The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind

The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind

The peculiarities of how American Christianity took shape help explain believers’ vulnerability to conspiratorial thinking and misinformation.
An excellent article from the New Yorker by Michael Luo from March 4, 2021

This might be behind a paywall for you guys, but it is so chilling you might wish to get it from your library. I’ll reproduce some of the article below.

It was among the most jarring scenes of the Capitol invasion, on January 6th. As rioters milled about on the Senate floor, a long-haired man in a red ski cap bellowed, from the dais, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” A man to his right––the so-called QAnon Shaman, wearing a fur hat and bull horns atop his head, and holding an American flag—raised a megaphone and began to pray. Others in the chamber bowed their heads. “Thank you, heavenly Father, for being the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the Communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the America, the American way of the United States of America, to go down,” he said. “Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and love Christ.”

Falsehoods about a stolen election, retailed by Donald Trump and his allies, drove the Capitol invasion, but distorted visions of Christianity suffused it. One group carried a large wooden cross; there were banners that read “In God We Trust,” “Jesus Is My Savior / Trump Is My President,” and “Make America Godly Again”; some marchers blew shofars, ritual instruments made from ram’s horns that have become popular in certain conservative Christian circles, owing to its resonance with an account in the Book of Joshua in which Israelites sounded their trumpets and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. The intermingling of religious faith, conspiratorial thinking, and misguided nationalism on display at the Capitol offered perhaps the most unequivocal evidence yet of the American church’s role in bringing the country to this dangerous moment.

A recent survey, conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, found that more than a quarter of white evangelicals believe that Donald Trump has been secretly battling “a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites,” a core tenet of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The data suggest a faith-based reality divide emerging within the Republican Party: nearly three-quarters of white evangelical Republicans believe widespread voter fraud took place in the 2020 election, compared with fifty-four per cent of non-evangelical Republicans; sixty per cent of white evangelical Republicans believe that Antifa, the antifascist group, was mostly responsible for the violence in the Capitol riot, compared with forty-two per cent of non-evangelical Republicans. Other surveys have found that white evangelicals are much more skeptical of the covid -19 vaccine and are less likely than other Americans to get it, potentially jeopardizing the country’s recovery from the pandemic.

How did the church in America––particularly, its white Protestant evangelical manifestation––end up here?

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(If you have an iOS device, and I presume OS X and macOS, you can paste the title into the Apple News search field and get the whole article.)

Very good question! I also like Christianity Today’s recent article examining the opposite–that one of Jesus’ points was that his kingdom was not of this world, and needed no force for it to take place.

I have a digital subscription to the New Yorker. I highly recommend the whole article.

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I’m not sure you can be any more embarrassed on behalf of those who share your faith than I am on behalf of my fellow citizens when talking to friends from abroad. At least most of you can point to the mission of this place which is encouraging a theology compatible with science and clear thinking. Some of you have undergone a similar transformation in your own perspective which I appreciate can be very frightening socially. I’m not sure I can point to any effort I’ve made on behalf of my fellow citizens. Honestly more often I imagine moving elsewhere and that isn’t helpful.

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I think a huge part of this is an internet version of word of mouth which has created a pseudo-information or opinion network that groups of people trust more than any public sources. Basically, regardless of the subject, whether medicine, politics, religion, or other news, people trust their friends more than any so called evidence or authorities. I think creationism has played a huge part in creating such networks. It leaves those of us outside those networks at quite a loss to understand how so many people believe such strange things.

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Creationism predates the internet. The Evangelical Church appears to bear much of the responsibility for this. It has failed to reject the bad theology that the Bible is the literal Word of God, thus setting up the basis for an alternative reality. It has failed to reject the bad theology that America is the White Christian Nation. Its leaders have encouraged these false teachings and made a anti-Christian pact with Republican to support that party and its ideology in return for money and power.

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Definitely something that has a lot to unpack.

Yes we are talking about something which predates the internet. But the internet has made it stronger so that it now extends far beyond simply neighbors and church goers talking to each other - crossing not only distance but across some rather surprising denominational lines also.

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I agree that the Internet definitely helped this type of thing be given more a platform therefore allowing it to to spread out more and have more of a snowball effect. I also believe that by the news catering more to sensationalism in America where they tend to give more airtime to extreme views or very triggering views have helped it grow also.

I think I mentioned it before but I always think of that study someone did where they used the same image and same video and uploaded it on YouTube. The image was of a white soldier with his mouth opened wide showing his teeth holding a little Arabic girl under her arms pits. She was probably 6 years old.

One video was titled “ angry soldier screaming and slamming little Muslim girl”.

The other video read , “ Laughing soldier and little Arabic girl dancing”.

The video was of a soldier holding a little girl and dancing with her. He was laughing and she was giggling and her mother was there smiling. It was a happy video. But the video with the false title of rage and pain at that time had millions of views and the other accurately titled video had a few hundred or thousands of views.

The media does something similar. They know that by creating contentious shocking content they get more views. On Facebook, the crazier views tend to get shared around more. Social media I believe has helped to falsely convince people that the extremist views make up the majority of people within this or that niche.

All of that helped, especially with Trump encouraging it, to spiral into what happened that day.

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