When you think about fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur, you probably don’t think of tentacle porn. (Or vice versa, for that matter.)
But the two things have a lot in common these days.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Pastor MacArthur is a big fan of tentacle porn. I’m fairly certain that he would find it appalling. I’m fairly certain that he would find it sinful, reprehensible, and so vile that he would refuse to have anything to do with it.
And that is why I think it’s important — for his own good, for the good of his congregation, and for the good of white evangelical Christianity as a whole — for John MacArthur to set aside some time to take a gander at some tentacle porn.*
Let me explain.
MacArthur is the senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He’s got a syndicated daily radio broadcast and he’s the author of dozens of books, including his own MacArthur Study Bible, which has sold more than a million copies. He also runs his own seminary and its connected four-year university. So he’s pretty influential both as the spiritual leader of his own sizable fiefdom and as someone broadly known and respected throughout white evangelicalism** in America.
MacArthur has been in the news a lot lately — Fox and Facebook news especially — as a leading anti-masker and pandemic-denying conspiracy theorist. He’s been at this for months, preaching false statistics on the pandemic, denying that there even is a pandemic, defying court orders prohibiting crowded maskless indoor church services, and encouraging his 8,000-member flock to reject public health and hygiene measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
(Warren Throckmorton has been tracking MacArthur’s increasingly strident anti-mask covid denialism in a series of excellent posts collected here.)
Whether he knows it or not, all of the conspiratorial nonsense with which MacArthur has been endangering his congregation and their neighbors is straight out of QAnon — the Trump-era variation of the Satanic Panic that has sprawled and morphed into an all-encompassing yawp of pro-Trump delirium. That’s where MacArthur’s bogus stats, his morbid twisting of comorbidity, and all of his pandemic-denying buzzwords come from.
And QAnon, in turn, comes from 4chan. That’s where it began and lived for months before eventually migrating to even worse sites like 8chan and 8kun. (ABC News’ Chris Francescani has a run down of the conspiracy theory’s path through those sites here: “The men behind QAnon.” Those sites are far worse than you think even after attempting to factor in the recognition that they’re far worse than you think.)
So what is “4chan”? Consider yourself blessed if you don’t already know the answer to that question. It’s an internet message board that began nearly 20 years ago as an (almost) anything-goes alternative home for fans of anime, manga, and video games. It was created as a refuge for posters frustrated by moderated sites’ rules about language, content, and civility. Its founder was a veteran of Something Awful where he’d been an active member of the “Anime Death Tentacle Rape Whorehouse” subforum, a name meant both ironically and earnestly, and thus, as bad as it sounds, even worse than that. 4chan had few rules barring profanity, pornography, bullying, misogyny, racism, or antisemitism and so it grew into a magnet for people seeking all of those things. It is, and has long been, an ugly, awful place.
4chan has been described as “One of the largest and most notorious fringe social platforms … known for its alt-right user base and their role in spreading doctored images and nefarious memes.” That’s accurate, but it doesn’t capture the spirit of the thing quite as well as the top definition for 4chan from urban dictionary: “The website where I saw an infant being medically extracted from a male ass, and people liked it.”
Suffice it to say, 4chan is not a part of the internet where you’ll find a lot of devout church-going white evangelicals. The overwhelming majority of white evangelicals likely don’t even know that 4chan exists.
And yet there’s a direct line from that dark corner of the internet to what’s being preached in the pulpit of white evangelical mega-churches. The “doctored images and nefarious memes” created at places like 4chan don’t stay there. They get posted, and widely circulated, on Facebook — the realm where devoutly pious white evangelicals like the folks from Grace Community Church spend most of their time online because they think it’s safer there than on the actual web.
That’s part of the “lulz,” you see, pushing the envelope to see how much you can get the “normies” on Facebook to swallow.
Last week, I linked to a dozen articles all worrying about the apparent popularity of QAnon within white evangelicalism and struggling to find a way to counter its spread in that community. Many of those articles mentioned QAnon’s origins on 4chan in passing, as part of a boilerplate summary of the conspiracy theory’s growth. But none of them quite got around to suggesting what I’m suggesting here: Sending white evangelicals to 4chan to see for themselves where this stuff is coming from.
That’s what I want John MacArthur to do. And Sean Feucht — the anti-mask “worship leader” from another California mega-church who’s also riding a wave of publicity from his embrace of QAnon-inspired pandemic-denialism. I want them to Google 4chan and then to follow the links to see it for themselves. Surf around. Take a little tour of the place. Check out the neo-Nazis and white nationalists, the hentai and tentacle porn and goatse, the Holocaust denialism and antisemitic memes, the violent misogyny, and the full panorama of delirious nonsense in the process of being repackaged as flag-waving QAnon memes for Grandma’s Facebook feed.
They need to see this for themselves. They need to see that video of an infant being medically extracted from a male ass and then to read all the comments from the users heartily “liking” it.
They need to understand that this is the source of what they’re participating in and preaching as gospel.
* I realize there’s a lot going on right now — including a naked power grab that could tilt the Supreme Court in an anti-democracy, corporatist direction for the next generation. Millions of lives and the actual future viability of our democracy are at stake. So encouraging John MacArthur to look at tentacle porn might not seem like an urgent priority at the moment.
But I think it is, because it’s all connected. Because unless we can somehow shock white evangelicals into recoiling from the realization of what it is they’ve been hoodwinked into supporting, they’re going to keep fighting like hell and fighting for Hell — fighting on the same side as the ironically/not-really-ironically neo-Nazi tentacle-porn enthusiasts who are now helping to steer their politicized religion and their religion-infused politics.
** John MacArthur is someone who, 30 or so years ago, would have been described as a “fundamentalist” — a category then regarded as markedly different and distinct from “evangelical.” Thanks to the internet and to the expediencies of culture-war political alliances, that distinction no longer means much, and so guys like MacArthur and Al Mohler and even Ken Hamm are now just lumped in with the rest of the incoherent mess of Greater White Evangelicalism.