“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” – President John F. Kennedy
One of the great things about being a parent is that sooner or later your kids start asking the right questions – the ones you’re hoping they will ask, but don’t actually want to lead them to. I was incredibly lucky when I was a kid because my own dad would answer any question I asked him as honestly as he possibly could, and because he was (and still is) a big book nerd he usually knew a great deal about anything I asked.
The first time this happened with my own daughter happened about two years ago, while she was in third grade at a Catholic private school. She became increasingly agitated with the doctrine and rituals (especially mass), and on the way home one day she asked me if the stories she was being told from The Bible are really true stories. The answer, of course, is that no, most of the stories in the The Bible are not true stories, but rather allegories that have been passed down for thousands of years to reveal how people of old have struggled with many of the same questions that we struggle with to this day. They are often didactic, but not necessarily true. Many of those who claim otherwise know they are not being truthful, and some would suggest religion is a form of conspiracy theory. A strong case is many by the makers of the Zeitgeist film series, as seen in this compelling clip.
Of course, the question of religion in general and Christianity in particular is a question of perspective. We have four accounts of the life of Jesus in the New Testament, three of which correspond and one of which is like a story about different guy by the same name. Remember that game on Sesame Street? Three of these things belong together, three of these things are kind of the same? Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of a man who was trying to get across to his followers that they were missing the point. Heaven is not a supernatural place you go after you die, Heaven is a condition which can be created on Earth if we love each other and turn away from anger, judgment and hate. This teaching is not the least bit unique to Jesus, he was just the latest to have the revelation, perhaps as the result of studying Buddhism, which teaches the same lessons nearly word-for-word and came 500 years before Jesus was born. Muhammed taught the same things, Judaism is quite similar (and Jesus was a Jew) and Jedi Master Yoda teaches the very same things to both Anakin and Luke Skywalker. We know how to create Heaven on Earth, we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to do it.
I would argue that believing in the story of a man being born as a god, getting executed and rising from the dead (a myth which is hardly unique to Jesus of Nazareth) as factual history is a conspiracy, but not a conspiracy theory. The story isn’t provably true, but many choose to believe it anyway. As for my daughter, I will do my best to let her come to her own conclusions until she starts asking those higher level questions again.
A similar situation occurred more recently, when the subject of the JFK assassination came up in my daughter’s fifth grade social studies class. She asked me whether or not I believed that “that guy” killed President Kennedy. “You mean Lee Harvey Oswald?” I asked. “Yes, that guy,” she answered, smiling. As it happened, we were about to have a two-week Fall Break, and …you know … we live in Dallas. We chose one of the days and I showed her the courtroom scene from Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK,” starring Kevin Costner and an all-star cast of others. Then I took her down to Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum, let her explore the historic spots, from the grassy knoll to the infamous window on the sixth floor and at the end of her investigation I asked her. She came to the following conclusions:
- Lee Harvey Oswald could not have been shooting at JFK from the sixth floor when he was seen in the second floor break room immediately before and after the shooting.
- It took more than three shots to cause all of the damage done to people and vehicles on that fateful day.
- It’s kind of strange that most of the eye witnesses were killed shortly after the assassination – especially Oswald and Jack Ruby.
One of the best ways to know for sure that there was a conspiracy to kill JFK and that Lee Harvey Oswald was, indeed, a patsy, is the ongoing coverup by our own federal government. President Donald Trump pledged to release all of the documents being hidden from the American people, but it turned out he wasn’t able to do so. He delayed the release until October 26, 2021, but last Friday the White House issued the following memorandum:
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has had a significant impact” on the National Archives and on assorted agencies and departments seeking to keep archivists from releasing some of their files, the memo reads. “Making these decisions is a matter that requires a professional, scholarly, and orderly process; not decisions or releases made in haste.”
Let’s just be honest. If the Warren Commission really found conclusive evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK and that he acted alone, there would be no need to lock files away and to continue to delay the release of the government’s files on the subject. The JFK assassination was not a conspiracy “theory,” it was simply a conspiracy. A fifth grader can figure it out with just a couple of hours’ study. Mine certainly did!
The third conspiracy is one that I have had a harder time moving past. People have been claiming to have seen alien lifeforms or even to have been abducted by aliens for many years, and I have always chalked it up to drug abuse, mental disabilities, or simple charlatanism. There is, a strong case to be made that Earth is the only planet in the multiverse which has humanoid lifeforms. Take a few minutes and consider this Ted Talk:
It’s really thought-provoking, isn’t it? I don’t necessarily agree with Webb’s conclusion that humans are the only life in the multiverse, but I do find famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s take on the subject to be more in line with what I currently believe about this issue:
All of those Navy pilots who took to the talk show circuits over the summer to talk about those strange flying objects they encountered gave me pause. Objects that move in ways human technology can’t move (that we know of) and vanish into the uncharted depths of the Atlantic Ocean certainly lend themselves to the UFO mythology. Does that make them lifeforms from other planets? Conspiracy theorists say “YES!” I need to see more evidence. The first thing that comes to my mind is the Chinese, who are lightyears ahead of us technologically. It’s really easy for me to believe they have developed some kind of spy probe that taunts our Navy pilots and confuses our radar readings. It’s harder for me to believe they are alien craft playing peek-a-boo while they drop into the ocean to talk to the humpbacked whales. What we cannot deny is that there are, indeed, UFO’s flying around the Earth’s airspace. That’s no conspiracy theory. Could it be a conspiracy on the part of another country to spy on the US? There’s a theory for you.
Have a favorite conspiracy theory? Post it in the comments below and let’s explore it!