By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel
When the late Dorothy Parker heard her telephone ring, she would mutter, “I wonder what fresh hell this is.” I may not know exactly what she meant by this, but think we’ve all got a good idea.
It isn’t a phone call anymore. It’s the news. I have the same sense of dread and foreboding every morning when the radio is on and I am standing in front of the mirror, about to apply shaving lather and razor to my face. It’s the thought, “Now what’s happened?”
Today’s news items make for a news junkie’s field day. Take your choice from a wide array of dire topics: climate change (or is it called global warming? I can never remember), the impeachment soap opera, presidential primaries, rising water levels and the latest, coronavirus. The first time I heard the latter I thought someone had bought a six-pack of Mexican beer that had gone bad.
The virus is spooky because there is so much uncertainty about its origins, how it is spread, how life-threatening it really is and where it may migrate next.
Since there are so many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions, we invent answers that appeal to us. There are even fewer hard, verifiable facts, throwing the doors wide open for the conspiracy theorists.
This time of year, when it’s dark and cold, I listen to radio stations from around North America. Late at night the conspiracy theorists’ programs come out to play.
According to one, the Chinese invented the coronavirus to tip the balance of trade in their favor and take over the world. No, said another, the president started it to divert attention from the impeachment trials.
A third caller said he knows for a fact that it was a collusion between President Obama and Mrs. Clinton to divert attention from accusations of their malfeasance. Someone else said it was started by pharmaceutical companies so they could make a fortune from a vaccine for which they already have the patents.
Another caller advised listeners not to take any vaccine, because the government had added chemicals to them that would turn us into mindless zombies. This has to be true, because they have already made plans for a zombie apocalypse.
It takes creative energy to come up with these nutty ideas. If there wasn’t a dangerous side to them, they might almost be amusing.
Conspiracy theories can lead to people getting hurt, abused and mistreated. We can let our fear and paranoia turn us on each other.
A Bavarian corporal turned postcard painter who had inhaled too many solvent fumes came up with the idea that “those Jews” had sold out the Kaiser’s army in 1918 and were responsible for Germany losing World War I.
It didn’t take long for his virus of hate and conspiracy to spread. Before long. retired pipe-smoking burgher-meisters stopped reading Goethe and listening to Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms to take up goose-stepping.
There is nothing bad in this world that we can’t make worse just by adding the pathogen of fear and a conspiratorial belief that someone is out to do us in.