Why Evangelical Christians Accept Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories

I know that my atheist readers will probably look at that headline and think, “Because they believe in one irrational thing so why not another?” And okay. But we are all irrational even if many of us hide it better than those who believe in the zombie who made God forgive all our sins. I want to look at something a little different: the uselessness of right-wing Christianity in this country.

The Economist recently published an article, What Drives Belief in Conspiracy Theories, a Lack of Religion or Too Much? It looks that a YouGov poll that asked people about their religious beliefs and their support for different conspiracy theories. Here are the questions and the number of percentage points more likely the evangelicals were to believe them than the rest of us:

  • Millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 general election (34 pp)
  • The government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population (14 pp)
  • Vaccines have been shown to cause autism (15 pp)
  • NASA staged the Moon landing (5 pp).

As we go down the list, fewer people believe so the differences decrease. But 67% of white evangelicals believe that millions of illegal votes were cast last year’s election and 15% believe we didn’t land on the Moon. (They are also much more likely to believe in Qanon.)

Some have argued that religious people would be less inclined to believe this nonsense because they have a fulfilling belief system in their faith. The truth must be closer to the opposite.

What Do People Use Religion For?

Religion was not big in my house but I got to see it in the larger family. My father’s family were Catholics of the “We’ll Donate and Attend Occasionally but It Ain’t Getting in the Way of Our Lives” variety. This is probably why I have a higher opinion of Catholicism.

My mother’s family were White Evangelicals. They all had personal relationships with Jesus and were ostentatious in their belief yet seemed only to care about one issue: abortion. In word, they loved the sinner. In deed, they talked about how much they loved the sinner.

And from them, I got the idea that the purpose of their religion was simply to signal their inclusion in the group of Good People. Now, I understand: everyone does this. But you don’t need religion for that. It seems to me rather a waste of a religion.

What Is Theology Good For?

What continues to frustrate me about almost all religious people is that they aren’t much interested in theology. The closest they get to it is this childish belief in Heaven as if Jesus is The Great Pumpkin — come to give the good boys and girls eternal life if they just believe hard enough!

And this stunted form of religious belief does not provide believers with much in the way of meaning. All they get from their religion is that they’ll be one of the Cool Kids that gets into the Party at the End of Eternity. But you know God: he’ll probably let all those hippy Christians in too and that doesn’t make them feel very special.

So they are easy marks for other pseudo-religious scams like Qanon. God supposedly loves them for believing one ridiculous thing. Wouldn’t he love them more if they believed in a dozen similarly ridiculous things? Regardless, every new belief provides them with a dopamine rush that comes from believing they have found The Truth.

Where Does This Leave Us?

I knew when I was a kid as much as I do now: these were the people who burned “witches.” They are authoritarian by nature. Alone, they are harmless — nice, in fact. But they are easy marks for demagogues.

And that’s the takehome from the YouGov poll.


Conspiracy Theory Wall by Harald Groven under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Why Evangelical Christians Accept Conspiracy Theories

  1. There’s also the grim specter of Satan, Father of Lies, actively behind every conspiracy, trying to decieve us. It was a useful instrument of control for the Church in its heyday (and produced a lot of great, terrifying art I’m sure a horror-movie fan appreciates)! One must constantly be on guard against him, and seeing his works in things like vaccines or elections must feel like doing so. I’m sure this provides some level of meaning to one’s existence, albeit a small and miserable one. (Like subscribing to a home security service.)

    • Good point. I don’t understand why isn’t heresy, however. Christianity is all about people being responsible for their own sins. The way many Christians talk about Satan, you’d think they were blameless.

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