More than a quarter of white evangelicals believe in QAnon, suggesting that people whose lives revolve around one conspiracy theory have a very hard time abandoning a different one.
That number comes from a January survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, which found that 29% of Republicans and 27% of white evangelicals believe the insane conspiracy that says (among other things) “Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that includes prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.”
Those numbers are much higher than those of other political or religious demographics.
Asked to explain why white evangelicals appear disproportionately likely to embrace conspiracy theories, [AEI’s Survey Center on American Life director Daniel] Cox noted that, as a group, they do not fit a stereotype of conspiracy theorists as people disconnected from social interaction. Instead, most retain strong connections to various social groups.
But white evangelicals stand out in a different way: The vast majority say some or a lot of their family members (81%) or friends (82%) voted for Trump in the 2020 election — more than any other religious group.
“People who do strongly believe in these things are not more disconnected — they are more politically segregated,” Cox said.
The resulting social echo chamber, he argued, allows conspiracy theories to spread unchecked.
Cox doesn’t say this to Religion News Service, but a poisonous echo chamber where bad ideas take off, and unverified beliefs provide the foundation for the ecosystem, and where people are praised for just having faith in nonsense is just a perfect place for political lies to thrive. QAnon assumes the best of Trump, the worst of Democrats and/or Hollywood, and allows True Believers to think they’re fighting some righteous battle. It’s no wonder that the people who constant start culture war fights over innocuous things are more than willing to accept QAnon batshittery.
These are the same people who think there’s a push to stop people from saying “Merry Christmas,” that they’re constantly being persecuted, that evolution is a hoax, and that comprehensive sex education is somehow bad for children. They don’t have the critical thinking skills necessary to accept reality in any form. If anything, they’re praised in church for running away from those realities.
Remember that a different survey from last month found that 49% of Protestant pastors said they had heard conspiracy theories among members of their churches.
If church leaders are disturbed by how gullible and deranged members of their congregations are, they have the power to do something about it: They can speak out against political lies (without endorsing a candidate). They can provide mental help to members of their flocks. They can emphasize how being a follower of Jesus means never accepting lies even from people who hand you right-wing judges on a silver platter.
The reason they won’t do that, though, is because there’s just way too much overlap between the sort of mindset that leads to QAnon acceptance and the mindset that tells people to accept the Bible as literally true. You can’t tell people to abandon one kind of thoughtless and evidence-free belief while urging them to embrace a different one. You can’t say there’s no secret cabal of Democrats when the other side of your mouth says Adam and Eve literally existed and Jesus rose from the dead — not with a straight face, anyway.
You also can’t rid your church of radical right-wing zealots because, like the Republican Party at large, you’d be casting off a large chunk of your base. Pastors are much more interested in self preservation. They need those QAnon crazies to give them money or else some of them won’t have a functional church.
The problem isn’t just that white evangelicals accept QAnon. The problem is that the same kind of thinking required to be a white evangelical opens the door for all kinds of other baseless beliefs. You can’t just cut off one arm of the monster and act like the problem is solved. You have to get rid of the monster entirely.