We live in the age of conspiracies. What, if anything, do they tell us about the world we live in today? And, what if, behind all these theories, there is indeed one monumental conspiracy?
On December 10, 2015, a video purporting to be film of Stanley Kubrick appeared on the internet. Allegedly the work of a documentary filmmaker from 1999, it was supposedly filmed a mere four days before the death of its subject. In the footage the “director” confesses to faking film of the moon landings. Predictably, and ironically, Kubrick’s family was quick to call it a hoax. It made little difference. Within hours, it had clocked up a quarter of a million views online, and its appearance was the subject of radio shows and newspaper articles. The fact that the man who was “Kubrick” looked nothing like him, and that the questioning was stage-managed did little to dampen enthusiasm in certain quarters. We see what we want to see, believe what we want to believe. Nowhere more so, it seems, than when it comes to the alternate world of conspiracies.
The moon landing conspiracy has been around since July 1969. Almost as soon as the poor quality television pictures were flashed across the globe, people began to claim they were all one giant hoax. All the footage had been filmed on a set; it was no coincidence that, at the same time as the first moon landing, Kubrick was filming 2001: A Space Odyssey.
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Sometimes the official facts didn’t help. For example, NASA admits that the astronauts did not have viewfinders on their cameras—and yet, their photographs were stunning, as good as any studio set could produce. There is also the odd business of seemingly more than one light source in the same photographs, of flags waving in zero gravity, of the supposed dangers of traveling through the Van Allen’s Belt—the radiation fields around the earth. In addition, there is the curious demeanor and sombre mood at the press conference of the astronauts on what should have been their triumphant return to mother earth—all very odd, we are told, if not suspicious?
Subsequently, for the conspiracists, there have also been the “clues” littered across Hollywood films. Apparently, these came from those on the “inside.” For example, in 1971 movie Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond—played by Sean Connery—blunders onto a movie set where a moon landing is actually being filmed before escaping in a Moon Buggy; the 1977 film, Capricorn One, focuses on a fake space mission, this time to Mars, and on the need for secrecy and cover up—some say a Hollywood tribute to the up-coming anniversary of their greatest production.
So why was this perpetrated? The theory goes something like this. It was the Cold War. The whole thing was to fulfill—right on cue—the 1962 prophecy by the then slain President Kennedy that America would get to the moon before the decade closed—and, by so doing, eclipse the earlier Soviet success in getting man into space. As the war in Vietnam and other assorted woes assailed the nation, America’s then president, Richard Nixon, was relieved at the news of such a great adventure, one wrapped in the Stars & Stripes, and all on prime time television…
The events of 20 July 1969—incidentally, the feast day of St. Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of the falsely accused—and what did or did not take place are, in the space of eternity, of little consequence. Whether man left a footprint on the dust of the moon in the end did not, and does not, affect the moral compass of the world.
Government inquiry into celestial events is not new, however, and may even be part of some greater plan. Whilst browsing in the Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, I came across an intriguing entry of a reported event as BC turned to AD.
Plutarch relates how, during the reign of Tiberius, a ship carrying passengers was being driven along the coastline off the isles of Paxi. Suddenly, a loud voice was heard calling. It spoke of the Great God Pan, telling its listeners he was now dead. These strange events were reported back to Rome, and the emperor ordered an inquiry. When that ended, however, no satisfactory conclusion was drawn. Thereafter, no doubt, matters were discreetly dropped. Nevertheless, years earlier another phenomenon had indeed occurred: in an obscure and distant province, a pregnant woman and her husband had made their way to register at Bethlehem at the behest of the first emperor, Augustus.
That the proclamation was of the god Pan is interesting. In mythology, a son of Zeus, his half-beast like appearance looks more devilish than divine. Perhaps, then, it is not so surprising that amongst other things he was noted for the cause of sudden or groundless fear, especially coming upon travelers in remote places—from this source we have the word “panic.” The principal shrine to this deity was to be found at the base of Mount Hermon, known as Caesarea Paneas, or more familiarly to us as Caesarea Philippi. Decades after that Imperial census, it was to be in that vicinity that a question was asked: ‘Who do people say I am?’ The leader of those to whom it was posed replied that the Questioner was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Is it any coincidence that such a question and its reply sounded against the then walls of one of the most important temples dedicated to a pagan deity, the so-called son of the chief of the gods?
Of course, the truth had been announced. In the classical world, the reign of the false gods was no more, superseded by that of the true God Incarnate, with a message not inducing panic, but instead proclaiming the Prince of Peace.
As we know, almost immediately, the events of the New Testament were to evoke claim and counter claim. The Gospels tell of official attempts at disinformation as a means to counter the truth, of witnesses paid off or silenced, as alternative versions of the removal of the body of Christ after the Crucifixion were spread. Once Christianity was established, then yet more conspiracy theories of one sort or another appeared. Almost every time such attacks were against the greatest truth of all, namely the Incarnation. In more recent times this was to find a new lease on life around the execrable The Da Vinci Code. From the start, however, Christianity has been subject to and the target of conspiracy theories and, no doubt, it will continue to be so. It is here we have the real, and seemingly never-ending, conspiracy, and one that really does matter to the world. And, although played out in this earthly realm, we can safely assume that its source is not of this world.
We live in different times from 1969. Back then, there was a wider belief that government and other such institutions were, on the whole, a force for good and did not lie. Today, that belief has faded. Ten minutes on the internet and one is awash with half-truths and rumors, facts and factoids, distortions and downright lies coming at us from every angle. A new generation has grown up with the idea of conspiracy replacing something else: historical fact. This is concerning, if for nothing else the Incarnation is a real, historic event, hence the reference to Pilate in the Creed. Where nothing is verifiable then all history is at the mercy of those who have the greatest ability to influence online search engines.
It would appear that we have come to the stage whereby belief in the absurd and the implausible has grown in direct proportion to how faith—as understood in the true sense—has receded. Chesterton has been proved right when he spoke of a loss of belief in the real producing a naiveté about nonsensical beliefs in the unreal. Perhaps, it is here that we are drawing closer to what really lies at the rotting center of the conspiracy theory mentality—and its greatest danger: an unwillingness to believe, or more precisely, to have faith—in anything.
When St. Peter made his declaration at Caesarea Philippi, it was an act of faith, it was to change his life forever. Indeed, it would cost him his life. Nevertheless, he knew what he declared to be true. It was also that faith that told him what had been accomplished when he later peered into the empty tomb. Light had come into the world; death had been conquered: God had become man and dwelt amongst us, and, thereafter, had walked in the dust of the roads of Palestine. The first pope had seen the footprints, but also knew that those marks in the dust were much more than that. Thereafter, St. Peter and his successors were entrusted with the mission to remind the world of the fact that those footprints really existed, and, indeed, in an even more real sense, remain with us, and shall continue to do so until all is made new, including the universe and the planetary dust it contains.