Jim Denison on Jeffrey Epstein, Conspiracy Theories, and the Key to Cultural Impact

The two staff members guarding the jail unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself fell asleep and failed to check on him for about three hours, according to this morning’s New York Times. They then falsified records to cover up their mistake. The two employees were placed on administrative leave yesterday and the warden of the jail was temporarily reassigned.

Skepticism surrounding Epstein’s death has ranged across the political spectrum, from President Trump and Rudy Giuliani to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

“We have to ask who stood to gain from his permanent silence,” said Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe. “Who could he have incriminated in an effort to win favorable treatment from the Trump Justice Department?”

Such questions reflect our growing skepticism of our government and elected leaders. According to Pew Research Center, public trust in government was near 80 percent in the mid-1960s. Today, such trust has fallen to 17 percent.

Only 3 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government to do what is right “just about always”; 14 percent say they trust it “most of the time.”


Conspiracy theories have long been with us.

On the recent fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landingclaims that NASA faked Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk received renewed attention.

Next month, the remains of FBI bank robber John Dillinger will be exhumed. For eighty-five years since his death, conspiracy theorists have claimed that the FBI killed a body double. DNA testing could confirm the corpse’s true identity.

Some have questioned whether Lyme disease in the US resulted from an accidental release of a secret bioweapons experiment by the military. And more than two million people signed on to a Facebook event to storm Area 51 in Nevada seeking evidence of aliens. The event was a joke drawing on decades of conspiracy theories, but the response shows how pervasive these theories have become.

Conspiracies have always been with us. Some are fostered by people in power who want to stay in power, as when the religious authorities claimed that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11–15). Most, however, reflect a distrust of power by those who do not have it.


While the internet and social media have made it easier than ever to propagate conspiracies, distrust of authority has deeper cultural roots. Pew Research Center notes that trust in government began eroding with the escalation of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. This, however, was also the time when a worldview known as postmodern relativism began making inroads in American culture.

Stated very briefly, the idea is that our minds interpret our senses, but since our minds and senses are personal and subjective, our truth claims must therefore be personal and subjective as well. This theory gained currency in the eighteenth century with German philosopher Immanuel Kant and became pervasive in Europe through the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche and others.

It did not become popular in American thinking, however, until after World War II. European intellectuals began teaching more commonly in American universities; American scholars began studying more frequently in Europe; advances in global communications bridged longstanding cultural gaps.

All that to say, the majority of Americans today believe that truth is personal and subjective. According to a Barna study, 66 percent of adults and 91 percent of teenagers don’t believe in absolute truth. Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year.

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Source: Christian Headlines