man, and I’ve heard that his work on creation is outstanding. However, the conspiracy theories he promotes are not only fallacious, but spiritually dangerous. If a theory is based on numerous “facts” that can easily be disproved, it’s not much of a theory. And if this theory claims to give people spiritual enlightenment but is based on myths and rumors, those who believe it are at risk of actually going deeper into darkness. Why should we trust the conclusion to be true if the premise is false?

But many people do trust the conclusion, and this is why I believe that conspiracy theories are so dangerous. They seem to cause us to momentarily turn off the critical reasoning powers of our brains and believe that something is true when it isn’t. Maybe we want to believe it because it makes us feel like we’ve outwitted the devil. We know there will be deceptions in the last days. Is it that far-fetched to imagine that Satan might try to deceive people with a faulty Bible translation? No, not really. But if such a deception were a reality, we should be able to establish it by verified evidence and sound reasoning instead of demonstrably false claims and preposterous leaps of logic.

Loving the Truth

The apostle Paul wrote: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2, emphasis supplied). The way to promote the truth is—are you ready for this—to simply tell the truth. I know, what a novel concept! But sadly it has become a novel concept for many people. They have become so caught up in the twisted world of conspiracy theories that they can no longer discern truth from fiction. Some of these people could have been described as the elect at one time. They are deeply religious people who love God’s truth and are zealous to defend it. But somehow they got off track. They followed the siren song of conspiracy theories, and little by little it has led them away from the safety and security found in God’s Word toward a dangerous combination of speculation, deceit, and rumor-mongering.

If we can’t tell truth from fiction when it comes to conspiracy theories, how will we be able to discern the last great deception that will threaten even the elect? Will we actually be among the elect if we don’t cultivate a love for the truth? Paul warns that the last-day deception ends in destruction specifically because those who are deceived refuse to love the truth and so be saved (1 Thess. 2:9-12). In other words, they become deceived through their own choice; they choose error instead of truth. It’s especially important to cultivate a love for the truth now, while it is relatively easy to distinguish truth from error. If instead we are cultivating a love of conspiracy theories that are based even partially on error, we are placing ourselves in serious jeopardy of falling for the last-day deception.

Truth is not merely a set of facts. It is not a collection of special, secret knowledge that only those with insight into the inner workings of the devil’s schemes are privileged to understand. Such a view is actually unbiblical. It is a new form of an ancient heresy called gnosticism (my friend David Hamstra calls it “occult epistemology”). The Bible teaches that truth is a Person. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If we want to be a part of God’s elect people who avoid the end-time deception, then we need to stay close to Jesus. Spend more time getting to know Him, and less time researching conspiracy theories. I promise you there is infinitely more value in being with Jesus than in trying to discern the next great deception. If you know the Truth, then you won’t fall for the deception.

So here’s my challenge to you. The next time you encounter a conspiracy theory and are tempted to follow it down the rabbit hole, stop and pray. Then pick up your Bible and read the promises of Jesus: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27, 28). No one can deceive you if  you are following Jesus. Listen to His voice, not to speculative and untrustworthy conspiracy theories. Let Jesus worry about thwarting the devil’s deceptions. Make sure you know and are following the truth, and you will be eternally safe.

 

 

Matthew With Kieran

Matthew Shallenberger pastors in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. He and his wife have two little boys and two hyper dogs. Matthew believes that tin foil is best used for cooking purposes, not hat-making.




The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference or the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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Hand on LaptopThis is a blog I originally posted on Facebook on August 27, 2012. This is a lead-in to a new blog I’ll be writing soon. Hope you enjoy!

Everyone loves a good story. People have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. Not all stories are true. Of course, some weren’t meant to be and everyone knows it. However, in other cases people don’t know a story isn’t true and they pass it along as if it were. This is one of the chief ways rumors get started. In the internet age, rumors and urban legends spread faster than chickenpox at a daycare. All it takes is a few seconds on Facebook, and someone can start a rumor that eventually millions of people will hear.

With the incredible volume of information that is passed around the internet, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which stories are true and which ones are phony baloney. Some people (I happen to be one of them) are natural skeptics and are suspicious of almost everything they hear or read, especially when it comes via the internet. The old saying, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see,” has never been truer than in the internet age.

To help further the cause of truth, here’s a helpful little guide for testing the veracity of stories that you read on the internet, whether they pop up in your email inbox, your Facebook news feed, or somewhere else.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This rule applies to many things in life—credit card offers, sweepstakes winnings, weight loss pills, etc. If the events in a story seem just a bit too fortuitous, or if the story leads perfectly into a pithy punch line, then your baloney detector should be sounding the alarm. Granted, an amazing story isn’t guaranteed to be false, because amazing things really do happen in this crazy life. But more often than not, if it’s hard to believe, it’s because you shouldn’t believe it.

If it’s typed in all caps, it automatically loses credibility.

I don’t know why, but it seems that quite a few made-up stories come in all caps. Maybe the person who first started passing around the tall tale thought that putting it in all caps would help boost its credibility. You know, kind of like adding “This is a true story!” to the end of a story that most definitely isn’t true. Whatever the case (no pun intended), be suspicious of email or Facebook stories typed in all caps. Chances are they did not come from a reliable or authoritative source. Also, typing in all caps is considered very poor netiquette (internet etiquette, for the uninitiated). It’s like shouting. Do you believe people more when they shout at you? Likewise, be on the alert when people shout at you in all caps.

If it involves donations for every “Like,” “Share,” or “Forward,” it’s almost certainly bogus.

There are voluminous numbers of these going around. Usually they follow a form that goes something like this: “Poor little Jimmy (usually an adorable baby or small child) has cancer and will die without treatment. Facebook has promised to donate $1 to his medical care for every like/share this picture/post gets.” I’m not sure how these things started. It might be something as simple (and disgusting) as a very needy netizen who desperately wanted more Facebook likes, so she made up a story that would prey on people’s emotions and sent it out into the webosphere. A few seconds of critical thinking should help you determine why these posts are bogus. First, Facebook is going to limit their donations to a dying child based on how many likes a picture gets? That’s twisted. Talk about bad PR! But it’s not even a picture that Facebook has posted. It’s someone else’s picture. Why would they donate money because someone’s random picture gets likes? Why wouldn’t they try to raise the funds through a more official forum, say, a Facebook announcement sent directly to your inbox, accompanied by a press release, and so on? I could go on, but I think you get the point. This is one of the most obvious fakes, and I am continually amazed that people fall for it. Look, I realize that these posts are accompanied by a real tearjerker of a story. That’s why they work. But just remember to use your critical thinking skills and not only your emotions, and you’ll have all the tools you need to sniff out the baloney.

If it doesn’t cite a source, it’s probably made up.

Every now and again I see Facebook posts and email forwards where wild claims are made without any substantiation whatsoever. Often these are politically-oriented posts, with accusations directed at certain politicians or political parties (e.g., “Mitt Romney said he was too important to go to Vietnam!”). Or it might be a clever quote, speech, or letter attributed to some well-known person (e.g., “General David Petraeus calls out President Obama!”). But if there is no source included, be suspicious that the information you’re reading might not be reliable. If this is a legitimate story, why not include the source from which it came?

If it does cite a source but doesn’t include specific information or a link, it’s probably made up.

Of course, just because it does include a source doesn’t mean it’s true. Sometimes the source is vague; other times it’s misattributed (e.g., the story might claim to come from a New York Times article, but lacks specific information about the date and page number). Also, in this day and age, where almost everything is on the internet, it’s very poor form not to include an internet link, so if there’s no link be at least a little skeptical of the source. Of course, if you have reason to doubt, you can do the research yourself…

If you think a story is suspicious, Google it.

One thing that really bothers me about bogus internet stories is how quickly people pass them along without taking a few minutes to verify the story. If you’re going to share something with the world through Facebook, email, or any other venue, take responsibility and make sure you’re sharing truth and not lies. Yes, I know; re-sharing internet stories is incredibly easy, and when the story you’ve just read really hits a nerve it’s oh so tempting to just hit that “Share” button and let everyone know how you feel. But please, for the sake of your friends, and the sake of the truth, become a fact-checker. Google is a great place to start; you can find information on pretty much anything in a matter of seconds with a simple internet search. For dealing specifically with fact-checking, sites like snopes.com and urbanlegends.about.com are indispensible tools. For fact-checking political statements, factcheck.org and politifact.com are great resources. Don’t become both a victim and a vendor of internet urban legends just because you were too lazy to fact check.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid starting place if you want to be a good internet skeptic (and everyone should be an internet skeptic). Share your own tips for improving your baloney detector in the comments. And remember: before you share a lie, verify.

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Here are a couple of outstanding blogs along similar lines that some friends of mine have written. Enjoy!

Bruno Mars’ Masonic Baby Haircut and 5 Ways to STOP Misinformation on the Internet

ALS Challenge and the Age of Aquarius