This is a hard post to write. It is one I have done a lot of reflecting on. At the back end of a tumultuous year like no other in my lifetime of 37 years, it seemed appropriate to post it now. As much as I'd like to believe it, I doubt when the clock clicks over to 2021 that these problems will magically disappear.
As fear of COVID-19 gripped the world, one of the repercussions has been the rise of conspiracy theories. These have always been around, but now social media, anxiety, and an increasingly unstable world have seen them gain new followers - ones who I would previously have never believed would have become entangled in things like this. I have at times felt devastated as it became glaringly obvious on Facebook that more and more friends had 'gone down the rabbit hole', and no amount of reasoning would convince them it was a terrible mistake. Suddenly anyone not with them was against them - we were 'living in fear', 'enslaved to the government', and needed to 'wake up'. COVID didn't exist, or at least was a lot less dangerous than the media was reporting. We were going to be forcibly vaccinated by Bill Gates and microchipped. The government was putting fluoride in our drinking water to damage our 'third eye' and make us docile and obedient. We shouldn't be wearing masks or staying in our homes. It was all part of a government plan to turn Australia into a dictatorship.
I was more scared of these people, my friends, than I was of the virus.
How was a longstanding friendship going to survive these bizarre beliefs? When lockdown ended and we could meet in person again, would I have to endure long-winded rants of how I was a sheep and needed to be 'woke'? Would every topic suddenly become an elephant in the room?
The scary thing was that some people were not just saying they believed these things, they were actively changing their lifestyle in accordance - in ways I could never imagined some people would have just a year earlier. This included no longer vaccinating their kids, planning to homeschool (presumably because the school wouldn't enrol their kids if they were unvaccinated), buying expensive water filters so they wouldn't have to drink tap water.
But then I started to consider how it must have looked to my non-Christian friends and family when I became a Christian. I know for a fact that many of them thought I'd become 'weird', that they were worried I'd been sucked into a cult, that I was living out my faith in big life decisions, rather than it being a passing fad. They must have been scared, they must have thought they'd lost me, they must have wondered if they could ever have a normal relationship with me again, they must have worried I'd bash them over the head with my Bible at every opportunity.
Maybe all this conspiracy theory stuff will be a fad for some friends. I truly hope so. I was talking to a good friend of mine who is a nurse in mental health, and she thinks the anxiety of being in social isolation has messed with people's minds. I'm inclined to agree. I also know that some people who are really into conspiracy theories also have bipolar disorder and, because of their beliefs regarding health, often refuse to take the proper medication for it.
I've also realised that rather than running in fear from some people because of their passion and outspokenness, I could use these opportunities to speak about Jesus. If they want a platform to speak about their great love, then they cannot refuse me the chance to respectfully speak about mine. Then I pray they will know what true freedom is, that trusting God in all things, means you are not living in fear.