Since the pandemic and the election I’ve seen an increase in conspiracy theories being spread both online and in person. When I hear a conspiracy theory, my gut says, “that’s not right” or “this is crazy” but I often don’t know how to articulate exactly what is wrong with it or how to respond.
A couple of years ago, during the first year of the pandemic, I came across two articles from Brett Salkeld that offered a Catholic critique of conspiratorial thinking.
Salkeld made the point that what makes a conspiracy theory a conspiracy theory isn’t just the content of what’s being said, but the way it’s being argued. He compared it to a math problem. If a student in algebra class answers a test question correctly but, upon inspection of how she came to her answer, the teacher realizes she just guessed, the student won’t get credit. Simply getting lucky with an answer isn’t enough.
So the problem with conspiracy theories isn’t that they are talking about conspiracies—conspiracies do happen in the real world—the problem with conspiracy theories is the conspiratorial thinking, the way something is being argued.
I think Brett brings a valuable and balanced voice to Catholic conversations and I was thrilled to have him on the show.
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This week, Paul and Dominic talk with Brett Salkeld and conspiracy theories. Specifically, we discuss the components of conspiratorial thinking and compare and contrast those to the Catholic way of understanding and investigating reality. We then talk about how to avoid conspiratorial thinking in ourselves before ending the conversation discussing how to best engage with people, with friends and family, who have fallen into conspiratorial thinking.
Brett Salkeld is Archdiocesan Theologian for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina and the author of several books, most recently, Educating For Eternity: A Teacher’s Companion for Making Every Class Catholic. He is the cohost of a weekly podcast, Thinking Faith!, with hundreds of episodes in the back catalogue, and author of a new monthly column, Two Wings, carried in the United States by Our Sunday Visitor. His work has appeared in Church Life Journal, Word on Fire, Crux and many other Catholic outlets. He serves the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Canadian Roman Catholic – Evangelical Dialogue and is book review editor for the theological journal Pro Ecclesia. Brett lives in Regina with his wife, Flannery, and their seven children.
A note with this episode. The Youtube algorithm apparently can’t distinguish critical discussion of conspiracy theories from discussions spreading conspiracy theories, so this video was unfortunately flagged by Youtube. So we published the video on Vimeo, instead of Youtube, and you can of course listen to the audio on your favorite podcast app. Sorry for any hassle!
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Faith, Reason, and Conspiracy Theories:
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Paul Fahey lives in Michigan with his wife and four kids. For the past eight years, he has worked as a professional catechist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology and is currently working toward a Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling. He is a retreat leader, catechist formator, writer, and a co-founder of Where Peter Is. He is also the founder and co-host of the Pope Francis Generation podcast. His long-term goal is to provide pastoral counseling for Catholics who have been spiritually abused, counseling for Catholic ministers, and counseling education so that ministers are more equipped to help others in their ministry.