“There is nothing new under the sun” is an ancient saying found in Ecclesiastes 1:9. King Solomon shows the great wisdom God gave him in the truth that humans keep making the same mistakes. One of the repeated mistakes is devising conspiracy theories.
The pandemic that we have just endured is not new and not as severe as what humans have experienced in the past. In 1347, a contagious disease killed between 30 and 40 percent of the European population at its outset. In some places, the death toll reached 70%, and in a few locations, the toll was very close to 100%. What response did people make to this pandemic, referred to as “The Black Death?” A popular view was that it was a Jewish conspiracy designed to destroy Christians.
There was no evidence to support the claim, and Jews were also dying. Regardless of facts, the fringe community promoted a genocidal plot to kill every Jew in Europe over age seven. Those promoting this conspiracy theory conducted raids in which they rounded up and killed Jews and burned their homes and businesses. The church did not inspire this anti-Jewish movement because Pope Clement VI ordered Catholics “not to dare…to capture, strike, wound or kill any Jew.” Anyone who did so would be excommunicated. There have been other fringe conspiracy theories through the centuries. When the polio vaccine came out, some people claimed that someone had laced the vaccine with anti-fertility drugs or that it would kill children. The list of conspiracy theories goes on and on up to today. QAnon, the Flat Earth Society, and the Tulsa Massacre illustrate how people on the fringe saturate the public with conspiracy theories and convince people to act badly.
All of this is not new to students of the Bible. In the time of Jesus and the early Church, there were fringe people, including Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, the Stoics, Epicureans, and worshipers of a variety of pagan gods and goddesses. Read Matthew chapters 5 to 7, and see how Jesus dealt with all of this. Our Lord taught people to be helpful and loving rather than hateful and destructive.
The message to us is clear, and it is that the only thing you can rely on is God’s Word. Don’t blindly follow politicians, conspiracy theories, or religious fanatics teaching things the Bible doesn’t support. Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…”
I have been thinking about willful blindness. Many years ago, in a lectureship in Canada, I met a Christian lady who was born and raised in Germany before and during World War II. After the war, she became a Christian, but during the war, she was part of Hitler’s youth workers and active in the Nazi movement. As she talked about her leadership role in the Nazi movement, she spoke of being enthusiastic about the successes of Nazism and how it gave young Nazi workers pride and enthusiasm for the economic and social achievements it generated.
As she spoke, she became subdued and said that when she and other young Germans heard that Jews were being put in concentration camps and killed just because they were Jews, they didn’t believe it. “We are too smart, too religious, too kind to ever allow such things to happen. That can not be true!” She then looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “But we were so terribly, horribly, awfully wrong.”
I have often heard people say that they can’t understand how the German people allowed the persecution of the Jews under Hitler. The reason is willful blindness! As we are seeing and hearing the cry of our black friends and neighbors now in 2020, we need to have the courage to ask if we, too, are willfully blind.
Willful blindness is common to humans. In Matthew 21:7-11, we see people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem with a huge parade and with cries of love and support. In Matthew 27:22-25, we see these same people crying, “Crucify him!!” In Acts 7:54-60, we see people killing Stephen and even covering their ears to avoid hearing the truth about what they were doing.
I am an old man, and I have lived and worked among people of color all my life. Yet until the last few weeks, I never heard about the horrible destruction and murder of over three hundred innocent blacks living in Greenwood, Oklahoma, on May 31-June 1 of 1921. A prosperous town known as “Black Wall-street” was made up of black homes and businesses. It was attacked, and 1265 houses were burned, 150 businesses destroyed and looted, and 9,000 left homeless.
How did I never hear of this tragedy? I never thought about the impact of how we all got here. My ancestors came to America to escape persecution and to look for freedom. My black friends are here because their ancestors were ripped away from family and home, taken on a trip they didn’t want to take, and denied basic rights and freedom. How have I ignored that fact? The answer is “willful blindness.”
In this time of having our vision restored, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of a powerful song from the musical South Pacific and reflect on how they apply to us:
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late. Before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all of the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
We have had several Israel-Palestine questions which are out of our field of expertise. Douglas Jacoby has a website in which he answers many important questions. Here is what Dr. Jacoby said in a recent post.
The politics of the crisis are complex. In the biblical period, the Promised Land, or Canaan, became Israel. It was named after the covenant name of Jacob, whose 12 sons became the 12 Tribes (Gen 32:28). The term was also used of the idolatrous breakaway Northern Kingdom of Israel, from 931 BC till its fall in 722. The “10 Lost Tribes” were lost, not by being removed to a distant location (like the British Isles, the US, or Central Asia), but by intermarriage with Assyrians and other foreign groups. Thus the 10 Tribes were lost forever — genetically. The southern kingdom of Judah remained until 587 BC when it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
When the Romans defeated the Jews in the war in 132-135 AD (the Bar-Kokhba Revolt), they renamed the land Philistia–after the perennial enemies of the Israelites, the Philistines. In English this becomes Palestine.
When the modern State of Israel was created in 1948, many Palestinians (most of whom were Christian or Muslim, rather than Jewish) were evicted from their homes, their land expropriated by the new government. In my view, none of these developments fulfill prophecy. The Jews came back to their land in the 6th century BC, under the Persian king Cyrus (2 Chron 36:22-23). The majority of the architects of modern Israel were atheists and agnostics, and Orthodox rabbis oppose Zionism for its atheism and humanistic emphasis.”
Today the Palestinian territories, consisting of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are semi-autonomous –like a country within a country, separated from Israeli territory by walls, fences, checkpoints and lots of guns. In many (sad and unfortunate) ways, the Palestinians are stateless. Being pro-Israel typically means being anti-Palestinian–and vice versa. A friend of mine, a university professor and peace activist, declares, “If you’re pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, you aren’t pro-peace.” Think about it.