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We illuminate conspiracy rumormongering by viewing it through the lens of Christian psychology. We propose that at the core of the anxiety and anger characteristic of much conspiracist discourse is a fundamentally unbiblical existential understanding of God leading to unbelieving responses to uncertainty and vulnerability stemming from human finitude. One fallen response to uncertainty is fearful rumoring (anxious perseverant participation in rumor activity); we contrast this with trustful waiting on the Lord. One fallen response to vulnerability is defensive rumoring (hate-filled rumors that de-humanize and vilify the “other”); we contrast this with enemy loving. These contrasting responses flow from rival theological narratives about God’s character. The anxious and angry embrace of conspiracy theories—regardless of their truth or falsity—may belie a practical personal theology of God as distant, vengeful, or untrustworthy. Participants in such rumor discourse may effectively be confessing a de facto creed “Trust no-one . . . not even God.” Nicholas DiFonzo is associate professor of psychology at Roberts Wesleyan University. Jeffrey S. Black is professor of psychology at Cairn University.
The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript from Eric L. Johnson and J. Richard Middleton. An earlier version of this paper was presented on March 23, 2019, at the Annual Meeting of the Christian Association of Psychological Studies in Dallas, Texas.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)1

“Fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred” may indeed be an apt description of our present age of ubiquitous anxious and angry Internet-fueled conspiracy discourse. Replace “a story of filthy atrocities in the paper” with “a conspiracy theory about the covert and malevolent activities of powerful secret groups on social media,” and the parable is eerily prescient. It offers insight into how the eager participation in conspiracy rumor dissemination and discussion—marked by alarm and outrage—may become addictively alluring and spiritually harmful, even if those stories turn out to be true. And it hints at the link between the stories we believe about our enemies, and the narratives we embrace about God.

In this article, we approach conspiracy rumor hubbub from a Christian psychological perspective. We argue that the anxious and angry participation in conspiracy theory discourse—even were such theories to be proven true—constitute two “off-the-mark” responses (namely, fearful-anxious and defensive- hateful rumor) to uncertainty and vulnerability, and that these responses flow from a distorted existential understanding of God as bad (i.e., untrustworthy, tyrannical, distant, condemning). Conversely, we also explore two “on-the-mark” responses (namely, trustful waiting and enemy loving) to uncertainty and vulnerability that flow from a biblical existential understanding of God as good (i.e., trustworthy, loving, near, generous).

Approaching Conspiracy Rumors through Christian Psychology Lenses

Modernist psychology defines conspiracy theories (or, conspiracy rumors/stories)2 as unverified information in circulation that are “. . . characterized by stories about the covert and malevolent activities of powerful and secretive groups.”3 Conspiracy theories draw on “exclusionary narratives, which are stories about how the powerful oppress the weak.”4 They are ubiquitous. Many pertain to politics (e.g., Trump [or Obama] colluded with the russians to subvert the 2016 United States presidential election; an elite “Deep State” manipulates United States politics), world/economic events (e.g., the Illuminati controls world events and the economy), race (e.g., AIDS is a Western government plot to exterminate Africans; elites conspire to replace white people with immigrants), religion (e.g., the West is waging a secret war against Islam), disease (e.g., the United States created COVID-19 for biological warfare; the pharmaceutical industry covers up evidence that vaccines cause autism), and history (e.g., the Holocaust and the moon landings were faked; the Priory of Sion suppresses the truth about Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene). Conspiracy theories have garnered much recent research attention in light of polarized politics, post-modern sensibilities, and a “post-truth” culture.5 A conspiracy theory (as with any rumor) may turn out to be true, such as the government conspiracy under President Richard M. Nixon to infiltrate Democrat National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel. However, “That’s a conspiracy theory!” is nearly always intended to assert that a statement is patently false—and even ludicrous.

Modernist psychologists have discovered many valuable and interesting insights about conspiracy theories,6 but—as with all modernist psychologies—naturalistic assumptions permeate these insights.7 A Christian psychology lens can bring into focus features of conspiracy rumors that would otherwise remain blurred. This lens allows us to consider how conspiracist discourse easily becomes a fallen response to aspects of human finitude—namely, the experience of uncertainty and vulnerability—and to examine the experiential (i.e., the lived out) theological narratives from which conspiracy theories can derive their personal meaning.

Before exploring these themes, we address two preliminary goals. We first clarify our approach by distinguishing Christian psychology from other approaches with a high view of Scripture. Then we define “conspiracy rumor” within a Christian psychology worldview.

Christian Psychology

Christian Psychology8 first conceptualizes any aspect of human psychology within a biblical ideological surround, then guided authoritatively by that surround, adds to this conception from other sources, including ancient Christian thought and modern secular psychology.9 Other approaches give a high place to biblical texts and are indeed Christian but differ in where the project starts and stops. For example, Strong Integration10 starts with psychology texts, then integrates biblical texts. Biblical Counseling11 starts with biblical texts but also stops there. Christian Psychology starts with biblical texts to form the foundational categories and contours of our understanding of any human psychology domain, then guided authoritatively by biblical texts, it incorporates other texts; these include, on the one hand, a rich library of Christian history, philosophy, and doctrine, and on the other hand the voluminous writings of modern psychology. The aim is to build “. . . uniquely Christian models of psychology from within a framework of Christian thought.”12 Christian psychology is thus a “. . . Christian understanding of many of the topics that the psychologies of the ancient and modern worlds have addressed.”13

Defining Conspiracy Rumors

Christian psychology recently reconceptualized an understanding of rumor using a frame sensitive to the epistemological, theological, metaphysical, and human volitional worldview elements resonating within a biblical ideological surround.14 Extending this reconceptualization, we define conspiracy rumors as shared information and stories that are seen as unsubstantiated, embedded within theological narratives, spiritually dimensioned, embraced or rejected, and about the covert and malevolent activities of powerful and secretive groups.

This paper explores the “theological narratives” element of this definition, but it is important to first set our exploration within a larger Christian understanding of conspiracy discourse, and to bring attention to the worldview assumptions used in that understanding. Further, for anyone desiring discernment (and certainly for the Christian), each element prompts practical questions for self-examination as we navigate through the choppy sea of conspiracy stories we encounter. We therefore briefly unpack each definitional element here and, in passing, raise questions prompted by that element.

First, contrary to the modernist epistemological empiricism that evidence speaks for itself, the clause, “seen as unsubstantiated,” draws attention to the role played by community hermeneutics where some (and not other) communities designate some (and not other) conspiracy stories as “unsupported by evidence.” Though a Christian epistemology would deny that all interpretations of available evidence are valid, an awareness of the reality of social epistemics and community echo-chambers should infuse both conspiracy theorists and their detractors with a degree of intellectual humility and caution. The Bible places a high value on evidence, and advocates that we carefully, soberly, fairly, and charitably evaluate evidence and testimony when encountering any story, conspiracist or otherwise.15 The questions raised by this element that are most related to this paper include: To what extent has this story been shaped and extremized by my Internet community echo-chamber? To what extent have we virtuously (i.e., carefully, soberly, fairly, and charitably) evaluated the evidence?16 Conversely, to what extent have we exhibited epistemological vice (e.g., gullibility, cynicism, prejudice, intellectual pride, negligence, idleness, cowardice, conformity, carelessness)?17 To what extent has our thinking been marred by an inflated distrust of “officialdom” (characteristic of some conspiracy believing discourses)18 or a kneejerk dismissal of unofficial sources (characteristic of some conspiracy bashing discourses)?19

Second, contrary to naturalism, this reconstruction attends to theological meaning. Stating that conspiracy rumors are “embedded within theological narratives” situates them within larger stories about God and his relations with humans. We situate them in this way because all knowledge stands in relation to him. In this paper we especially explore this feature.

Third, contrary to materialist cosmology, “spiritually-dimensioned” recognizes that the spiritual realms are in conflict and may potentially use conspiracy discourse in a strategic manner or as spiritual propaganda. It suggests that we should attend to the telos of a discourse; to what extent might this communication be intended to serve—or to frustrate—the aims of God’s kingdom? Might it be intended to confuse, distract, inspire fear, or point fingers? The aims of God’s kingdom most related to this paper pertain to the extent to which conspiracy rumors affect dependency upon God and attitudes toward others. For example, we should beware when a conspiracy theory distorts an accurate appreciation of evidence, distracts from an awareness of God’s providence, encourages us to see people through their group identity rather than as image-bearers, or “blames life’s troubles on a damnable group.”20 Propaganda rumors are routinely used in warfare and conflict (earthly and spiritual); we would be unwise to consider conspiracy stories apart from their potential spiritual aim.

Fourth, contrary to the assumption of determinism, “embraced or rejected” asserts a non-deterministic view of persons; hearers of conspiracy stories exercise real choice in receiving it into their minds and hearts, or in turning it away. The choice is likely moderated by a number of factors, including plausibility narratives, social identity, repetition, the presence/absence of a refutation,21 and intellectual virtues; nonetheless real volition is exercised. This element suggests the questions: To what extent is my attitudinal posture characterized by clinging (especially to a thinly-supported story), or refusal to consider (especially a well-supported report of injustice or persecution)?

The final element in our definition of conspiracy stories is their characteristic thematic content, already described: exclusionary narratives about secret powerful groups oppressing the vulnerable.

The elements of our definition constitute aspects of a synergistic whole that we think expresses Christian psychological insight about much conspiracy rumor discourse. Thinly supported but communally popular exclusionary narratives that, true or false, tempt us to judge without due diligence, tempt us to worry as though God were absent, and cast blame for life’s disappointments as though Jesus had never commanded love for enemies—such narratives are just the sort of tempting propaganda that Screwtape would advise Wormwood to whisper into “the Patient’s” ear in hopes that the story would be willingly embraced.22


In the context of this holistic picture of conspiracy rumors, we now focus on the role of theological narratives in giving conspiracy rumors their meaning. An overview of our argument is depicted in table 1. We contend that the anxious and angry participation in conspiracy theory discourse—even were such theories true—constitute two “off-the-mark” responses (namely, fearful-anxious and defensive-hateful rumor) to human uncertainty and vulnerability inherent in human finitude, and that these responses flow from a distorted existential understanding of God as bad. Conversely, we also contend that two “on-the- mark” responses to uncertainty and vulnerability (namely, trustful waiting and enemy loving) flow from a biblical existential understanding of God as good.

It is important from the outset to distinguish belief in conspiracy stories from anxious and angry participation in conspiracy discourse; in this paper we are concerned with the latter. Modernist social scientific work in this field has primarily fixated on belief as the phenomenon of interest, consistent with a modernist focus on individualism and thinking. Questions about conspiracy theories have been framed, “Why do individuals believe such improbable tales?” In contrast, Christian psychology points toward a holistic embodied-sensing-thinking-feeling-acting-living that is communal in nature and relational with God and others.23 This translates to our larger task: We want to understand conspiracy rumors within the context of our communion with God and community with others. Approaching the matter in this way leads to all manner of interesting questions, and, in the Spirit, gives us cause for sober self-examination.24 In this paper, we will focus on the questions: “How might participation in conspiracy discourse reflect one’s response to uncertainty and vulnerability which were intended to lead to dependency on a good God, and how does that response flow from our experiential understanding of God?

Human ExperienceResponses rooted in the “God is good” narrativeResponses rooted in the “God is bad” narrative
UncertaintyTrustful waitingFearful rumor
VulnerabilityEnemy lovingHateful rumor
Table 1. Responses to Human Conditions Rooted in Rival Theological Narratives.

Uncertainty and Vulnerability

We begin with two highly relevant aspects of human experience: uncertainty and vulnerability, both of which stem from human finitude.

Uncertainty is “the state or condition in which something (e.g., the probability of a particular outcome) is not accurately or precisely known.”25 This type of uncertainty is epistemic in that it refers to absent, ambiguous, or incomplete knowledge about what something means or what will happen in the future.26 We experience uncertainty because of human finitude, which is “the condition of being subject to limitations.”27 God made us finite creatures at the Creation—before sin and the Fall—intending that we live in dependence on him and on one another.28 We experience uncertainty because we are not omniscient. In addition, we experience uncertainty because God keeps some knowledge hidden. When the disciples asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom of Israel, he responded: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”29 This is another aspect of our finitude. Humans are bounded by time, waiting for events to unfold. Scripture assumes uncertainty as a fact of life, urges us to live in that reality, and to not presume otherwise: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1). Recognizing our uncertainty, we are designed to live in a continually contingent “. . . if the Lord is willing . . . ” (1 Corinthians 4:19; James 4:15) mindset. Thus, our ever-present reality is a state of uncertainty.

Vulnerability is the state in which we are “exposed to the possibility of be- ing attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”30 As with uncertainty, we experience vulnerability because of human finitude, specifically because we possess limited power and our life is transient and frail; “. . . we are dust” (Psalm 141:7), “. . . like grass” (1 Peter 1:24), and will perish (Ecclesiastes 3:20). We are vulnerable to physical harm and death, to emotional hurt, and to damaged reputation, social standing, and dignity. The apostle Paul lists the many ways that his life and reputation had been threatened: he had been imprisoned, flogged, exposed to death, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked, and in danger from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, Gentiles, and from false believers (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). We are vulnerable when our strongly cherished values and beliefs are attacked and disrespected. We are vulnerable in that we share in the suffering and death of those with whom we share community: “. . . any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”31 Scripture assumes vulnerability as a fact of life, and urges us not to fear: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened” (1 Peter 3:14). The threatened person is urged to entrust themselves to God’s purposes: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19). Thus, our ever-present reality is a state of vulnerability.

In sum, because of finitude we are in a state of uncertainty (not knowing) and a state of vulnerability (susceptible to harm). We will argue that rival responses to uncertainty and to vulnerability flow from rival theological narratives.

Rival Theological Narratives

Rival theological narratives are stories that convey competing messages about God’s character. Is he good—holy, trustworthy, kind, beneficent, generous, forgiving, compassionate, and near; or bad—unholy, untrustworthy, mean, malevolent, stinting, condemning, vindictive, cold, and distant? In him do we find shalom (wholeness, peace, well-being, fulfillment) or curse (wretchedness, angst, distortion, discontent)? Does he free us or enslave us? God’s goodness is the central question posed to us.

“God Is Good”

The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy).32

A “God is good” narrative is a story that conveys the message of a holy and just God’s loving goodness—his trustworthiness, kindness, beneficence, forbearance, generosity, sharing, tenderheartedness, nearness, care, friendship, and freeing sacrificial love.

The “God is good” narrative was set forth from the beginning: God is good and fundamentally views people as friends. The Scriptures tell a grand metanarrative of God’s goodness in Creation, Fall, redemption, and restoration,33 and within this narrative arc are a host of subplots that also reveal his goodness. It begins with God providing a good creation (“it was very good,” Genesis 1:31), good food (“trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food,” 2:9), good work (“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” 1:28), and good community (“It is not good for the man to be alone,” 2:18). It continues with God covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness (3:21), marking Cain for protection (4:15), blessing all people through Israel (12:3), and blessing through the word (Psalm 119:105). It is evident in the story of a God who humbled himself by incarnation (Philippians 2:6–8) and crucifixion (romans 8:1). God’s goodness is evident in Christ’s promise to be “with us” (Matthew 28:20) and send us a comforting Counselor (John 14:26). It can be seen in God’s working good in us (Philippians 2:13), in working through our suffering (romans 8:28), and in the coming restoration (revelation 22:1–5). It is evident in God’s unstoppable love for us (romans 12:28).

Jesus’ God narrative is a story whose central theme is God’s goodness expressed as compassionate fatherhood: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Jesus tells the story of a generous God: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Jesus tells us of a good God with a giving nature: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). Superimposed over all of these stories, the Gospels narrate the greatest story ever told, the drama of a good God’s sacrificial love for humans: “For God so loved the world . . . ” (John 3:16). 

From these revealed narratives, propositions about the intended message have been abstracted in the form of Christian doctrine and teaching about God’s goodness. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good.”34 He is “abundant in goodness and truth.”35 Martin Luther wrote that God’s has made himself known as “good,” that is, “kind, desiring our welfare,” as seen in Psalm 145:9 “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that he has made.”36 Puritan writer Stephen Charnock penned “The goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures.”37 Evangelist A. W. Tozer’s meditations on God’s good character and good will toward humans are movingly summarized in the quote above.

What is the relevance of the goodness of God for participation in conspiracy discourse? To foreshadow our exploration below, one aspect of God’s goodness is that the beneficent God has the whole world in his hands. That is, all things are under his control and he is working out his plan for our good. If this is so, then we can trustfully wait in the face of any uncertainty. Another relevant aspect is that the good God loves his enemies. If God loves his enemies, then as his children we ought also to love our enemies in the face of any vulnerability

“God Is Bad”

“Why does God hate me?” — frequently Googled question.
“Because he is a monster.” — a common Google response to that question.38

A “God is bad” narrative is a story that conveys the message of an unholy and unjust God’s oppressive “badness”—his untrustworthiness, meanness, malevolence, vindictiveness, stinginess, cold-heartedness, remoteness, negligence, enmity, and tyrannical narcissism.

The “God is bad” narrative was first propagandized (on earth) in Eden: God is bad and fundamentally views humans as pawns. Satan promoted the counter-narrative that God is unreasonable (“You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Genesis 3:1, italics added), untrustworthy (“You will not certainly die,” 3:4), and oppressive (“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God . . . ” 3:5). Swallowing the fruit was also swallowing the narrative of a vindictive and condemning God from which Adam and Eve must now hide their nakedness (“I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 3:10). The negative narrative continued with the Israelites’ fear, grumbling, and rewriting of history. Shortly after witnessing firsthand many powerful signs of God’s love and protection resulting in their stunning exodus from slavery, they believed a story in which God would not provide for them: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3). And when about to enter the Promised Land they believed a story in which God would not protect them: “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.” (Numbers 14:2–3).

The bad-God narrative embraced by many persons is a story that God is a hard and oppressive master; Jesus narratively critiques this account in the parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25:14–30; see also Luke 19:11–27). A man going on a journey entrusted five, two, and one bag of gold to three servants; whereas the first two servants invested and gained even more, the one entrusted with one bag dug a hole and hid his master’s money. When asked why, the servant replied, “Master . . . I knew you were a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.” (Matthew 25:24–25). In Jesus’ story, the man holding this version of the “God is bad” narrative is revealed as wicked and lazy (25:26). Matthew Henry’s commentary vividly contrasts the competing narratives:

[God asks] Whom have I defrauded? or whom have I oppressed? Does not all the world know the contrary, that he is so far from being a hard master, that the earth is full of his goodness, so far from reaping where he sowed not, that he sows a great deal where he reaps nothing?39

Bad-God narratives convey abstracted propositions about God’s character that Christian teaching considers lies. One abstracted lie pertinent to this article is: “God has lost control of everything.40 That is, God is powerless to stop evil, has abdicated his throne, doesn’t care, or is otherwise distant. As we shall see, this narrative affects how we respond to uncertainty, for if God has lost control, then we should fear in the face of uncertainty (and it makes sense to engage in fearful rumoring). Another pertinent abstracted lie is: “God is mean and vindictive.”41 That is, God hates his enemies and pays back their offenses in kind. This Karmic theological narrative is evident in James and John’s question to Jesus after a Samaritan village did not welcome him: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54)42 As we shall see, this narrative affects how we respond to perceived offenses, for if God hates his enemies, then we should hate our enemies in the face of threats (and it makes sense to engage in hateful rumoring).

Existential Understandings of God

It is important to note that a person’s theological narrative may express itself in ways that are explicit (i.e., conscious, logically understood, or plainly expressed) or implicit (i.e., unconscious, inferred, not clearly formulated, or de facto). Narratives are explicitly manifested by what people directly say they believe about God. For example, the conspiracy theory that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while the roman guards slept is explicitly rooted in a theological narrative that rejects Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:11–15). Such manifestations are unsurprising; this is a person’s intellectual understanding of God. More germane to this article, narratives implicitly manifest what a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors indirectly imply about what they believe about God. In other words, the person thinks, feels, and acts as if a narrative is true, regardless of what they say about the narrative’s truth. This is a person’s existential understanding of God.

The idea of implicit manifestations of a theological narrative accord with the notion that one’s theology touches upon all of life, including anything about how we make sense of or manage threats. Everyone has a theology (whether or not they realize it) that is evidenced de facto by life choices and habitual thoughts and emotions; in short, by what they worship.43 A person’s existential “heart knowledge” understanding of God may differ markedly from their “head knowledge” intellectual understanding.44 For example, a person may have an or thodox intellectual belief about God as good and in control of all things, yet live in such a way (e.g., anxious rumor participation) that indicates a non-orthodox view that God is not in control. Or they may believe in a God that forgives his enemies, yet live in such a way (e.g., angry and vindictive rumor participation) that indicates a non-orthodox view that God is punishing and vengeful. An implicit theological narrative may counter a person’s explicit beliefs about God. Implicit manifestations are, therefore, sometimes surprising to us.

Fearful Rumoring vs. Trustful Waiting

We have thus far described two human conditions (uncertainty and vulnerability) and two rival narratives (God is good vs. bad). Within this framework, we can now describe how humans respond to uncertainty and vulnerability. That is, we show how responses characterized by trustful waiting and enemy blessing are implicitly driven by the “God is good” narrative. Conversely, we cast fearful and defensive conspiracy rumor participation as responses implicitly driven by the “God is bad” narrative. We first explore narrative-driven responses to uncertainty by contrasting fearful rumoring vs. trustful waiting.

Fearful Rumor Activity

A long line of psychological research on rumor has proposed that when a situation is ambiguous (i.e., can be interpreted in various ways, is “cognitively unclear,” its meaning is opaque), people find this aversive and attempt to “fill in the gaps” with rumor speculation as a way of coping actively (by preparing for bad outcomes) or emotionally (by understanding bad outcomes).45 Active engagement in rumor activity is often primarily an attempt to reduce uncertainty and anxiety. General rumor transmission has been moderately correlated with a sense of uncertainty (average effect-size r = .19) and strongly correlated with feelings of anxiety (r = .48).46 Objects of fear are often embedded in the rumor itself; Fear rumors (or bogie rumors) express common anxieties and dreaded events.47 Belief in conspiracy rumors, in particular, has been correlated with anxiety,48 uncertainty,49 and stress, that is, feelings that one’s life situations are “unpredictable, uncontrolled and overloaded”.50 Conspiracy rumors also are ways of bearing with uncertainty, anxiety, and a sense of powerlessness by explaining a wide range of events perceived as distressing, chaotic, and unfair.51

But why is uncertainty aversive? Christian psychology would say it is only aversive when coupled with a “God is bad” narrative. That is, it is unpleasant when the meaning of the ambiguity is interpreted as: “This can’t be good!” This interpretation is rooted in a ruptured relationship with God: “Broken communion ‘problematizes’ human incompleteness, and we are confronted with our limits, the limits of human finitude.”52 In contrast, ambiguous situations interpreted with the presupposition that “It’s ok, things will turn out for the best” would be less aversive. Indeed, a person in the grip of the optimistic presupposition that a benign authority controls all things might even experience uncertainty with pleasant anticipation. “At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it.”53 Interpretation moderates how uncertainty is experienced. For example, in a drastic layoff situation, anxious employees tended to spread negative rumors about management more actively when they distrusted, compared to trusted, management.54 These ideas highlight the hermeneutical role of distrust.


Belief in conspiracy theories has been associated with distrust. Indeed, distrust of any official institution is the hallmark of belief in conspiracy theories. Distrust can be thought of here as a belief that those in power intend bad things. Belief in conspiracy rumors has been correlated with fear in the form of paranoia, a psychological state riddled with anxiety arising from unfounded beliefs that bad outcomes toward oneself are intended. Belief in a variety of different conspiracy theories was correlated with the trait of suspiciousness as measured by the Personal Inventory for DSM-5,55 though this finding has varied across studies.56 Belief in conspiracy theories that the government created AIDS was associated with mistrust in the government.57 More generally, belief in conspiracy theories was correlated with a sense of anomie, distrust, and powerlessness.58

Dovetailing these ideas is research connecting conspiracist thinking with perceptions that those in authority are immoral. Perceptions of immoral authority predicted belief in conspiracy theories, especially in individuals with a high need for structure59 (i.e., a simple understanding of complex realities). For example, the relation between conspiracy rumor belief that the Bush administration was involved in orchestrating the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the perceived immorality of the Bush administration was moderated by a need for structure.60 In another investigation, perceived immorality of a powerful group (e.g., oil companies, government) interacted with feelings of uncertainty (e.g., brought about by being asked to think of being uncertain) to predict belief in conspiracy theory (e.g., that oil companies started the war with Iraq, that the government orchestrated an opposition leader car crash).61

Narrative-Driven Responses to Uncertainty

Fearful-anxious conspiracy rumoring is an “off-the-mark” (i.e., sinful) response to uncertainty that is implicitly rooted in a “God is bad” narrative. It fits well with: “I am alone in this oppressive world. God is absent or doesn’t care. Trust no one.” In contrast, trustful waiting is an “on-the-mark” response to uncertainty implicitly rooted in the “God is good” narrative. It fits well with the following: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 5:26). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5–6). The phrase “trustful surrender” exhibits this posture, as in Saint-Jure’s classic Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence.62 God ordains all events and means them for our good. We can therefore respond with an underlying attitude of rest. Waiting is not intolerable.

The following section explores narrative-driven responses to vulnerability by contrasting hateful rumoring vs. enemy loving.

Hateful Rumoring vs. Enemy Loving

During the Obama years, a Christian man shared that, not only was the President a secret Muslim, but he was also working with billionaire George Soros to destabilize the American economy as part of a secret Muslim conspiracy to take over the United States. On the then-salient refugee question (which concerned receptivity to receiving Islamic refugees fleeing from ISIS), the man stated, “I don’t want them here because I have daughters, and I don’t want my daughters raped,” “I want them to stay over there,” and “They will take over our country.” The policy questions surrounding refugee admittance are complex, and we say nothing about these questions here, but the sentiments expressed by this man were defensive and hateful. We have noticed this pattern in all ideological quarters. In Washington, DC, a grant agency officer expressed open frustration, mockery, and ridicule at “Christian” objections to the Starbucks “holiday cup.” An op-ed headline at the time expressed similar outrage: “Solo should be pissed about Starbucks’ red cups; Christians who are pissed can go to hell.”63 Questions surrounding culture wars today are multi-faceted, and we say nothing about these questions here, but the sentiments expressed by these men were defensive and hateful.

Defensive Rumor Activity

Defensive rumors avoid or neutralize psychological threats to our self-esteem by either derogating other persons or outgroups or praising self or in-groups.64 Hateful rumors express animosity, loathing, or contempt. For example, hatred can be expressed by gleefully transmitting defensive rumors that dehumanize and vilify the “other.” Given their theme of oppressive and unjust exclusion, conspiracy rumors naturally lend themselves to becoming defensive and hateful and have been linked to political and aggressive functions. The emotion of hate is useful in mobilizing support for war, acts of terrorism, or genocide. Hate is fomented by propaganda stories portraying a perpetrator (them) and a victim (us).65 These stories spread because they increase depleted self-esteem or make sense of frustrating circumstances.

Defensive and hateful rumors are useful in defending self and justifying aggression. In the second century, Roman intelligentsia spread rumors that Christians routinely practiced ritual cannibalism; such rumors were useful in justifying persecution.66 Similar charges were aimed at Africans by colonizers, slave traders, and warring African tribes and were similarly useful in justifying slavery by white and black slavers.67 Widely disseminated Nazi propaganda rumors alleged that Jews were trying to destroy Germany; these rumors evoked defensive emotions and ensured complacency among the German citizenry regarding the Holocaust.68 Rumors that Jesus came to abolish the law and tear down the temple were instigated by religious leaders to procure his execution: “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree” (Mark 14:55–56).

Enemy Loving

Compare this defensive hate-filled rumor activity with obedience to Jesus’ command to bless our enemies. The contrast is stark: “. . . love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . ” (Matthew 5:43). “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them” (Luke 6:29). Peter writes to Christians living in a pagan society about Jesus’ example: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). The command to love one’s enemies recalls the royal role given to us in the garden. God made us in his image to represent him and rule over the creation in an egalitarian and liberating manner—this contrasts other rival ancient creation narratives emphasizing power and hierarchy.69 In Christ—the fullest revelation of the imago Dei—the liberating image comes into sharper focus; in the new kingdom, we are to represent God in a manner characterized by love and service.

Church teaching has developed these themes. Aquinas’ writings on charity state that love for one’s enemy flows out of love for God: “For since man loves his neighbor, out of charity, for God’s sake, the more he loves God, the more does he put enmities aside and show love towards his neighbor. . . . “70 Aquinas gives us a helpful analogy: “thus if we loved a certain man very much, we would love his children though they were unfriendly towards us.” Martin Luther’s teaching on the eighth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16), is also germane. In addition to refraining from spreading slander and hurting our neighbor’s reputation, “We should . . . defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”71 In other words, we are to extend to our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, put the best possible construction on the matter, and deliberately salt our understanding with kindness. There is not much room for defensive hate here.

Narrative-Driven Responses to Vulnerability

Defensive-hateful rumoring meshes with: “God is absent; I must defend myself against my enemies,” and “God hates his enemies; so should I.” This latter sentiment was expressed by the prophet Jonah. Instead of loving the Ninevites and longing for their repentance, Jonah became depressed because they repented. In contrast, enemy-loving meshes with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43–45).

In sum, these contrasting response pairs are embedded within rival theological narratives, larger stories about God and his relationship with humans that signify that God is good vs. bad. Despite intellectual assent to doctrines of a near and caring Father, conspiracist thinking may belie a practical personal theology of God as absent, untrustworthy, or vengeful. Adherents to such rumors may effectively be confessing a de facto creed “Trust no one, not even God.”

Trajectories Rooted in Narratives

“Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the future of that man” (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy).72

But is it that simple? We have depicted responses to uncertainty and vulnerability as contingent on an implicit set of bifurcated theological narratives, that is, God is good vs. bad. Do our responses to uncertainty and vulnerability ultimately hinge on our lived out understanding of God as good (e.g., trustworthy, near, generous) vs. God as bad (e.g., untrustworthy, vindictive, vengeful)? We think so. In psychology, this idea parallels Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory where the first question a baby must existentially answer is “Is this a basically trustworthy world?” The answer to that question sets the trajectory for how they answer later questions about industry, autonomy, identity, and generativity.73 Some narratives are foundational.

Thus, while people may draw inconsistently from one or the other narrative in the course of living out their days, we think that one narrative will grow to dominate the other over time. For example, a Christian may hope in our glorious future of union with God but still worry about the world’s secular influence on children and harbor some resentment about the powerlessness of Christians in the face of political/cultural pressure. This may be their current state of mind, and it may seem initially harmless. But as the Christian comes into repeated contact with thematic content generating anxiety and anger (e.g., a conspiracy theory about a “damnable” group)—vs. thematic content generating trust and love (e.g., Peter’s instruction on suffering as a Christian in 1 Peter 3:8–22)—they will increasingly confront a choice about what they really believe about God. Over time, as attention is paid to one or the other narrative-embedded interpretation, one will dominate.

Bifurcated implicit narratives that are spiritually formative have a long tradition in church teaching and Christian thinking. When speaking about the spiritual realms, Jesus described two categorical responses: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). He also described the eventual outcome of the daily choices of life as a bifurcation of sheep vs. goats at the final judgment, based upon how they demonstrated their faith through their deeds (Matthew 25:31–46). Augustine’s most central theological work described human and divine history as a movement toward two different destinations, the City of God—centered on loving God more than self, and the City of Man—centered on loving self more than God. Finally, C. S. Lewis is again helpful here: “[We are living] . . . in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision . . . Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”74 The eventual destination of each person’s trajectory, rooted in their narrative framework, becomes evident over time.

Christians and Conspiracy Discourse

Research indicates that some percentage of Christians believe conspiracy theories.75 What are the implications of our argument for this sociological reality?

On considering any sociological reality critical of the church universal, we should respond first with self-examination. It may be that belief in some conspiracy theories among Christians indicates a particularly common strain of sin (in the form of an incursion of worldly thinking) in the church. The sin may have two modes of expression. First, as noted in our definition earlier, the Scriptures have a high view of evidence and advocate that we carefully, soberly, fairly, and charitably evaluate evidence and testimony when encountering any story, conspiracist or otherwise. To the extent that we—the invisible church—are not doing this, we are not living in accordance with the command to not bear false witness against our neighbor. And if such beliefs mar God’s reputation, we also run the risk of misusing the name of the Lord. More generally, we are not loving God with our whole mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Second, to the extent that we—the invisible church—participate with anxiety and anger in conspiracy discourse, we are not living out our belief in a good God, despite what we say we believe. That is, our anxious and angry participation reflects an immaturity or inconsistency on our part and highlights an area in need of growth.76

But beyond furnishing an occasion for self-examination, we should realize that the current sociological reality is about belief, not about the character of our participation in conspiracy discourse. As stated earlier, our concern is the latter. Again, we want to understand conspiracy rumors within the context of communion with God and community with others. Our focus in on the anxious and angry response to uncer- tainty and vulnerability that can quickly characterize participation in conspiracy discourse. Such a response may lay the foundation of belief in conspiracy theory, but on the other hand, belief in conspiracy theory may be arrived at after a sober reflection on available evidence and without anxious and angry participation.

Indeed, awareness of the difference between belief and the character of participation in conspiracy discourse highlights the narrowness of the sociological reality, which is primarily concerned with belief—usually operationalized by assent to questionnaire items that measure agreement with particular statements. More germane to our concerns would be investigations of the extent to which participants became fearfully and angrily “caught up” in discussions about conspiracy stories. The character of one’s participation in conspiracy discourse might be exhibited by the frequency of online participation, the intensity of emotional responses, the extent to which the topic dominated thoughts and conversations, the degree to which the discussion led to thinking of “enemies” in a superficial way or yielded justification for not thinking of others as image- bearers, one’s openness to learning that the story is untrue, one’s willingness to consider the spiritual aims and effects of the discourse, one’s heart-knowledge of God, and the extent to which the discourse itself was careful, sober, fair, and charitable. We are not aware of investigations of these aspects of sociological reality, but we think they would prove a fruitful line of inquiry (particularly for Christians in higher education).

Lest any misunderstanding arise, it is important to state what we are not saying. We are not suggesting that all true Christians are not conspiracy theorists, or vice versa. Sincere Christians may and do believe conspiracy stories. Similarly, angry anxious participation in conspiracy discourse doesn’t necessarily mean that one is not Christian, just that growth is probably needed in existentially understanding God’s goodness. It is difficult to imagine a Christian who consistently experiences a strong sense of God’s goodness and is attentive to Jesus command to love one’s enemy who at the same time engages in a longstanding pattern of anxious and angry conspiracy rumor discourse. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness . . . My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 2: 9–11).

Living a lifestyle of waiting trustfully on God in the face of uncertainty will necessarily tend to displace being anxiously caught up in fear-inducing conspiracy stories. Similarly, living a lifestyle of loving one’s enemies and persecutors will necessarily tend to displace engaging in hateful attacks and dehumanizing rhetoric that is part of some conspiracy discourse. Over time, we think that one underlying narrative about God will ripen, and the other will wither.

Finally, what about situations where legitimate threatening concerns cross over into conspiracy? For example, concerns have been voiced in a number of quarters over censorship of social media material that is contrary to the beliefs and views of those who control it.77 Is this a conspiracy theory, and ought we to be concerned about this eventuality? As we have noted from the beginning of the article, conspiracy theories may turn out to be true or false. They may pertain to actions that people should be concerned about and should act upon. Yet concern and action do not preclude attitudes of trustful waiting and enemy loving. Indeed, concern and action may even be made more effective when embedded within attitudes of trustful waiting and enemy loving. In response to their questions about the destruction of the temple, Jesus told the apostles, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed” (Matthew 24:6). We would put it this way: “Do your best to find truth for purposes of justice and compassion, and do not be deceived, but if you cannot have certainty, do not engage in anxious and angry discourse. Know that the good God has all things under control, wait trustfully, and love your enemies.

Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love

Conspiracy theories and ideology fueled Thomas A. Tarrants’ fear, anger, and hatred of black persons, communists, and Jews, culminating in his attempted bombing of the home of a Jewish leader in Meridian, Mississippi in 1968.78 Tarrants was captured, convicted, and imprisoned, escaped, and was captured again, and was finally placed in isolated confinement within a tiny cell, 24 hours a day, for three years. During this long solitude, he read philosophy, political history, and the Bible. He realized then that though he was raised a Christian, his Christianity had been a sham. In particular, Jesus’ admonition in the book of Matthew laid bare his self-serving motives: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). He saw that his “. . . commitment to the Cause, which was very real, was at a deeper level rooted in selfish ambition—trying to satisfy my ego and advance my position in the far-right movement.”79 These insights weighed heavily on him, and he “. . . was overcome with deep sorrow for all the prejudice, hatred, violence, immorality, and much more—for the evil of my whole life.”80 Kneeling in his cell on a summer night in 1970, he asked Jesus’ forgiveness and surrendered his life. Tarrants then experienced a genuine sense that Jesus had heard his prayer, and his attitudes, desires, and behaviors changed dramatically. After release from solitary, he became friends with black and Jewish inmates and stopped hating communists. After prison, he advocated for racial reconciliation, pastored a multi-racial church, and led a ministry devoted to the writings of C. S. Lewis.

Tarrants’ temptation and transformation81 powerfully exemplifies several of the ideas presented in this article. First, Tarrants detailed how conspiracy theories capitalized on the strong sense of uncertainty, powerlessness, and fear that he felt because Southern society was rapidly changing during the turbulent 1960s, a feeling heightened all the more after the seemingly placid decade of the 1950s. Conspiracy theories also filled a personal void left in the wake of a strained relationship with his father. Conspiracy theories thus made (simplistic) sense of complex changes and supplied a vision and direction for Tarrants as a teenage boy. rather than waiting trustfully, Jewish-communist conspiracy theories were a fear-motivated uncritical “connect-the-dots” explanation of complicated cultural, social, and political changes. In our terms, they were an “off-the-mark” way of responding to the human condition of uncertainty.

Second, Tarrants82 explained how conspiracy theories cast blame and saw threat in people who were dehumanized as “outsiders,” “morally deficient,” and “inferior.” Conspiracy theories and ideology intensified his anger toward Jews, black people, and communists; he increasingly regarded them as imminent threats. repeated immersion in these stories radicalized him and led him to justify acts of harassment and aggression. In our terms, they were an “off-the- mark” way of responding to the human condition of vulnerability. rather than loving others, even those perceived as enemies, conspiracy theories paved the way for actively hating them.

These responses are rooted in the “God is bad” narrative to which Tarrants implicitly subscribed before his prison conversion. For Tarrants the conspiracy theorist, God was effectively absent and did not enter into any understanding of current events except as a way to justify aggression. Though raised a Christian, Tarrants the ideologue did not have a truly Christian worldview. That is, he had no assurance of God’s active presence, no clue about God’s radical way of love. Tarrants, and the Klan, had effectively heard a false rumor about God, one embedded in the “God is bad” narrative. His changed attitudes of trusting assurance and loving friendship came as a response to an encounter with a very different sort of God—the one found in the “God is good” narrative. When finally confronted with the God of this new narrative, Tarrants grieved and surrendered. After being “consumed by hate,” he was “redeemed by love.”

Tarrants’ story informs a paradigm of soul care for conspiracy theorists that directs attention toward the motives of the heart rooted in rival existential understandings of God. The veridicality or falsehood of conspiracy rumors does not exhaust their meaning. Far from it. In our modern-era instantiation of uncertainty and vulnerability, may we follow Tarrants’ redemptive example of believing in the goodness of God by trustfully waiting and enemy loving.

Cite this article
Nicholas DiFonzo and Jeffrey S. Black, “Trustful Waiting and Enemy Loving Responses to Uncertainty and Vulnerability: Christian Psychology Soul Care in an Age of Conspiracy Rumors”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 53:2 , 51-74


  1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing, 1943), 106.
  2. Because conspiracy theories are a type of rumor, and because both conspiracy theories and conspiracy rumors unfold into conspiracy stories, we use these three terms interchangeably.
  3. Nicholas DiFonzo, “Conspiracy rumor Psychology,” in Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them, ed. Joseph E. Uscinski (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019), 258,
  4. DiFonzo, “Conspiracy rumor Psychology,” 258, italics in original.
  5. See, for example, Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz, and John Cook, “Misinformation and its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 13, no. 3 (2012): 106–131,; Lee McIntyre, Post-truth (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018),; Joseph E. Uscinski, ed., Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  6. A helpful recent overview is Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka, “The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 26, no. 6 (2017): 538–542,
  7. Brent D. Slife and Matthew Whoolery, “Are Psychology’s Main Methods Biased Against the Worldview of Many religious People?” Journal of Psychology and Theology 34, no. 3 (2006): 217–231,; Brent D. Slife and Richard N. Williams, What’s Behind the Research?: Discovering Hidden Assumptions in the Behavioral Sciences (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995),; Roy A. Clouser, “Theories in Psychology,” in The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, Rev. ed. (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2005), 161–184.
  8. The Christian psychology approach is extensively examined in Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).
  9. Robert C. roberts and Paul J. Watson, “A Christian Psychology View,” in Psychology & Christianity: Five Views, ed. Eric L. Johnson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 149–178.
  10. Stanton L. Jones, “An Integration View,” in Psychology & Christianity: Five Views, ed. Eric L. Johnson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 101–128.
  11. David Powlison, “A Biblical Counseling View,” in Psychology & Christianity: Five Views, ed. Eric L. Johnson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 245–273.
  12. Timothy A. Sisemore, “An Introduction to the Christian Psychology Special Issue,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 30, no. 4 (2011): 271.
  13. Robert C. Roberts, “The Idea of a Christian Psychology,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 40, no. 1 (2012): 38.
  14. Nicholas DiFonzo, “A Christian Psychology of Rumor,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 38, no. 1 (2019): 3–21.
  15. For example, biblical admonitions to carefully, soberly, fairly, and charitably evaluate evidence and testimony are evident in civil laws requiring testimony from more than one witness (Deuteronomy19:15; Numbers 35:30), the use of two or three witness in exhorting brothers (Matthew 18:16) and in church discipline (1 Timothy 5:19–20), laws requiring a fair hearing (John 7:51), commands to not spread a false report (Exodus 23:1), to not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16), to give relevant testimony if you have it (Leviticus 5:1), to be impartial in judgment and to judge righteously (Deuteronomy 1:16–17), the admonition to test prophecy for falsehood (1 John 4:21), to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and the Berean example of careful examination (Acts 17:10–11), the warnings against malicious speech and gossip (Proverbs 11:12, 17:9, 26:22; Titus 3:2; 1 Peter 2:1), and the nature of the gospels as eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:2, John 21:24, I John 1:1–3).
  16. Intellectual virtues and vices are explored in Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood, Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  17. Belief in conspiracy theories as an intellectual vice is explored in Quassim Cassam, “Vice Epistemology,” The Monist 99, no. 2 (2016): 165.
  18. Sander Van der Linden, Costas Panagopoulos, Flávio Azevedo, and John T. Jost. “The Paranoid Style in American Politics revisited: An Ideological Asymmetry in Conspiratorial Thinking,” Political Psychology 42, no. 1 (2021): 23–51.
  19. Quassim Cassam, “Misunderstanding Vaccine Hesitancy: A Case Study in Epistemic Injustice,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 55, no. 3 (2023): 315–329.
  20. Thaddeus J. Williams, Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020). Williams insightfully notes three marks of propaganda of which to be wary when considering any form of social justice messaging. These marks so closely match those of propagandistic conspiracy rumor that we have adapted them here.
  21. Nicholas DiFonzo and Prashant Bordia, Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007), chap. 4,–000.
  22. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, [1942] 2013).
  23. Craig Steven Titus, Paul C. Vitz, and William J. Nordling, “Theological, Philosophical, and Psychological Premises for a Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person,” in Paul C. Vitz, William J. Nordling, and Craig Steven Titus, eds., A Catholic Christian MetaModel of the Person (Sterling, VA: Divine Mercy Press, 2020), 26–42.
  24. John H. Coe, “Transformation of the Psychologist and Spiritual Epistemological Disciplines and Virtues (Level 1),” in John H. Coe and Todd W. Hall, Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), chap. 5.
  25. APA Dictionary of Psychology, s.v. “uncertainty,” accessed October 3, 2023, https://
  26. Uncertainty is also used more broadly to describe how circumstances or people cannot be relied upon (e.g., “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.” Psalm 146:3, NIV) or are transient (e.g., . . . beauty is fleeting . . .” Proverbs 31:30; “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone. . .” Proverbs 23:5). The idea is that the objects of our trust (e.g. knowledge, the future, friendship, beauty, riches) cannot be depended upon.
  27. Kelly M. Kapic, You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News (Grand rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2022), 4.
  28. Kapic, Only Human, chap. 10; Jan-Olav Henriksen, “Embodied, relational, Desiring, Vulnerable–reconsidering Imago Dei,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 62, no. 3 (2020): 267–294, nzsth-2020-0014.
  29. Acts 1:7. Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the New International Version (1973/2011).
  30. Lexico US Dictionary, s.v. “vulnerability,” accessed October 3, 2023,
  31. John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (London, UK: Unknown, 1624), Station 17, p. 109,
  32. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Cambridge, UK: The Lutterworth Press, 1961), 57.
  33. Paul M. Gould, “The Two Tasks Introduced: The Fully Integrated Life of the Christian Scholar,” in The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar: Redeeming the Soul, Redeeming the Mind, ed. William L. Craig and Paul M. Gould (Wheaton, IL: Crossways Books, 2007), 17–54.
  34. Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1994), article 385, 97.
  35. Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith (Atlanta, GA: Committee for Christian Education & Publications, 1990), chap. 2 “Of God, and of the Holy Trinity,” article 1, 9.
  36. Q.92 “In what ways does the triune God make Himself known?” in Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1943/2008), 105–106.
  37. Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (Ann Arbor, MI: Cushing Malloy, 1958), 541–542.
  38. Jim McDermott, “‘Why Does God Hate Me?’ A response to a frequently Googled question,” America, The Jesuit Review (Dec. 7, 2022), faith/2022/12/07/why-does-god-hate-me-244283.
  39. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 5 (1706),
  40. Chris Thurman, The Lies we Believe about God: Knowing God for Who He Really Is (Eastbourne, UK: Kingsway Communications, 2017), chap. 4.
  41. Chris Thurman, Lies We Believe, chap. 5.
  42. In another place, Jesus addressed this understanding of God when commenting on Pilate’s savage treatment of some (but not other) Galileans: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” (Luke 13: 2–3; see also John 9:2–3).
  43. James K. A. Smith, You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016), chap. 1–3.
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  45. Helpful overviews may be found in Ralph L. rosnow, “Inside rumor: A Personal Journey,” American Psychologist 46, no. 5 (1991): 484–496, 066X.46.5.484; Nicholas DiFonzo, “rumor and Communication,” in Communication. Oxford Bibliographies, ed. Patricia Moy (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020), https://doi. org/10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0246.
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  50. Viren Swami, Adrian Furnham, Nina Smyth, Laura Weis, Alixe Lay, and Angela Clow, “Putting the Stress on Conspiracy Theories: Examining Associations Between Psychological Stress, Anxiety, and Belief in Conspiracy Theories,” Personality and Individual Differences 99 (2016, September): 73,
  51. Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Nils B. Jostmann, “Belief in Conspiracy Theories: The Influence of Uncertainty and Perceived Morality,” European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, no. 1 (2013): 109–115,
  52. Joshua J. Knabb, Eric L. Johnson, M. Todd Bates, and Timothy A. Sisemore, Christian Psychotherapy in Context: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations in Faith-Based Mental Health (New York, NY: Routledge, 2019), 154.
  53. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), 43.
  54. DiFonzo and Bordia, Rumor Psychology, chap. 8.
  55. Viren Swami, Laura Weis, Alixe Lay, David Barron, and Adrian Furnham, “Associations Between Belief in Conspiracy Theories and the Maladaptive Personality Traits of the Personality Inventory for DSM-5,” Psychiatry Research, 236 (February 28, 2016): 86–90,
  56. Swami et al., “DSM-5,” 89.
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  61. Van Prooijen and Jostmann, “Uncertainty and Morality,” 113.
  62. Rev. Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness (Charlotte, NC: Tan Books, [1961] 1983).
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  67. Patricia A. Turner, I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African- American Culture (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1993), https://doi. org/10.1525/9780520915572.
  68. Randall L. Bytwerk, “The Argument for Genocide in Nazi Propaganda,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 91, no. 1 (2005): 37–62,
  69. Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010), chap. 1, 2, 8; J. Richard Middleton, “The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context,” Christian Scholar’s Review 24, no. 1 (1994): 16–22.
  70. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Brothers, 1947), II-II Q. 25, A, SS/SS025.html#SSQ25A8THEP1.
  71. Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1943) 75.
  72. Tozer, Knowledge of Holy, 1.
  73. Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, [1950] 1993), 7.
  74. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, [1946] 1973), viii.
  75. For example, see “The Persistence of QAnon in the Post-Trump Era: An Analysis of Who Believes the Conspiracies,” Public religion research Institute, February 24, 2022, an-analysis-of-who-believes-the-conspiracies/; Iulin Dinulescu, “Motivation of QANON Conspiracy Theories Appropriation by Christians and the Expansion of the Phenomenon in 2022,” Strategic Impact 4, no. 83 (2022): 72; Brooklyn Walker and Abigail Vegter, “Christ, Country, and Conspiracies? Christian Nationalism, Biblical Literalism, and Belief in Conspiracy Theories,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2023): 287–288.
  76. For example, one can imagine Christians who would justify conspiracy discourse fear and anger by reasoning “Because we trust in God, we (and we alone) know what is going on in the shadows.” Such reasoning is immature, it forgets that a good God has the whole world in his hands, and that our generous Father calls us to love our enemies.
  77. Emily Vogels, Andrew Perrin, and Monica Anderson, “Most Americans Think Social Media Sites Censor Political Viewpoints,” Pew research Center, August 19, 2020,
  78. Thomas A. Tarrants, Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion for Racial Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019).
  79. Tarrants, Consumed, 122.
  80. Tarrants, Consumed, 122.
  81. Tarrants, Consumed, 122.
  82. Tarrants, Consumed, chap. 3–7.

Nicholas DiFonzo

Nicholas DiFonzo is Associate Professor of Psychology at Roberts Wesleyan University.

Jeffrey S. Black

Jeffrey S. Black is Professor of Psychology at Cairn University.