Wednesday, March 10, 2021
A dark secret has emerged: Christians have a problem with conspiracy issues. Earlier this week, a fascinating and disturbing new study by the American Enterprise Institute indicated that more than a quarter of white evangelicals, the largest proportion of any demographic group, affirm part or all of the strange conspiracy theory of QAnon, which holds that a coterie of Satan-worshipping, murderous pedophiles has infiltrated the media, academia, and Hollywood, and is controlling much of the federal government.
Other studies have indicated that evangelicals are the demographic group most likely to be averse to or skeptical of vaccines, and have even been targeted by misinformation hucksters in online campaigns.
What is going on? Christians would, one might think, be among the most discerning of news consumers—eager to verify the veracity of a charge before passing it on, averse to slander, focused on what is “true, beautiful, and of good report;” keenly aware of the foibles and fallibility that beset all humans, and therefore unlikely to be suckered by villainous plots involving evil masterminds. But instead, conspiracy thinking is growing.
Of course, Christians are hardly alone in susceptibility to conspiracy or misinformation—both of which have been on the rise with new social media that allow “fake news” to be spread with increasing velocity and range. And it is an all-too-human propensity to be more receptive to narratives that confirm our biases, rather than challenge them—and particularly in fearful times.
But the results are hazardous to our physical, spiritual, and civic health. Misinformation about the COVID-19 virus, mask-wearing and other prevention efforts, and vaccines have doubtless caused or contributed to the lethal spread of the disease. A fearful, angry, and confused citizenry is poison to the body politic. And receptivity to falsehood will inevitably afflict the soul, distort one’s character, and divide the church.
On Friday, we’ll host an Online Conversation with columnist David French to discuss “Faith, Fear, and Conspiracy,” and delve more deeply into how and why our unsettling times have proven fertile ground for the growth of conspiracy thinking – and what we can do about it. And this, French believes, is not just a matter of information, but also of spiritual formation—the cultivation of disciplines that lead us to wisdom, prudence, discernment, and charity.
It may also require a more robust civic theology. French wrote: “As a general rule, all too many Christians do not possess any form of political theology beyond a commitment to a certain set of issues. As a result, their distinct identity within the body politic is frequently defined by those issues alone rather than by their character or conduct…. We do not spend nearly enough time learning how to live as political beings within a political community… Unless the church can address its deep and more fundamental failure of moral and theological instruction in politics, many of its leaders and thinkers will continue to play whack-a-mole with the symptoms of the underlying disease. And make no mistake, conspiracy theories represent one of those symptoms.”
We hope you’ll join us for a thought-provoking conversation on the snare of conspiracy thinking and its antidote: the freedom found in the pursuit of truth, and the ways of its Author.
As we navigate these uncertain times together, we recommend these Readings
as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.