Purple Clouds
Matthew Shute's thoughts on pretty much everything

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Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are very much in vogue at the moment. Lately, every time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper I’m greeted with another scary hypothesis concerning a particular disaster or historical event, inevitably involving deep intrigue and malevolent plotting by dark men in the shadows.

Good conspiracy theories, those that are difficult to dismiss with a few words, appeal to the imagination and speak to the paranoid streak in all of us. Many of us suspect that our leaders are constantly lying to us. They probably are.

In Britain the overuse of “spin” and skilful media-manipulation by politicians has made millions of us distrustful of those who govern us. I remember one cynical and callous attempt at media-management in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, when an aide to the British politician Stephen Byers sent an email out to her colleagues, suggesting that the terrorist outrage provided an ideal opportunity to “bury bad news”… everyone would be too engrossed in the horrific 9/11 story to notice! This “opportunity”, we can assume, was one of her first thoughts as she watched those planes crashing into the towers. At times we are led to wonder about the kind of people who have authority over us. General distrust of this sort is fertile breeding-ground for conspiracy theories.

The 9/11 attacks are themselves the subject of one of the most controversial conspiracy theories of modern times. The exact accusations vary, but the general idea is that a group of extremist Islamist hijackers could not have executed a plan as audacious and ambitious as what unfolded on that momentous day in September, 2001.

Some theorists claim that the United States government knew in advance about the attacks, but allowed the planes to get through to their targets so that the neo-cons in the Whitehouse would have a pretext for invading oil-rich Muslim lands. Other theorists go even further, claiming that 9/11 was an inside job, orchestrated by an intelligence agency such as the CIA, with the full backing of men like George Bush and Dick Cheney.

A popular 9/11-related video called Loose Change is currently making the rounds on the internet. Though put together by an amateur documentary-maker on a lap-top computer in his bedroom, it has already been watched by millions worldwide.

While work like Loose Change may be meticulously researched by well-meaning individuals, genuinely convinced that men like the neo-cons in the Whitehouse are a bunch of sociopaths, I still find their conclusions unconvincing.

The main premise behind these theories is that a bunch of fanatical Muslims, armed only with knives and plastic box-cutters, could never carry out an attack on the scale of 9/11. But why couldn’t they? Do we want to dismiss established features of that awful day because they make us so uncomfortable? After all, it’s more disturbing to think that a handful of unhinged Islamists, armed only with blades and strong faith, could bring such devastation and carnage to the world’s number 1 superpower. Our minds cry out that there must be more to it. It’s too terrible to think that we could be so vulnerable to a gang of anonymous religious warriors wandering in from the streets. But it appears that this is exactly what happened.

I agree that many of the neo-cons are callous people indeed. I recall Donald Rumsfeld declaring that the situation in Iraq, during a peak of bloody sectarian chaos unleashed by our invasion, was not as bad as people were saying; after all, he had flown over the country and had seen with his own eyes that some parts of Iraq were not on fire! These are clearly the remarks of a sociopath, indifferent to all human suffering except the suffering of his own ego when asked impertinent questions.

I also concede that 9/11 was used as a pretext to invade a totally unrelated country. George W Bush and his pals saw an opportunity to grab some of Iraq’s black gold, and they took it. For George, there was also the added allure of the prestige he imagined he would get for finishing off what his “daddy” couldn’t.

While there was a clear rationale for invading Afghanistan as a response to the terrorist attacks (Osama bin Laden… Taliban… Al Qaeda…), there was no valid reason whatsoever for an invasion of Iraq. This was (and is) war for profit.

First we were told that Saddam Hussein had been involved in 9/11 somehow. What? Saddam Hussein was the man Osama bin Laden referred to as an “infidel dog”. Iraq, although no lover of America, was perhaps the most secular country in the Middle East. The degree of secularism could be seen by the fact that women could be educated and were able to wear whatever they liked, within reason (this may be soon to change now we have released the Islamist genie in that country). Saddam’s government expended much effort in ruthlessly crushing militant Islamists, particularly Iranian-backed Shia fanatics. Al Qaeda’s members were, until recently, smart enough to stay well away. No, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were anything but collaborators.

When it became obvious that nobody believed Saddam was involved in 9/11, Britain and America concocted a dramatic and scary story about Iraq having “Weapons of Mass Destruction” that could be deployed against us in 45 minutes. There were no such weapons, of course, and even if there had been, Iraq lacked any long-range missile capability.

Tony Blair and George Bush got the war they wanted, regardless. I agree that their actions show them as men of very low character. In light of Blair’s crimes, I find it amusing to hear him constantly preaching against “anti-social behaviour” and “hoodies” who smash up bus-shelters. You can’t get much more anti-social than smashing up an entire country and slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians in the process.

Neither will I defend the neo-cons who have used 9/11 to launch a seemingly open-ended Crusade into Muslim countries.

However, this dishonourable opportunism has all taken place after the event of 9/11. A conspiracy? The idea that the Whitehouse/CIA planned and carried out these attacks, while managing to keep it all quiet afterwards (just think how many people would have been involved!) is too far-fetched to be plausible.

Various Islamist websites have their own popular versions of the 9/11 conspiracy theory, also. They rage in the forums of these websites, and in the imaginations of those who log on seeking scapegoats for the notoriety surrounding 9/11 and militant Islamism. The most widely supported theory is that the attacks were planned and carried out by “the Jews”. What a surprise.

9/11 is just one source for fevered speculation regarding sinister plots, however. There are many other fanciful conspiracy theories thriving around the internet and elsewhere.

Take Princess Diana’s death, for example. One silly hypothesis is that the Royal Family had Diana murdered because she was making them look so bad in the media on a regular basis. But the Monarchy is a powerless institution, its members there to do and say whatever their government paymasters tell them to. The Queen is a figurehead, a puppet of whatever government happens to be in power at the time. I doubt that the Royals have the power to order assassinations with impunity.

Another recent theory, known mostly to people in Britain, revolves around the deceased weapons inspector David Kelly. An expert on chemical and biological weapons, one of the people trying to ensure Iraq remained WMD-free before our invasion, David Kelly was the man who later told a British journalist that Tony Blair’s government had probably “made up” the 45-minute claim regarding Saddam’s fictitious WMDs.

Made into a scapegoat and apparently hounded to the point of suicide, David Kelly was later found dead in the woods with an artery cut in his wrist and with drugs in his system. But some people dismiss the official account that he had taken his own life.

One of the most prominent of the sceptics is the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker. He has given up his seat on the front bench of Parliament in order to devote his energies to uncovering the “truth” about David Kelly’s death. He and other critics point out several holes in the official version.

For example, the method of alleged suicide, the cutting of a particularly unusual artery in his wrist, was so bizarre that only one person in the UK had killed himself in this manner in the year of his death: David Kelly himself.

Two paramedics noticed a distinct lack of blood at the scene of the alleged suicide, fuelling speculation that he may have been killed elsewhere and dumped in the woods afterwards. The paramedics felt so strongly that they held a press-conference to report their worries to the public.

Some experts have claimed that the drugs in David Kelly’s system wouldn’t have been anything like a lethal dose. Others have asserted that the type of wound on his wrist would have caused insufficient blood-loss to kill him.

On the day of his demise, mere hours before he died, Kelly apparently sent out emails in which he said he planned to return to Iraq. Hardly, some argue, the behaviour of a man who intended to kill himself.

Norman Baker points out that the official Hutton Inquiry into Kelly’s death did not have any of the powers of a formal inquest. For example, Lord Hutton did not have the power to legally require witnesses to come forward to answer his questions. But a formal inquest was never held.

Furthermore, since beginning his investigation, Baker claims that his mail and emails have been intercepted and tampered with, sometimes crudely. Emails to his collaborators have also allegedly been accessed by mystery hackers.

All of this makes for a compelling conspiracy theory, certainly more difficult to dismiss out of hand than dark mutterings about the CIA and 9/11. Ultimately, though, Norman Baker and his colleagues need to prove their case that David Kelly’s death was a murder rather than suicide.

Whichever way David Kelly died, he was treated disgracefully. This is one more example of Tony Blair’s criminally heartless and egocentric behaviour. He feels threatened and so lashes out, ordering a witch-hunt against a blameless scientist. Even if the scientist’s death was a suicide, Blair has blood on his hands. Our Prime Minister is a morally vacuous excuse for a human being.

The last conspiracy I want to mention concerns religious, rather than political, authority.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m referring to the controversial theories of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, made a into popular talking point by the author Dan Brown with his novel, The Da Vinci Code.

The basic hypothesis is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a family with her, a bloodline that may continue to this day. Far from being a marginal character, she was given a position of authority by Jesus and told to carry on as the leader of his religion after he died.

The male-dominated and misogynistic Catholic Church took a dim view of this fact because it implied that women were equal to men and could have an active part in religion. So, at the Council of Nicea, they edited out any of the Gospels in which Mary was a prominent figure, and added a myth that she was a lowly prostitute. Many scrolls were conveniently “lost” for centuries while the Catholic Church set about subjugating women, justifying their attitude by recourse to the selective theology they had adopted as official doctrine.

The Catholic Church has long distrusted women, as the witch-hunts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries attest. Women have, for centuries, been lumped together with pagans and intellectuals as dangerous and subversive influences to be kept down. The following aside combines all three (femininity, paganism, and intellectualism) in a single incident: Hypatia of Alexandria, the Platonic philosopher, mathematician and astronomer was murdered due to being pagan, too clever by half, and a woman. Her suspected involvement in a dispute between the Church and government was enough for a group of monks to beat her to death, mutilate her body with broken tiles, and burn her.

True, there is scant evidence for Jesus marrying Mary. But it is no more implausible than myths Catholics have readily believed in over the years, such as Jesus’s mother flying off into space instead of dying, or the dogma that un-christened babies who die are doomed to an eternity in Limbo.

If Jesus had been unmarried, it would have been a fairly scandalous state of affairs during the times in which he lived. He lived within a strict and conservative Jewish culture, where adult men were expected to marry... or else. For a charismatic 35 year old celebrity of the time to remain unwed would’ve been shocking to his peers. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of Jesus being single or celibate, which is odd because it would have been more than noteworthy.

Gospels not included in the Bible, such as the Gospel of Philip, contain hints that the “official” Gospels may have been a bit of a whitewash. Here is an interesting passage from Philip:

“And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her on the [scroll damaged and undecipherable]. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than us?’”

This is a charming passage. Teasingly, there is a small gap in the scroll, the result of wear and damage over time, and in a vital place. So we have the line “Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her on the [???]”.

For the kiss to make the other disciples jealous, we can guess (among wilder possibilities) that Jesus used to kiss Mary on the mouth… but we’ll never know.

With breathtaking hypocrisy, though, some conventionally religious conservatives say that the story of Jesus marrying Mary is “absurd” and there is no evidence to support it. Jesus walking on water or returning from the dead is also highly incredible, and there’s no evidence for these things either. The only “proof” for any miracles is scripture itself.

Here, we fall into a trap of circular logic:

-Why do you trust the scriptures?

-Because they are the word of God.

-But how do you know they are the word of God?

-Because the scriptures say so.

Nevertheless, many people believe that scriptural evidence is enough to justify their faith. The only evidence we have for Christ’s divinity is scripture, backed up by conjecture. The only evidence we have that Mary was Christ’s “most loved companion” is also scripture, again backed up by conjecture.

Some of my readers who are Christian may sorely want to believe in the story of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene. The story humanizes Jesus and it introduces some much-needed sacred-femininity into Christian doctrine. Well, since you have already accepted faith as a valid reason for holding onto amazing beliefs, here is what I suggest you could do…

Adopt the marriage of Jesus and Mary as an article of faith. Commission a new Bible that, for a start, re-includes the Gnostic Gospels. In your new Bible, correct the lines accusing Mary Magdalene of being a prostitute; either omit them or change the word “prostitute” or “whore” to, simply, “woman”. This will be consistent and uncontroversial, since there’s little doubt that Mary (if she existed) was a woman.

As for references to Jesus’s mother Mary as the “virgin”, your new Bible could be the first to officially recognize that this was a mistranslation of the Hebrew word meaning “young woman”. The emphasis on “virginity” results from the Gospel authors being unable to read Hebrew properly. It is the “young woman” Mary, mother of Jesus – not the virgin-Mary, mother of God.

Found your own break-away Church based upon the new Bible, with your re-introduced aspects of the Sacred Feminine. Sit back and watch as people leave the stale and chauvinistic old Church and flock to join your new and vibrant branch of the religion. And if those infidels attack you, subjugate and kill them (just kidding).

Other Christians may hypocritically accuse you of holding beliefs for which there is absolutely no evidence. You can reply that your only evidence is scriptural, as is theirs. Faith does the rest.

Actually, even though I’m being light-hearted here, such a progressive schism in the Church might not be a bad thing, at least in the short term. Your new (or, perhaps, ancient and original) formulation of the faith can be no worse than the neurotic and dehumanizing Church doctrines we have currently. If anyone seriously wants to take on this task, I wish you luck.

The inevitable “but”: …before getting too excited, it may be wiser to remember that there’s a less dangerous and irrational anomaly than faith – one that is just as compatible with a quest for spiritual experience.


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