The lure of conspiracy
Noel Irwin wonders why Christians are taken in by the QAnon conspiracy theory
I remember, 15 years ago or so, a member of my midweek congregation asking for a private chat, then outlining to me how he had found inspiration and comfort in explanations of events which differed greatly from the ‘official’ accounts. This was my first real exposure to the world of conspiracy theories. I promised to watch/read what he asked me to, then, when we met again, tried to convince him from my own academic research how he was conclusion-shopping rather than being led by the evidence. I also wanted to point out how, because of a recent traumatic event in his life, he was perhaps susceptible to something which gave him a sense of importance in knowing how the world really worked. I got nowhere. Sadly, his deeper and wider embrace of conspiracy theories meant he lost a very responsible job, while I felt like a complete pastoral failure.
Fast forward to the current pandemic: conspiracy theories are everywhere on my social media. Whether I was right or not to connect personal trauma with a susceptibility to conspiracy theories, it seems the collective trauma of our current situation, with the fear of an invisible killer, the apportioning of blame for the personal and societal upheaval we have been experiencing, plus the living of so much more of our lives online, has created something of a perfect conspiracy theory storm. This has allowed even the most outrageous of them, the royal family being lizards for example, to grow and thrive.
The most popular contemporary conspiracy theory is QAnon, which sees Donald Trump as the world’s only hope to defeat a global elite of Satan-worshipping paedophiles who want to create a new world order. From 2017, Q has been sending a number of cryptic messages called ‘drops’. QAnon is designed specifically to appeal to Christians. It interprets events of the world through Scripture and quotes the Bible frequently. It focuses on an apocalyptic event, which adherents call ‘The Storm’, which will identify the righteous (mostly Trump supporters) and destroy the sinners (mostly liberals and Democrats). In the US, there are ‘Q’ Bible studies, where Q is a lens used to interpret the Bible and churches reading drops from Q in their services alongside Scripture…
Noel Irwin is Tutor in Public Theology and Church Related Community Work at Northern College
This is an extract from an article published in the April 2021 edition of Reform