Friday, September 08, 2006

Faith and Black Helicopters

I don't know quite what to make of all the 9/11 Conspiracy TheoristsTM out there. In much of the Muslim world, clearly, an anti-American sentiment blended with a wish that the attacks had not been carried out by co-religionists results in rejection of the official version of events. In Europe, an intense dislike of the Bush administration specifically, and of American power in general, leads many otherwise sane people down the tinfoil-hat road.

Certainly some of these traits are shared by American 'skeptics', such as the 9/11 Scholars for Truth (and one should strongly consider scare quotes for both Scholars and Truth in this case). One thing all these groups have in common is a basic unfamiliarity with Occam's Razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

So many of the conspiracy theories require the coordinated actions of shadowy government agencies (such as the one that couldn't manage to invade Cuba or keep it's network of secret prisons a secret) and what would have to be described as covert American operatives from the Middle East who, while they have plenty of connections to anti-American jihad movements, have no demonstrated ties with the Men in Black. The proposition that our inept government was able to perfectly execute their plan without getting caught and without talking about it or slipping up in any way afterwards puts too much strain on credulity.

The fact remains that there are things about the 9/11 attacks and the mechanics of the collapse of the World Trade Center that leave unanswered questions. And mystery, as always, opens the door to fantasy. What strikes me most about the conspiracy theorists is their religious fervor. Not only because they demonstrate the wide-eyed certainty of the recent convert, but because they exhibit traits of genuine religious belief.

Throughout history, gods have been mechanisms to fill in the gaps of human understanding and have served as mythical repositories of our awe. What's that volcano that threatens our town? It's an angry god, of course. We better be good. 9/11 conspiracy theorists are decidedly uncomfortable with the unexplained. What they show is a need to develop a theory that encapsulates all the data they have gathered and erases all of the question marks. To what do they turn? A god (and this is one of those old-fashioned gods of thunder) in the form of an omnipotent, omniscient 'shadow government' that acts with impunity and leaves no trace that could ever amount to proof of its actual existence.

That takes a faith that I just can't share.
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