“There’s so much conflicting information. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to believe.”
I’ve seen this statement A LOT from people on my various social media channels as we struggle together to get through this time of global pandemic.
I’m sure you have too.
Maybe you’ve even caught yourself feeling or saying it.
If so, you may want to buckle up. This might not be pleasant.
Because I think when people make this statement, they really do know what to believe.
They just don’t want to believe it.
My friend Jonathan Dierdorff and I recently had a conversation on the Accidental Tomatoes Podcast about competing narratives.
Competing narratives come about when the stories one group tells itself come into conflict with the stories another group tells itself.
In biblical terms, it might be described as the difference between seeing the Bible as a once-and-for-all rulebook and seeing it as a library of works of varying genres each with its own specific cultural and historical context.
Each one of those narratives can be gleaned from the text. And while we might disagree about which one is or isn’t correct (or even have a deeper conversation about whether such a dualism even really exists), we can at least look at the content and accept that there is at least a legitimate basis for each perspective.
Societally, we might look at the current conversation around privilege, racism, and systemic white supremacy.
There are competing narratives embedded in that conversation…stories people have inherited from their families or communities of origin that may make it either more or less difficult to recognize the way our economic and political systems and structures are designed to advantage white people and disadvantage Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
So while in the realm of competing narratives there may indeed be a “right” and “wrong” way of interpreting, we can at least see where the various viewpoints come from.
But when it comes to intentionally misinterpreting and misrepresenting factual data, we’re talking about something different altogether.
Let me be specific: while there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding the spread, symptomology, mortality, and especially long-term effects of Covid-19, there are many, many key findings about which the legitimate scientific community broadly agrees.
Which is how science works.
So when you see “conflicting information,” such as accusations that some entity or other is lying about the science (Big Pharma, the media, Democrats/Liberals, etc.), recognize what a stretch of credulity it really is.
Those darn Gnostics
Still, there seem to be a lot of us that want to believe those conspiracy theories are true.
And the reason they want to believe them is that those theories support a particular broader narrative with which people desire to identify.
Or, perhaps more insidiously, they support a desire for attention, acknowledgement, or affirmation that often lies at the root of a tendency to believe and spread such ideas.
In the first couple hundred years of Christianity, a group arose that were known as Gnostics. Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, or knowing) held, among other things, that materiality was essentially evil, that Jesus was a spirit being in human form, and that it was only by special spiritual knowledge (gnosis) that rejected the still-growing orthodoxy of the time that salvation could occur.
In other words, Gnostics were basically first- and second-century conspiracy theorists.
They sought to believe in a narrative that advantaged them over against others.
It was one of the first heresies identified by the early church.
It’s not that hard
Look, I know these are confusing times. None of us has ever lived through anything like this before.
And I get that sometimes it is hard to sort out the good information from the bad amidst all the voices claiming authority.
But frankly, it’s not all that hard to differentiate the voices who have everyone’s best interests at heart versus the attention-seeking, disinformation-spreading ones.
And while the more cynical among us might claim not to trust anyone or anything, the reality of life is that we make choices every day about what and who we do and don’t trust. We know not to stick forks in light sockets or wade barefoot in a snake den.
So again, I submit that we do know what information to believe.
There is a good and growing body of scientific data available, and there are good people doing their best to get the very best possible information into the world to help us make the best possible policy and personal decisions to get us through this thing.
If you choose to believe crackpot conspiracy theories over sound science, that’s not on the competing narratives.
It’s on you.
A closing word from the prophet
For people trying to follow the way of Jesus, some clarity may come from the prophet Micah, who spoke out to the corrupt leaders of Jerusalem prior to the southern kingdom of Judah’s exile to Babylon:
He has told you, humanity, what is good,Micah 6:8 (Tree of Life Version)
and what Adonai is seeking from you:
Only to practice justice, to love mercy,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God.
Practice justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
Do those things, and the apparent conflicts will clear up pretty quickly.