There is a theological root among the others that give birth to and feed the embrace of conspiracy theories in the United States, leading to the rioting by Trump supporters. I am referring to idolatry. I don’t mean the devotion towards and faith in Trump that constitutes worship even though his Evangelical supporters would never accept that description of their position. I mean the idolatry that is focused on their own selves. Ultimately what fosters this kind of mindset is the replacement of faith in God with faith in self. They replace humble recognition of human limitation with unshakeable confidence that they, their assumptions and opinions, are right, and must be affirmed no matter what evidence to the contrary is presented.
Ultimately the selfishness is also reflected in a distrust and demonization of those they regard as enemies. Here it is hard to speak of cause and effect since the two reinforce one another. But the result is plain to see. In addition to breaking the first commandment about worship and idolatry, they break the commandment against bearing false witness against their neighbor. They may just be repeating false accusations, but if you welcome, embrace, and repeat unsubstantiated claims that your opponents are literally in league with Satan and engaging in heinous acts, you are guilty of false testimony even if the lies were not your own invention.
The (selective) distrust of other human beings is also a consequence and fruit of this self-centeredness. It reflects the belief that oneself and those one chooses to believe are trustworthy, seemingly infallible, while others are so evil that they cannot be trusted at all. The list of those in the latter category ends up growing exponentially as one vainly tries to shore up the crumbling worldview built on and out of falsehoods. It may start with accusations against “the libs” and “Demoncrats” (yes, they really do use such labels, ignoring Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:22 about insulting others), and of course the “MSM” (mainstream media). Eventually not only Republican governors and secretaries of state are viewed as part of the “deep state,” but even Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and eventually even Donald Trump himself when he offers belated criticisms of the rioters and acknowledges that Biden will be the next president. The only way one can see that Trump supporters proudly acknowledge their role in the riot, and the photographic evidence about who was involved, and still say it was “Antifa” is to be so deeply idolatrous, so wedded to the belief in one’s own inerrant rightness, that nothing can change one’s mind.
I’ve seen several people emphasize the need to refer to what happened as a “riot” rather than a “coup attempt.” It is hard to know whether the fact that the senators who had gathered were moved to safety prevented actions that might place it squarely in the latter category. On the surface the impression we get is a reassuring one, in the sense that those who were so aggravated by their failure to get their way that they rioted seem not to have had an actual plan to take control of government in any meaningful sense. Perhaps they thought that all they needed to do was threaten and everyone would cower into submission. Perhaps they had no plan and, finding themselves in the Capitol, took selfies and vandalized in the way they undoubtedly have criticized others for doing in the past. That these evildoers who have been so badly misled do not have a strategy is somewhat reassuring. They are sowing chaos but that can only be kept up for so long.
I may be wrong about that last point. But I am fairly confident in my theological analysis of what is at the heart of conservative Christian conspiracism. But as appropriate for someone like myself who rejects idolatry, I acknowledge that I could be wrong. As far as I can see at the moment, however, conservative Christians are continuing to provide abundant evidence that I’m right about this.
I’ve said it before. When you define faith as dogmatism rather than trust in God, the center of your devotion and allegiance becomes your belief system rather than God. That is idolatry. And ultimately however much one says that one received those beliefs from another source (whether the Bible, parents, church, or any other), it is ultimately one’s own understanding and interpretation of what those authorities have said that holds sway. Thus the god at the center of Q theology, which has now also become coup theology, is the self. Worship of self, unsurprisingly, is the religion most perfectly suited to the American culture, economy, and way of life. Donald Trump is not its center, so much as its supreme practitioner. That’s why he’s been acclaimed in such messianic terms by his supporters, and yet they can now turn on him. It wasn’t ever about a belief that he was infallible, much less divine. His role was as leader, one whose life and speech affirmed and embodied what so many Americans desire deep down to be: someone who will claim they are right unwaveringly no matter what evidence, counterarguments, or moral objections are raised.
See further on this topic:
Tish Harrison Warren, “We Worship With the Magi, Not MAGA” who writes:
The worst part of yesterday’s insurrection is how it represents an utter failure in the American church. This anti-epiphany reveals the horrid outgrowths of Christian nationalism, faulty spiritual formation, false teaching, political idolatry, and overriding ignorance.
Though it saddens me deeply, it must be clearly admitted: Yesterday’s atrocity was in large part brought to us by the white, evangelical church in America.
An emaciated and malformed evangelical political theology got us where we are now.
John Pavlovitz wrote about “The Deadly Coup We Saw Coming”
Emily Swan wrote about “America’s False Prophets.”
Steve Wiggins wrote about “Christian Fragility.”
There’s a podcast about “The Politics and Religion of QAnon.”
“Piety, Populism, and Patriots” in Commonweal