Culture Friday – Conspiracy theories and civil disobedience


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday the 15th of May, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have all been cracking down on content they define as COVID misinformation.

In some cases, that has meant things like removing videos that claim Bill Gates manufactured the virus so he can profit from a vaccine and insert microchips into the public.

But it has also included deleting posts more aligned with traditional ideas about free speech. Like YouTube removing a video of two urgent care doctors arguing for an end to shutdowns. 

Or Facebook removing information about protests and rallies against stay-at-home orders. Here’s Mark Zuckerberg defending this practice on Good Morning America.

ZUCKERBERG: We do classify that as harmful misinformation and we take that down at the same time.

BASHAM: It’s Culture Friday and time to welcome John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Good morning!

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning.

BASHAM: So John, I think part of the difficulty here is that we’ve seen similar suppression from the tech giants before. Especially on subjects like gender, sexuality, or abortion. I’d like to quote from a Breakpoint article by Shane Morris. Maybe you’ve heard of that guy?

STONESTREET: Yeah, I’m not admitting anything.

BASHAM: Well, Shane says, “Our increasing distrust of ‘official stories’ and established knowledge is in some ways an understandable response to a cultural and political elite who have turned their backs on us.”

Piggybacking on that we had a WORLD reader, Douglas Hageman, write in that based on recent experience, “temperate skepticism of the mainstream narrative is always a healthy thing.”

And, I mean, along with some of the kookier stuff getting passed around, there have been stories that seem to bring up some legitimate questions about the accuracy of infection and death rate models. 

I’m old enough to remember when the idea that the virus could have come out of a Wuhan lab was roundly dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Before it was later considered a real possibility

So I guess the question is, for the Christian, where does healthy doubt end and conspiracy theorizing begin?

STONESTREET: Yeah, this is a really hard question because we’re doing it already in the context of misinformation and worldview laden information that passes as neutrality. And this has obviously been going on a long time. 

I mean, it’d be a lot easier to trust Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and some of these social media giants in their attempt to weed out bad information if they hadn’t already proven their tendency to weed out conservative thought or religious thought as opposed to others, if they hadn’t already jumped onboard. 

And we’ve got a whole culture, though, that is reflective of kind of the new idol of scientism. If you read through the Old Testament, you see this repeated phrase, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” And now we’ve replaced it with thus sayeth science. And science then actually makes these kind of defining claims—or, we’re told that science makes these defining, truthful claims. The science is settled, we say, and scientists say, and the majority of scientists and the scientific consensus says. 

This is all a way of kind of establishing authority when in reality we don’t know what we’re doing. None of us. We don’t know what we’re doing. Governors don’t know what they’re doing. Scientists don’t know what they’re dealing with. Medical professionals are making it up as they go. And they’ve done pretty well, actually, across the board. 

But let’s just admit a little humility and not pretend that the “experts” are infallible and that we somehow know more than the experts because we have a Facebook page where we found that secret video. It’s foolish.

Now, of course, for Christians, which was your question, we should be wiser than that. By the way, the other thing we have going on is we have scientific and medical experts now making blanket policy decisions. And then you have in particular I think media outlets so oftentimes christening the words and the suggestions of certain people as long as it supports a given narrative. There has to be, I think, an understanding of historical context that we’re not doing this in a vacuum and there needs to be a little bit of humility about what we’re dealing with, and those are probably two good places to start.

BROWN: So while Twitter, Facebook, Google, and YouTube have largely aligned with governing powers, one tech titan has rediscovered Silicon Valley’s rebel roots.

Elon Musk filed a lawsuit claiming Alameda County was violating his due process and equal protection rights when they prevented him from reopening his Tesla plant. 

Musk has called the lockdowns “fascist.” And he says the county is acting “contrary to the governor, the president, our constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!” 

Then on Tuesday, he reopened Tesla in defiance of shelter-in-place orders, daring local officials to come arrest him on the assembly line with his workers.

BASHAM: While Musk may be the biggest, he’s by no means the only business owner who’s giving civil disobedience a chance. Shelley Luther became something of a new American folk hero when she defied local orders and reopened her hair salon in Dallas.

So John, I’ll be honest, I tend to admire Musk a little bit, though I don’t know if that’s my most orthodox instinct. Basically he called the county’s bluff and forced them to back down. So did Shelley Luther.

And I ask myself, isn’t this also part of the process of federalism, that kind of making it up as we go as you mentioned? Musk, Luther, and others argue that unequal standards are being applied and officials are unfairly picking winners and losers. They’re willing to pay fines and face jail to bring about change.

I’m thinking too about the Protestant doctrine of the “lesser magistrate.” Citizens rein in petty tyranny by resisting it. On that front, we’re also starting to see sheriffs and other local authorities refusing to enforce various lockdown orders.

But on the flip side, first we have to discern when authorities are being unjust. And of course we have that Biblical standard of submitting to authority. 

So John, what are your thoughts on Musk’s show of civil disobedience?

STONESTREET: Well, I mean, I appreciate what he’s trying to do and tend to like it, recognizing that he oftentimes is coming from a sort of scientistic, trans-humanist view that I just kind of condemned. But in this sense of, I think, trying to answer the challenge that we’re all facing which are two things—regulations that seem unwise, that seem inconsistent, and then also that tend to change and apply differently from one group to another. And that’s, I think, the real challenge. And, again, I’m not going to be one that says that the government is picking winners and losers intentionally, but in many cases are they picking winners and losers? Sure. I mean, here in Colorado, the winners are the pot shops and the losers are the churches. And so what does that look like going forward? These are, again, uncharted territory. 

I will say, though, that we need to be willing to disobey when the time is right. But knowing when the time is right is different than immediately jumping on and drawing a lot of attention to yourself. And I think what’s missing there is the good bit of wisdom that we see in the first chapter of Daniel when Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abendigo are given two alternatives, neither of which they find acceptable. And so rather than make a big deal about it, they quietly—instead of embarrassing the person in charge or embarrassing the person who works for the person in charge, they come up with a third alternative and a set of conditions and so on and so on and so on and then trust the Lord. And I think there’s probably not near enough right now third alternatives being invented, and I think that what we’ll see is just like in the 2008 recession and what we saw in the Great Depression and what we’ve seen in other points throughout history, certainly in the corporate space, those who invent and innovate rather than make a lot of noise are the ones that tend to come out on top. I think we also see that throughout the history of the church is that there’s a good bit of innovation that is possible in front of us, and I think we need to double down on that side of things maybe more than the heated rhetoric.

BROWN: John, just a quick follow-up here, and this might be comparing apples to oranges, but when I think of civil disobedience, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Any parallels that you can see?

STONESTREET: Well, I think that one of the big parallels is the intended injustice and the maliciousness towards people of color in the United States, particularly African Americans, was certain and sure and I think impugning the motives of government officials for being either anti-American, anti-freedom, anti-Christian is more than what we know. And I think what we have in this case is much more either somewhere between mistakes and even foolishness than we have animosity and bigotry. And so I think going in up front with that is probably a good distinction to make.

BROWN: Well John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks for being with us.

STONESTREET: Thanks so much.


(AP Photo/Gerry Broome) People march in downtown to protest stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 during a ReOpen NC rally in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Culture Friday – Conspiracy theories and civil disobedience

  1. 2Tired says:

    I thought it was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that he preferred, not simply Dr?

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