Every church has its fringe folks who advocate bizarre conspiracy theories.
One I’ve recently been exposed to is Walter Veith, a South African zoologist who has a number of DVDs about creation and evolution. Those may be fine, as he is speaking about a subject in which he is well-educated. But he has other DVDs that promulgate the strangest collection of conspiracy theories I’ve ever seen, related to Bible manuscripts on the one hand and to current events on the other.
The Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference has addressed his views on Biblical manuscripts.
Here are a few observations I made after watching his series, “Total Onslaught” (passed on to me by a young adult who was impressed by Veith’s presentation style and the amount of content).
9-11 Conspiracy theories. Veith claims that there was no debris found at the site of the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA. Shows snippet of a German documentary featuring the mayor saying, “There was no plane.” This is not true.
In the book, Wisnewski describes the scene as follows: “And then it becomes apparent that something is troubling Ernie Stull. On the one hand, it’s what the leading authorities of the United States – the FBI, the CIA, the President – have claimed. On the other hand, it’s what his brother-in-law and his friend told him. ‘There was no airplane,’ says Ernie Stull, speaking partly to us and partly as if he were listening to his own voice, checking to see if he had heard himself correctly. One and half years after the catastrophe, he still shakes his head, completely at a loss, and helplessly extends his arms: ‘No airplane’.”
When Der Spiegel confronts Stull with the English translation of these passages in the book and the film script, the man is speechless: “My statements were taken completely out of context. Of course there was an airplane. It’s just that there wasn’t much left of it after the explosion. That’s what I meant when I said ‘no airplane’. I saw parts of the wreckage with my own eyes, even one of the engines. It was lying in the bushes.”
Alpha Confusion. Veith shows a slide about manipulation of “alpha waves,” and then starts talking about the “Alpha Course,” as if there were some connection between the two. But these are two completely unrelated things, that have in common only the word “alpha.” The “Alpha Course” is an introductory course (hence “alpha,” the first letter in the Greek alphabet) in Christianity (from a charismatic perspective). It may not be in keeping with Adventist theology (or Catholic, for that matter), but it says nothing about “alpha waves.”
Jesuits and Mormons. Veith says, when speaking of Joseph Smith, that the Jesuits created and controlled the Mormons. His only supporting evidence is mention of a supposed friendship between Pierre de Smet and Brigham Young. In fact, they met once, in 1846. Young simply asked them about the territory, which the Jesuit missionary knew. Here’s the real story:
Not till 1841 do we again read of a Catholic priest visiting Utah. In that year the heroic Jesuit missionary and explorer, Father Pierre-Jean de Smet , passed through the valley of Salt Lake on his way to Green River, Wyoming . This remarkable priest was, in the autumn of 1846, the guest of the Mormon leader, Brigham Young, who was wintering with his followers near Council Bluffs, preparing to enter the Great American Desert in the spring of 1847. As the Mormon president had not yet determined where he and his people would finally settle, he was greatly impressed with Father de Smet’s description of Salt Lake and Cache Valleys stretching away from the Wasatch Mountains. “They asked me a thousand questions about the regions I had explored”, writes the priest to his nephew, “and the valley which I have just described to you pleased them greatly from the account I gave them of it. Was this what determined them to settle there? I would not dare to affirm it. They are there!”
Wandering Bishops. He shows pictures of men dressed as bishops and claims that the Catholic church has “wandering bishops” who minister to the New Age movement. These are not Catholic bishops; they are merely New Age charlatans who dress up like bishops and claim to have been ordained by someone who claimed to be ordained by someone who claimed to be ordained by someone who was ordained by a real bishop.
Jesse Duplantis. He shows clips of Jesse Duplantis, a Pentecostal preacher from Louisiana with a pronounced Cajun accent. Veith can’t understand the accent, however! Duplantis ends a sentence with, “See?” – Veith hears “Satan.” Duplantis says another time, “I’m going to tell you something” – Veith hears, “I am with Satan.” This was one place where Veith had me laughing out loud.
Broken cross. Veith shows the crosier of Paul VI (used also by John Paul II) which has an abstract representation (modeled on a rough sketch by St. John of the Cross). He calls this a “bent” or “broken” cross, and claims it to be a Satanic symbol. But he offers no proof for this; he shows no depictions of such a cross in occult documents, only citing the undocumented claims other conspiracy buffs.
Pope at St. Louis. He shows snippets of the 1999 visit of Pope John Paul II to St. Louis and claims that the pope did not say a word about Jesus. You can read them yourself to see (one and two). Here are some extracts:
Praised be Jesus Christ! …
We are gathered here this evening to listen to Jesus as he speaks to us through his word and in the power of the Holy Spirit. …
Today, this impressive stadium has become another kind of training ground not for hockey or soccer or basketball, but for that training that will help you to live your faith in Jesus more decisively …
ake the Sunday celebration in your parishes a real encounter with Jesus in the community of his followers: this is an essential part of your “training in devotion” to the Lord! …
Jesus does not have “contempt for your youth”. He does not set you aside for a later time when you will be older and your training will be complete. Your training will never be finished. Christians are always in training. You are ready for what Christ wants of you now. He wants you — all of you — to be light to the world, as only young people can be light. It is time to let your light shine! …
And wherever I go I challenge young people — as a friend — to live in the light and truth of Jesus Christ….
“You are the light of the world. . . Your light must shine before all”
Dear Young People,
Ask yourselves: Do I believe these words of Jesus in the Gospel? Jesus is calling you the light of the world. He is asking you to let your light shine before others. I know that in your hearts you want to say: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am. I come to do your will” (Responsorial Psalm; cf. Heb 10:7). But only if you are one with Jesus can you share his light and be a light to the world.
Are you ready for this?
Sadly, too many people today are living apart from the light in a world of illusions, a world of fleeting shadows and promises unfulfilled. If you look to Jesus, if you live the Truth that is Jesus, you will have in you the light that reveals the truths and values on which to build your own happiness, while building a world of justice, peace and solidarity. Remember what Jesus said: “I am the light of the world; those who follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (cf. Jn 8:12).
Because Jesus is the Light, we too become light when we proclaim him. This is the heart of the Christian mission to which each of you has been called through Baptism and Confirmation. You are called to make the light of Christ shine brightly in the world.
Pronunciations. He repeatedly mispronounces names like Teilhard de Chardin and common words like “Episcopal” and “episcopacy.” This shows he is ignorant of the subject.
Pac-Man. He sees the video-game “Pac-Man” character as a representation of the “all-seeing eye of Lucifer.” This is just silly. Compare the “all-seeing eye” (on the top of the pyramid on the US dollar bill) with these sketches of the design for Pac-Man. Demand that Veith document his claim.
Sources. His videos reveal that he has uncritically appropriated a wide variety of conspiracy theories and sources, which he has strung together on the flimsiest of associations (as noted under Alpha, above). It appears that in Veith’s mind, everyone is a freemason, these are controlled by the Jesuits, who also created the Mormons. He rehashes every 9-11, Kennedy assassination, and Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy theory. He consistently says he is giving sources, but his sources are mainly just other conspiracy sites.
Valid points. Yes, there are plenty of issues here worth talking about: the philosophies of Freemasonry and the New Age movement, self-esteem movements in Christianity, charismatic phenomena, Catholic theology, and the rock-star treatment of popes. But it needs to be done with citation of credible sources, by someone with a background in the subject.
There are more issues that could be raised. Is a conspiracist theory of history plausible? Nicholas Miller address this question here.