Every Church Has A Conspiracy Theory

Qanon has been a surprising opportunity for a lot of people to learn something they probably never realised before: That the conspiracy theory wing of the world was bountifully alive, well, and extremely well-fed, in the existing landscape of Christian dominionism.

Content Warning: Church, Qanon and related subjects, American Christianity, and Conspiracy Theories.

One of the products of cultural isolation — in any way — is that you can be distinctly disoriented when suddenly something you’re unfamiliar with is treated as extremely familiar by other people. I don’t drive, for example, so when surrounded by four people who tell a joke about gearshifting, I’m completely lost as to whether or not the gears should be big numbers or low numbers, or whatever. Similarly, there can come the opposite of that, where something you know extremely well, so much so you don’t even feel the need to explicate what it is or how it is, because surely everyone knows that. I wouldn’t know, at first, how to explain ‘hair’ to my friends, because we all know what hair is. I mean I could do it, because that’s a skill I’ve honed and I’m paid to do it, but basically: There’s a lot of underexamined stuff you know, and you don’t think about how you know them and how other people wouldn’t.

An example. Last year, in September, Dan Olson released his documentary In Search Of A Flat Earth.

In Search Of A Flat Earth

I know a full hour of your life for this particular discovery is a little much, so here’s the abridged summary if you haven’t seen it already.

  • Flat earthers actually exist; there are people who really, genuinely believe in a flat earth as part of a conspiratorial vision of reality;
  • A large body of them grew in popularity online several years ago, which created an attention bubble, a bit like how the internet’s algorithsm brought together other similar bubbles;
  • They’re largely diminished in prominence now not because of debunking or anything, but because instead, they’ve largely moved on to Qanon;
  • Qanon is an apocalyptic Biblical cult focused on the success of Donald Trump and whose conspiratorial vision of reality includes a distributed super-cult of blood-drinking cannibal pedophiles
  • Qanon, and this is where people tend to get their new idea introduced to them, is Christian and Biblical in its underpinnings.

Of course, this isn’t 100% true, as it is: It’s simply not possible to nail down every component of a deliberately decentralised conspiracy theory (like all of them) because its adherents will always take the idea ala carte: Conspiracy theorists rarely trust other conspiracy theorists, because I dunno, those people are a bit weird or something. And a lot of Qanon people who aren’t actively Christian will also deny that the movement is Christian, because to them, they don’t see it.

Nonetheless, the memeplex of Qanon is deeply American Dominionist Christian; it is about a palingenesis, a secret savior, a validation of you and yours as the ‘real’ majority, a dismissal of everything that challenges you, and it is ultimately about the idea that there is an other committing a dreadful sin that merits the worst punishments. It’s a lot of very comforting ideas, hyperirrigated to a natural conclusion. You aren’t losing things, you aren’t feeling alienated or confused because you did something wrong; it’s because of an other, with literal actual magic doing it, and you’re going to be saved because the world is just.

Thing is, this is just Christianity.

I’m not joking.

American Christianity, and I do not care what you think your nice pastor from back home says, is, at its root, a vision of the world with an actual evil empire that oppresses Christians, controls the world, and is headed up by a literal actual snake god that is going to be punished forever in a lake of fire. That’s the ballgame. There are more moderate groups that say ‘well, we don’t believe that’s literally true,’ but those groups are still calling themselves Christians and calling the Christians who do believe that brethren and sharing political direction with them, so, sorry, you are all okay with the snake cult thing, same as the ‘non-Christian’ Qanon people aren’t doing anything to distance themselves from the extremely Christian parts of it.

Thing is, American Christianity has kinda always had this. Every church I’ve been to, every preacher I’ve met from another church, every time I’ve gone into one of these closed bubbles, there’s always been someone, someone often high up or close to the pastor, who believes some total bullshit. And I don’t mean the total bullshit of Christianity itself, I know, I don’t like it, ha ha I’m clever. I mean like, conventional conspiracy theories. Electric car suppression or free energy theories or multi-level marketing scams or, inevitably some of the Anti-Semetic classics.

It makes sense, though. You’re talking about a social space defined not by a shared common interest in learning something but a shared common interest in social reinforcement. I don’t even mean that in a cruel or mocking way – churches are primarily interested in ensuring that the church’s members are doing okay, it’s a positive social feedback loop of people coming together to spend time with and understand each other through shared media. A book club can do the same thing, it’s just churches get tax breaks.

If you have a social group that is built around a positive reinforcement, and the primary thing it’s interested in is how much you can take care of one another, then you’re not actually going to resist weird ideas. You’re going to see the good of the social environment as more important than dismissing weirdoes – and that’s why a lot of churches foster racists and bigots, because confronting those ideas and attacking them isn’t actually good in the name of the church. Even ministers who are trying to address and counsel against this are still fundamentally not going to discard someone from the faith who isn’t doing something that endangers the church.

If someone is hurting someone within the church, they’re not likely to get kicked out of the church. If they’re fostering weird ideas about who is actually a secret lizard person, that’s hurting nobody by comparison, so why are those ideas going to get someone kicked out?

It’s not the same conspiracy across every church. But every church, no matter how nice you think yours is, has a conspiracy that it’s not doing anything to address.

Note that I’ve used church throughout. Because … well, yeah, that’s what I know. Plus, if you’re running a Synagogue or Mosque, you actually do have a real conspiracy and actual people trying to implant false ideas to oppress you. So, no comment there.