Sorry to start the year on a somewhat disheartening note. However, if we are to have any realistic hope of the future being better, we need to do more than hope. We must take a long hard look not only at the past, not only at those around us with whom we disagree, but at ourselves.
Many of us are asking ourselves a question when we get on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere on social media and see things from people we knew when we were younger. I have one individual particularly in mind whose Facebook wall is a non-stop stream of conspiracy theories, misinformation, lies, insults, and hatred. Recently it has even shifted towards things related to sedition and violence. The question we may have initially asked is how they could have changed so much. A better question might be how I could have so badly misjudged them all along, since this was an individual who was considered a pillar of the youth group and an exemplary born again Christian that could serve as a model for others.
An even better question is how I could have considered evil good and good evil. That is what they are doing, and if they may have changed, I think I changed more.
Here’s the disturbing repost of something from Twitter that prompted me to write this:
On the one hand, I am pretty sure that I understood even in my teens that stocking up on “2nd Amendment supplies” (another way of saying guns and ammunition) was not the way of Christ. On the other hand, the expectation that there will be “wars and rumors of wars” and ways of tracking people such as those discussed (typically in ludicrous fashion) in relation to the pandemic and the vaccine (as though, in a world in which we all have phones that can do all sorts of things we either fail to or are unable to prevent them from doing that allow us to be tracked, one needed to microchip everyone to accomplish this) are all standard features in the end times mythology that we all believed in my youth group back in the 1980s.
In the midst of all kinds of issues that deserved our attention, we embraced, wove, and inhabited a mythical worldview that we overlaid on reality. That myth told us that we were the real victims of injustice, and the only ones doing what could genuinely make a difference: believing and sharing the gospel. Trying to address social ills was a lost cause and waste of the precious little time left until the Rapture.
That this former pillar of the youth group in my church holds the views and embraces and repeats the lies that he does should not surprise me. We both inhabited the same mythology that made us heroes in a war against demonic forces. We believed the lies that people like Mike Warnke shared and continued to buy into the “satanic panic” even when he was shown to be and acknowledged that he was a liar. We proudly believed ourselves to be the only ones who saw the malevolent power at work behind the scenes that were manipulating everyone else, not realizing that we were the ones being manipulated, that our pride made us gullible and susceptible.
I am no longer surprised that members of my former youth group are full-out QAnon conspiracy theorists who spew hate and lies on social media. That is the natural place to arrive from where we started. Whether the subject is biblical inerrancy, the end times, Satanism, antievolutionism or anything else, people are inculturated (or should I say, less euphemistically, indoctrinated?) in such a way in conservative Christian circles that all the supporting “evidence” can be shown to be false, and yet the structure built on that foundation doesn’t fall.
The question is not how members of my old youth group can be sedition-promoting Trump supporters. What is surprising is that some of us manage to free ourselves from the worldview that makes us so susceptible to manipulation by malicious forces while believing we are the only ones who are resisting diabolical influences that everyone else is enslaved to. But although it is surprising, it is not as though we had no choice. The option of critically examining the things we were told and our own assumptions was always there, within the pages of the Bible and other sources reflecting the Christian tradition, if we had cared enough to look. When I held those views I was culpable for doing so.
The question that remains, for me, is what if anything that Christians like me can do to help rescue those still allowing themselves to be misled by a worldview that panders to spiritual pride to such powerful effect.
In the interest of fairness let me share something that illustrates that belief in misinformation is not found only among the religious, any more than it is always found there. Debriefing after Christmas, I found the post “Christmas Is Not a Pagan Holiday” on the blog Letters to the Next Creation to provide an insightful exploration of parallels between the popular bit of (mostly atheist) misinformation that “Christmas is a pagan holiday,” and Republican (mostly conservative cultural Christian) misinformation that the election was “stolen” by Joe Biden. Here’s a taste:
It isn’t enough that my explanation explains things. I have to substantiate it.
We need to be very careful that we are not seduced by the power of a clever explanation. We need to be careful not to assume connections where there are similarities. This is true whether we’re looking at memes on the Internet, listening to a news story, talking with our neighbors, or reading a history book.
Also of related interest:
One last link. I’m always struck when I come across a new “ology” that I hadn’t been familiar with before. The Journal of Cereology is something I never would have expected to address a topic of interest to me…