When is a conspiracy theory not a false witness?

Accusations of malicious intent seem to fly all over the world these days. We do have established authorities in the world, authorities that are relied on by the Magisterium. We have the Magisterium itself expressing what it discerns as the truth, what comes from the Spirit.

Yet, many Catholics seem to think that it is just fine to repeat accusations against individuals or groups of people (including institutions) without hearing both sides of the story.

“Those people don’t care about humanity” “Those people are in it because of greed” “That person only cares about his popularity” “That nation is evil”. What do such accusations have to do with the Christian call to first understand and forgive?

When people spread accusations without knowing everything from both sides, first hand, isn’t it simply bearing false witness?

What does spreading conspiracy theories have to do with “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you?”


It wouldn’t be bearing false witness unless they knew they were lying. Some people are just misinformed about certain things and mistakenly repeat falsehoods. How do you stop it? I have no idea.

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But what if it involves saying something defamatory about a person or group? If you look at the accusations I listed, they all involve judgments of character. A lie is still a lie whether I know it is a lie or not. If a person cannot say something factual to back up an accusation, then they are acting as a witness, but still lying, which is still false witness.

It is incumbent upon the individual to speak the truth, especially when it involves defamatory remarks about some person or group’s character. This, to me, is where bearing false witness has its most damaging effect.

For starters, Christians need to take on the yoke of fraternal correction, I think. Spreading defamatory remarks about any person or group’s character without intimate knowledge of a person or group’s motives or reasons for statements or actions is immoral; it is false witness, is it not?

I’m sorry I couldn’t give a better answer. I’m not saying what you’re describing is Christ like. I just remember reading ignorance can reduce the culpability of a sin.

We shouldn’t speculate on what’s going on in someone’s heart, but we can call out actions as being evil, no? We’re obligated. For example, abortion is an evil act. Looting and rioting, killing and beating up people in wheelchairs are evil acts. If a group condones those things, it’s pretty easy to conclude that that group is evil, as well. But, you’re right, saying all the individuals within that group are evil is beyond what we could possibly know. We don’t know if they’re misled, under spiritual attack, etc. But calling out the evil of the group is the very definition of ‘fraternal correction’, isn’t it? Doesn’t ‘correction’ mean pointing out something is wrong?


I agree! But we can know that all people have a dignity that is to be valued, that should be our first position. And then, to give people the benefit of the doubt is also Church teaching.

Yes, we are definitely on the same page here!

Yes, to call a group “evil” means that we would have to know what is going on in their hearts, as you stated above. So without knowing this, any characterization other than that of human dignity is defamatory, and false witness, correct? We don’t know what is going on in the hearts of people who do evil. People think they are doing what is best.

We can’t call a person “evil”, or even a group “evil”, unless we know what is going on in their hearts.

Another good point.

Exactly. And what I am saying is that it is time to call out false witness. There are so many people spreading stuff on the internet and elsewhere that are defamatory without knowing what is going on in the hearts of people being defamed.

It’s false witness.

Now, I am not saying that people who bear false witness are “evil” in some way, they are also doing something they think is good. I am saying it is time to call out conspiracy theories when they defame people or groups of people, or when they simply relay falsehoods.

Nor can we assume that all of their accusations are false. Wouldn’t that also be bearing false witness? I agree, charity in everything, but if a group supports doing evil things and does evil things, we have to call it out. I know there’s a lot of name-calling going on from both sides of the fence. I know there are extremists on both sides of the fence. Just like Letter 7 of the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, either extreme can be useful to the enemy. We all need to pray, fast, and defend the Faith with as much charity as we can muster. Thank God there’s Confession for when we fail.

I’m saying that we should assume them to be false without knowing the whole story. In addition, most if not all of the conspiracy theories out there have plenty of experts saying why the theories are incorrect. We can stay in a state of neutrality in terms of what happened, that is the moral approach. But in terms of people’s character, we are always to assume that people have dignity, not to be subject to slander.

I agree, but there is an enormous difference between saying “what they are saying is wrong” and “those people are evil”. There is an enormous difference between saying “those people do evil” and “those people don’t care about humanity”. Do you follow me here?


Yeah. I made that distinction in my earlier comment. Saying a group is evil isn’t the same as saying all the individuals in the group are evil. What’s your take on the KKK? Is that an evil group? Or what about ISIS? The Nazis? We can’t legitimately say those are evil groups? Are we really expected to stay in a state of neutrality…never forming an opinion on how a group or individuals behave? That’d be neutrality. Watching an unborn baby being ripped apart limb from limb…we’re to remain neutral, having no stance, feeling no emotion? See what I mean?

Doesnt that go both ways? Is it not also a mischaracterization to call a person “good?” The later can even be worse, as it invite others to follow what may be bad example.

We don’t judge hearts, but actions and fruits thereoff.


Actually, no. God created all things good, and Catholic theology characterizes all creation as good, and evil has no existence. A “bad person”, for example, was carefully defined by Aquinas as a person of “bad will”, but the person himself is not bad.

Yes, our conscience compels us to judge, and when we can limit that to actions, that involves a discipline to see human dignity, to forgive.

I think the better question is “when isn’t it?”

I’ve spend my fair share on the dark web. It’s all manner of conspiracy theories and stuff probably most people shouldn’t see. ironically though once you’ve seen it a lot of things you do see begin to make more sense. Actions once done in half in front of you and half in Shadow take on more consistency as a societal whole.

Ironically the conspiracy theories, and I say that loosely, that are true are so insidious it’s so simple they stand in the light of day unchallenged.

Things like bored room meetings about how a product isn’t perfectly safe but we can generate more revenue before having to issue a recall. How many lawsuit against them would pale in comparison to the amount of money that they rake in. Constant disregard for scientific fact made by lobbying companies to our government seating Senators for $2,000 lunches to get their way.

Government mailing Anthrax to its own citizens to Goose the rage in the war on terror.

Creating stumbling blocks in bureaucracy just to prevent low-income individuals from even applying the vote.

Things you see all around you on an average day and doesn’t even register as the conspiracy. Most insidious kinds the ones you just shrug and accept because there’s nothing you can do.

Um, the term you are looking for seems to be “rash judgment”.

And the definition is slightly different. Catechism 2477: “He becomes guilty: - of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;”, Catechism 2478: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:”.

Yes, believing “conspiracy theories” or making them can be rash judgment.

But the threshold seems to be higher than the one you propose.

Change “assume them to be false” to “not assume them to be true” and “without knowing the whole story” to “without knowing enough”, and that will be right.

In some cases one can suspend judgment.

Um, who exactly says things like that…?

Maybe they are merely imprecise?

That is, are you sure you are not showing rash judgment about other people showing rash judgment…? :slight_smile:


You make a good point, though it comes as bitter medicine. In the modern age, people tend to get a lot of information and most of it is bad; this can leave people cynical and deter them from trusting others.

I’ve been trying not to assume the worst of people in online conversations; when someone’s very rude to me sometimes I’ll try to think “maybe he’s just having a bad day/needs time to cool off” instead of “he’s a bad human being”. I haven’t applied this to news about famous people as often though because they seem farther away and less “real” to me, but I think I’ll try to.

Thank you.

The problem here is that the Gospel forbids judging others, so even finding “moral fault” is a bit suspect, correct?

And people who spread conspiracy theories already believe they have “sufficient foundation”. The thing is, once we know enough, all judgment disappears.

Yes, thank you.

Once we know enough, all judgment of others is suspended. We may not trust a person, but that is not the same as judging them.

This is excellent. There are always favorable ways of interpreting some one or some group’s thoughts, words, and deeds.

Also, don’t forget that a lot of the things on the internet that “come to you” in the form of pop up ads and recommmended reads and videos are based on algorithms of things you looked up or clicked onto in the past.

So, there is an echo chamber effect.

And outrageous headlines elicit more clicks than mundane and boring headlines.

Speaking of echo chambers!!!

Do you know how to alert CAF about your post having my name on it? Do you see it before yours?

Contact a moderator maybe (I’m sorry I’m not real techie)

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To see if I understand what the OP is referring to, here is a post that a fellow Catholic and Acolyte on a social medial platform.

It is unconscionable of a Catholic to support a candidate, platform or policy that demands the destruction of unborn human LIFE!

Being that no candidate, party or platform demand the destruction of human life, this clearly is not true and should be called out as basically a lie, since the premise is wrong from the start.

Does this fall under bearing false witness? Not certain since it doesn’t name a person individually, but since I know the poster, I can infer what who he is posting this against.

Transparency is the key, to be open & honest about the formulation of opinion regardless of the view, there is always multiple sides to every story.

Media has an attitude to report on what they see is correct, however if transparency is not there, then they will formulate their own opinion. I have heard journalist suggest that if we are not open enough to research a particular opinion, stance or idea, then what choice do they have, other than to make up their own.

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