When is a conspiracy theory not a false witness?

How do you stop it? You tell them the truth.

Quid est veritas?

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Including conspiracy theorists…? :slight_smile:

Well, if finding moral fault is always “a bit suspect”, then so is finding moral fault with conspiracy theorists, which is what you are doing in this thread.

So, what is that “judging” that is forbidden?

Let’s look at the Homily XXIII on Gospel of Matthew by St. John Chrysostom (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf110/npnf110.iii.XXIII.html), where he says: “In this place, then, as it seems at least to me, He doth not simply command us not to judge any of men’s sins, neither doth He simply forbid the doing of such a thing, but to them that are full of innumerable ills, and are trampling upon other men for trifles.”, “And the Corinthians too Paul did not absolutely command not to judge, but not to judge their own superiors, and upon grounds that are not acknowledged; not absolutely to refrain from correcting them that sin.”, “‘What then!’ say you: ‘if one commit fornication, may I not say that fornication is a bad thing, nor at all correct him that is playing the wanton?’ Nay, correct him, but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines. For neither did Christ say, ‘stay not him that is sinning,’ but ‘judge not;’ that is, be not bitter in pronouncing sentence.”.

So, no, by itself you do nothing wrong in saying that conspiracy theories can be a result of rash judgement and pointing to this moral fault.

You do something wrong in being a bit too imprecise and insufficiently cautious.

For if you want to say that making conspiracy theories and believing them is always objectively sinful (and not merely that sometimes that is a sin, in other cases an occasion of sin), you have to be sure to define “conspiracy theory” precisely.

No, merely believing there is a conspiracy is not sufficient. No, merely disagreeing with experts is not sufficient.

Perhaps, for the important features of “conspiracy theory”, it would be a good idea to check what E. Feser wrote about conspiracy theories (https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/01/trouble-with-conspiracy-theories.html or https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/05/epstein-on-conspiracies.html).

Can you give specific examples?

“Conspiracy theory” has become such a wide-ranging term in today’s polarized climate that it’s all but lost its meaning. A conspiracy is simply an agreement between two or more people to commit an unethical act. Such agreements occur daily.

Having a “theory” that they’re occurring isn’t so much an accusation as a suspicion or hypothesis. Some suspicions are far-fetched and “out there,” others are well-founded. But unlike raw cynicism, suspicion in and of itself is not a sin, nor is conveying that suspicion to others.


Yes, absolutely!

If I might elaborate, I have no intention to demean the character of conspiracy theorists, only to point out that what they are doing is against Catholic teaching, when it involves “rash judgement”. Conspiracy theorists are beloved people, just like you and I. They do not intend to do wrong at all, but what they do, at times, is truly wrong.

This is very good. We are not to apply “false witness” to conspiracy theory as a matter of exacting a penalty, defaming the character of such theorists, or any other way of not upholding their dignity. What we are talking about here is correction.

It would depend on the content of the “belief” and what is being spread. When the conspiracy theory ends up accusing individuals or groups and saying “they don’t care about people” or “that expert just wants money” or any other such unverified statement, then that is not merely disagreeing with experts, and it is certainly not doing this:

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.

Suspicion, if expressed without keeping CCC2478 in mind, might be difficult to maintain.

The conformity of the mind to reality, according to St. Thomas.

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Um, what kind of conspiracy theory do you have in mind?

I tried to fit some common conspiracy theories to those “they don’t care about people” or “that expert just wants money”, and none seem to fit… In common conspiracy theories that I have considered CIA, Illuminati, aliens and the like (even Federal Reserve System) do care about the people (in their way) and not merely about the money.

In fact, entities that only care about money and not about ruling people would probably look less sinister and dangerous…

Conspiracy according to its strict definition is always bad or illegal. We should always exercise caution in labeling a conspiracy as it is often confused with another view of the truth.

I think most conspiracy theories do not use the word “conspiracy”, they only imply it. What I am talking about are when individuals or groups are rashly judged as evil or less human in some way, that is, given unproven accounts and accusations that make assumptions about the mindset of the accused.

That the CIA is controlled by the “deep state” that has nefarious motives. That the Federal Reserve is completely self-serving, etc.

You are not making the same statements.

So, it is not really about conspiracy theories as such, but about Republicans (or supporters of Trump) in USA mistrusting Democrats (or opponents of Trump).

And, let me guess, you are not a fan of Trump. :slight_smile:

I have to admit that I did find all that pretty likely given how you described those “conspiracy theories”…

So, let’s investigate further.

It is certainly true that Trump’s supporters talk about something they call “deep state”.

But, um, do they themselves describe it as having “nefarious motives”, or is that your own wording?

That is, did you actually investigate what they write about “deep state”?

Or did you make a decision based on what people who do not like Trump say about views of Trump’s supporters?

As far, as I know, Federal Reserve is partially a group of private enterprises. Given that, isn’t it supposed to be “self-serving” to a significant extent?

That is, um, where’s the conspiracy?

People just doing their jobs is not a conspiracy, and claiming that is not a conspiracy theory.

There are conspiracy theories concerning Federal Reserve System, but they claim that it is trying to take over the world or something.

And, once again, did you read those “conspiracy theories” yourself?

After all, you wrote:

Did you investigate those “conspiracy theories” hearing “from both sides” and “first hand”?

What steps have you taken in your investigation?

Also you wrote:

Who exactly would count as “experts” for things like that? Historians do not, for those are current events.

You have read far too much into my post, I think. I was responding to the poster’s examples.

The title of this thread is “When is a conspiracy theory not a false witness?”. When a person does the investigation you are describing, leaving questions of motive and character open-ended and non-accusational, then it is not false witness, correct?

I’m hearing stuff being repeated that does not include both sides of the story, but chock full of accusation.

There are piles of misinformation out there that go against scientific evidence. Very often the misinformation involves blaming individuals and institutions without getting the whole story.

Historians may or may not have solid evidence for their claims.

Good point & it very well may be, that the group being conspiratorial are those who attack the mindset of individuals & not bother with extensive research to prove or disprove anything.

The simple answer to the question of “when it is or is not a false witness” is only resolved when the theory, not the individual, can be proven or disproven.

I would classify 9/11 “Truthers” , Obama “Birthers” and Flat Earthers as bearing false witness, complete lies that have become continuuing conspiracy theories.

I don’t see conspiracy theories so much as lies, rather a lack of knowledge or stringent perspectives that far to easily dismiss any opposing view without substantial research.

Do you see any difference between suspicion and rash judgment?

I think it would depend on the details of what is happening. For example, if a person merely says, “I suspect that they may have been involved in something criminal” to himself or is doing an investigation, that is certainly not rash judgment, correct?

What do you think is the difference between rash judgment and suspicion? For sure, we can avoid rash judgment by keeping CCC2478 in mind.

A rash judgment lacks any foundation of reasonable evidence for the claim. This is tricky because a conspiracy theorist may claim to have “reasonable evidence” for a flat earth, faked moon landing, staged 9-11, etc. If they sincerely believe in their hearts that they do have said evidence, no matter how weak or ridiculous is sounds, I’m not so sure they’re overtly breaking the ninth Commandment because the malicious intent to bear false witness may not be there. They may have some serious paranoia to deal with or even other mental health issues, but those are considered mitigating factors in considering whether or not (or how severely) one is sinning.

A suspicion may be better founded than a rash judgment. It is not a rash judgment, for example, to say, “My doctor has a lot of swag from Pfizer. I wonder if that’s why she’s so quick to prescribe me Lipitor.” There’s a tendency, especially online, to confuse conspiracy theories with conflicts of interest. This second example is a case of the latter.

This is a very good point, and I think that what we as Catholics can do is simply ask the question, "Do you intend to bear false witness? Because what you are posting does not follow Catholic teaching about false witness, which tells us (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. " “Can you think of a way that we can address the situation you are addressing in a more favorable way?”

And then, if they can’t come up with something, we can provide some possibilities.

When people make statements that are defamatory, CCC 2478 still applies, right? But then, even to accuse someone of trying to defame can be defamatory, so the best approach is to ask questions to try to understand what the person is trying to say. Do you agree?

I have not, I think. :slight_smile:

“The poster” was me, by the way. :slight_smile:

And I gave “standard” examples of conspiracy theories, which, as I pointed out, did not have the features you were talking about.

And you gave two examples that have shown what you were really interested in.

And so we see that, although you think you were talking about conspiracy theories as such, you were really talking about Trump’s supporters mistrusting Trump’s opponents. And it is likely that you care about that and not about the contrary phenomenon (Trump’s opponents mistrusting Trump’s supporters), because, well, you’re a Trump’s opponent yourself.

And the fact that you do not like Trump is confirmed by the fact that you did not disagree with this finding: if you were not, most likely you would have pointed that out.

And people saw apples falling long before Newton. That does not mean all of them seriously investigated falling as such.

Merely “hearing stuff being repeated” is not an investigation.

Investigation would include at least actively looking for some sort of “stuff being repeated”.

And if it is specifically rash judgement you’re suspecting, you generally should try to “interrogate” the “suspect” about the justification he has to offer.

Just like I’m doing now. :slight_smile:

After all, from you I’m also “hearing stuff being repeated that does not include both sides of the story, but chock full of accusation”… :slight_smile:

But it is still possible that you are only giving the conclusion of investigation you have done but have not presented.

Have you considered the same possibility for the people you call “conspiracy theorists”?

So, can we agree that “deep state” is not an example of that specifically?

Let’s concentrate on a single example.

At the moment you seem to have enough trouble with it alone, there is no need for you to make your task even harder.

There’s also the character limit to consider.

Address what situation? Somebody announcing a conspiracy theory?

And you’d like “a more favorable way” than . . . what, exactly?

I really don’t think you can change a lot of these peoples’ minds through debate, but if you say anything, polite and charitable disagreement is the way to go.

If it’s defamatory, yes. I don’t consider pointing out a conflict of interest defamatory.

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