Hi and welcome back! This past week, I read some absolutely astonishing stories about fundagelicals, those wild and wackadoodle fusions of evangelicals with fundamentalists. For years now, they’ve occupied their own bubble of reality. Indeed, the Shitposter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, has been pandering his little heart out to them in the wake of his loss to Joe Biden! But his pandering has taken a very strange and alarming new twist, one that reveals yet another reason why I celebrate Christianity’s stunning losses. Today, let me show you how fundagelicals live in their own post-truth bizarro world, one where Donald Trump’s antics make perfect sense.
Once Donald Trump realized that he just might lose the 2020 election, he began making a lot of thundering, malodorous noise about election fraud. That noise only intensified when he actually did lose.
One federal appellate judge, Stephanos Bibas, wrote of Trump’s endless streams of blustering, increasingly-wackadoodle claims:
“Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so,” federal appellate Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote in an opinion released Friday denying the Trump campaign’s challenge of the results in Pennsylvania. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof,” said Bibas, whom Trump nominated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. “We have neither here.”
Judge Bibas is absolutely right, of course. That is, indeed, how claims work. If people want their claims to be accepted, they must provide their target audience with a good reason to accept them.
The problem Trump’s having — along with almost all of his fanbase — is that the reasons he offers only work on his fanbase. They don’t work in reality, because they’re not based on facts at all.
And that’s because Donald Trump’s fanbase long ago discarded the practice of evaluating objective facts when assessing claims. What he offers is a coin that fundagelicals accept — but it’s not a coin accepted by any reality-based people.
More and more, a gulf widens between fundagelicals and the rest of us.
That gulf is defined by reality itself.
Truth, Morality, and Facts.
For years now, fundagelicals have sniffed down their noses at us poor widdle heathens who exist in a state they call postmodernism. Their imagined definition probably bears as much resemblance to actual postmodernism as I bear to Coco Chanel. I’m willing to bet most fundagelicals wouldn’t recognize actual postmodernism if it showed up for dinner in neon-blue formalwear and a nametag.
I can’t remember exactly when fundagelicals began using the word postmodernism as an insult and negation, but it’s been a while. It’s worked very well for them as a virtue signal and control tactic. Consequently, I don’t think they’ll let go of it any time soon.
For some time now I’ve been concerned about the term “postmodernism”–especially as it is thrown around and discussed by self-identified evangelical scholars. Very little agreement seems to exist about what it means.
I’d completely agree.
And of course fundagelicals disagree about its meaning.
Very, very few of them actually understand the meaning of the word in the first place.
They only know it as a weapon against their most-hated foe: reality.
Remember, We’re the Ones Totally Denying the Truth.
In fundagelicals’ bizarro world, up is down, right is wrong, freedom is slavery, love is evil, human rights are a Satanic fiction, facts are utterly untrustworthy, power is the only goal worth chasing, and cruelty is the point. It is crazymaking — on purpose!
In that world, reality itself can be dismissed in any one of a hundred different ways, clobbered away in favor of a series of big-T Truths that contain no actual truth value at all.
Oh, but it gets worse. These big-T Truths contain no actual little-f facts. They can’t. All the little-f facts humans have ever discovered keep contradicting all the elements of those big-T Truths that fundagelicals hold dear.
In this bizarro world, fundagelicals fling accusations of postmodernism at anyone who rejects their false claims and unworkable behavioral rules. They think postmodernism leads to a dreaded state they call moral relativism, which itself seems to consist only of rejection of fundagelicals’ culture wars and control-grabs.
Their Dear Leaders have painstakingly taught the flocks to believe that both states are the opposite of objective truth and morality. Only TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (like themselves) can possibly understand and inhabit these sublime states, and thus only they can possibly understand real truth and morality. Anyone who disagrees is, by definition, a postmodernist locked in moral relativism.
The flocks learned their lesson well:
If they let their leaders tell them all the stuff they need to know and set all the rules they’ll need to follow, then they’ll be safe from their tribemates’
Christian love vicious attacks.
Dealing With Facts, or Not.
Despite all those pestersome, noisy little-f facts buzzing around their many false claims, fundagelicals never pony up any little-f facts that actually support their own claims. They can’t.
Instead, they try their darndest to negate unpleasant little-f facts with insults — along with endless arguments-in-lieu-of-evidence, anecdotes, and bad analogies that all backfire spectacularly with audiences outside the fundagelical bubble.
They literally don’t understand what actual facts are, nor what evidence is, nor how to support a claim. Heck, they don’t actually tend to understand what a claim even looks like.
Forget burden of proof. They won’t have any idea how to shoulder it, if they even recognize and accept that the burden is completely and utterly theirs in the first place.
(Though I admit: it’s fun watching fundagelicals react with utter indignation when they’re told to shoulder their own burden of proof when they make claims. They’ve been taught to react that way. Blustering denial works in their tribe, so they fully expect it to work elsewhere. When it doesn’t, they short-circuit.)
A Post-Truth Environment.
No wonder fundagelicals fall for scams like multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) like they do — and why the owners of these scams seem always to fill their come-ons with fundagelical-slanted pandering. No wonder fundagelicals gravitate like they do toward preposterously dishonest fake-news channels and websites. And no wonder they fill the ranks of delusional conspiracy theorists, now more than ever.
Back in 2017, a writer for New York Times noted that the whole phenomenon of fake news could be laid at the feet of evangelicals. In Molly Worthen’s view, this religious tribe had introduced alarming “post-truth” elements to our national discourse.
If anything, she called the score on a game that had already ended years earlier. People only noticed what fundagelicals had been doing to the fabric of their own reality (not to mention civility) when Donald Trump came to power.
Indeed, fundagelicals’ Dear Leaders have been working toward this bizarro-world ideal for many years:
A world where they controlled every bit of information. Where the flocks looked to them and only them/their approved idiots for clarification and understanding.
Oh, I can only imagine the rush of power they must have felt when their efforts began paying off!
Donald Trump didn’t wreck TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, though I’ve heard a lot of fundagelicals saying so in recent years. It’s just another one of their many fact-free claims, I guess.
He’s nowhere near clever or industrious or charismatic enough to do that. If anything, he functioned as fundagelical leaders’ useful idiot.
(That means that there will come a considerably-worse panderer than him: one who will succeed where he failed. Mark my words.)
Trump simply took advantage of the groundwork laid in the fundagelical bubble. He shamelessly exploited the flocks’ ignorance, gullibility, power-lust, and tendency to overly trust their leaders. In other words, he reaped the benefits of the very wingnuttery that fundagelical leaders had carefully nurtured and developed over decades to serve themselves and their own interests.
That’s why no fundagelical leaders could stop the tribe from slobbering all over his potentially-orange knob. Oh, a few certainly tried. Yes. A few. Usually, for the wrong reasons: his few highly-placed detractors didn’t think he was quite gung-ho enough for them on the culture wars.
But they couldn’t pull back on the wingnut throttle that they themselves had already pushed so far forward that it snapped apart. The tribe’s hostile reaction to these few leaders’ attempts to guide them away from Trump? Those selfsame leaders had poured the foundation for that exact reaction. They had no ground to stand on in complaint.
More and more fundagelical leaders are now expressing similar concerns about QAnon. The creators of those conspiracy theories steered the flocks to whole new depths, taking them even further away from their leaders — and reality — than Trump had even dared. He was left to meekly lick QAnon’s hand in a series of sad, deflated displays.
Hijacking the Tribe.
And QAnon’s creators lapped Trump in the exact same way that Donald Trump had lapped fundagelical leaders:
They turned fundagelicals’ own post-truth conditioning against them.
This situation won’t improve, either, not right away anyway, just because Trump lost the election.
Millions of these wingnuts are now completely detached from reality. They’ve abandoned every single method of discerning objective truth, along with any scrap of respect they might have had for the people and professions that uncover and present truth to the public.
As a result, they’re completely unable to accurately assess any claims they encounter.
Oh, they can do that very proficiently. Their leaders very thoughtfully taught them how to assess claims inaccurately!
All they need is the right Dear Leader to take advantage of them next.
Assessing Reality in a Bizarro-World Bubble.
The process fundagelicals use to assess claims is very simple.
If a claim fits these conditions, then the flocks will believe it and accept it as canon:
- Comes from a source they already consider credible
- Makes them feel good, flatters them, establishes their correctness
- Establishes their tribal superiority over their enemies; increases their disgust for their enemies
- Titillates them somehow, stokes their rage, or terrifies them (or all three! why not?)
- Could potentially bring them some tangible benefit in the future
- Bears a stamp of approval from their leader (though if they like the claim enough, their leader’s opposition to it might just cause them to abandon that person for another leader who also likes it)
- Most importantly: Fits in well with their existing beliefs while extending some aspect of them outwards into more wingnutty territory, which makes them feel like they’ve stumbled onto some grand new truth that’s too radical and sold out for normie Christians to tolerate
Once fundagelicals accept a claim, they never reject it.
They’ll only ignore it for something newer and more extremist.
Cognitive Dissonance Through Truthiness.
Notice that absolutely nowhere in that list does credible, objective support for claims enter the picture. Of course not. Fundagelicals don’t build their truths from facts. They never have.
Instead, they create their false claims from imaginary fabric, call them big-T Truth, then ignore the facts that contradict that truth — or make up facts that play nicely with it. Whole libraries’ worth of apologetics now fill Christian bookshelves all over the world, all of it meant to explain why no little-f facts actually support anything Christians claim, or to offer made-up false facts to bolster those claims.
So yes: fundagelicals’ morality can shift alarmingly and take cruel and self-interested directions — all while fundagelicals themselves loudly declare their warped version of morality to be both objective and changeless, and claim to base it on ideals of self-sacrifice, love, and service to humanity when it is very obviously the opposite of all of these qualities.
This is how fundagelicals can be so shockingly hypocritical, too, and yet hold their broken system as the only hope of any society that wants to last.
Nothing they say, do, or claim needs to be supported by real-world evidence at all. And they’ve already been taught to distrust all the apparatus that might lead them to find such evidence. This is why it takes a lot to break through to a thoroughly-indoctrinated fundagelical.
Little wonder that so many of them discover, after deconversion, that they must unlearn all the tactics they once used to assess claims, and then set themselves to learning ones that actually work to uncover truth.
What’s Happening With Donald Trump’s Election Loss.
So now that we’ve gone over how fundagelicals operate with regard to claims, and why they keep believing stuff that categorically isn’t really true, let me show you why Donald Trump’s having such success with fundagelicals in the wake of his election loss.
For months and months ahead of the election, fundagelicals pounded their chest, screeched endless demands to the ceiling, and make hilariously overwrought prophecies about him winning. He was their guy, their useful idiot, a pet walrus at the zoo that performed the tricks that entertained them most.
And then, Trump lost.
Oooh, egg on their face for sure!
Of course, not one of his supporters reasoned that maybe their imaginary friend really wanted Joe Biden to win. Nope. So obviously, something must have happened to thwart the will of their utterly and totally omnipotent god whose plans couldn’t possibly go wrong, ever. Their guy must have won somehow, and thus Biden had cheated!
And Donald Trump himself played into their delusions. Well before his loss, when it began looking like Biden might win, he began circulating unfounded, baseless rumors about election fraud. Once it became obvious that yes, he indeed had lost, he went into overdrive with this conspiracy theory.
The idea of him winning appealed to his fundagelical fanbase. They already projected onto their enemies all of their own faults, so the idea of Biden stealing an election made perfect sense. Fighting for a Trump victory-against-all-odds certainly flattered their own self-image.
And Trump’s complete lack of evidence for his claims didn’t matter to them, because evidence had never mattered anyway before. Oh, they discarded evidence as a tool for the assessment of claims decades earlier, if not earlier.
Where Delusions Meet Reality.
Of course, our judicial branch is where fundagelicals’ delusional rubber meets the road.
So far, the courts at all levels have rejected all of his baseless claims. And even his higher-status supporters are starting to drift away. At least one state that performed a vote recount discovered that they had accidentally miscounted a few votes, shifting the vote count there even further to Joe Biden’s favor.
Trump’s losing all of his appeals and court cases because he has yet to present a single solid piece of evidence to support any of his claim.
In similar fashion, fundagelicals have yet to offer anybody any evidence at all to support any of their own claims about their beliefs.
When someone living in Reality-Land mentions that fact, both Trump and his fanbase respond the same way: they drill down even harder on their belligerent blustering and acting-out. Clearly, they both hope that if they just scream loud enough and throw a big enough tantrum, their enemies will just give in and let them have what they want.
It’s gonna be great when Trump finally realizes once and for all that he won’t get his way this time. I hope someone gets that moment on video.
(That said, I won’t really relax till Biden is sworn in.)
Bizarro-World’s Version of Truth.
I want to make this point clear:
In the wackadoodle world of fundagelicalism, that’s exactly how arguments about reality work. That’s how fundagelicals actually resolve conflicts. The most powerful and loudest voices win — not because they’re right, but because they throw their weight around more than anyone else can. Might makes right.
Look at what’s happening with Donald Trump, and know that it’s exactly what’s happening in smaller scale in every single fundagelical church in America, in every single encounter between a fundagelical evangelist or apologist and their marks (of any affiliation), and in every single relationship involving fundagelicals.
And it’s been like that for many years.
This is how fundagelical culture operates: not according to little-f facts, but by blanket declarations of big-T Truths that are neither truthful nor factual, only backed by power and noise.
Trump operates exactly as fundagelicals want, exactly as they expect, exactly as they’re used to seeing out of leaders. As long as he performs the tricks they like, they’ll continue to worship him as their golden calf idol. If he ever turns his alarmingly-orange face to reality, though, he probably already senses what his currently-adoring fanbase will do in response.
Authoritarians fear the loss of their power more than anything else in the world, and Donald Trump’s simply got a lot of it to lose — as do his fans.
NEXT UP: Recently, something reminded me of one of the weirdest tells ever about Christianity’s very earthly, man-made nature. I’ll show you what it is tomorrow — see you then!
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(Late note: My first car developed a really rough idle. Biff ‘fixed’ it. Afterward, it idled at 30 mph and overheated if it sat in traffic for more than a few minutes. Fun times. Same car, by the way, about a year earlier: Biff tried to install a car stereo and ended up attaching the leads very incorrectly. Suddenly, he was blasting Radio Free Tijuana all over the greater Houston area while he scrambled to figure out how to physically disconnect it without electrocuting himself because it WOULD. NOT. TURN. OFF. I still don’t know what he did to make that noise happen, but the radio sure smelled interesting after he finally got it off my car. There’s a metaphor playing in the margins of this tale.)