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Half of Christian Pastors in the US Report Conspiracy Theories Are Spread in their Churches

Recently, a new survey by Lifeway, focused on US Protestant pastors, was published in which about half of responding clergy reported overhearing church members sharing conspiracy theories. Shocker, right?

Considering how many Jesus banners, QAnon references, and voter fraud insinuations accompanied the masses who stormed the Capitol building on January 6, hearing that conspiracy theories are running rampant among Christians is no surprise at all. But at least we have confirmation in lieu of speculation now.

Lifeway’s study found that 49% of pastors “say they frequently hear members of their congregation repeating conspiracy theories they have heard about why something is happening in our country.” This number goes up to 61% when referencing churches of 250+ members.

If you really think about it, the link between religion and conspiracy theorists is not surprising at all. After all, aren’t religions just giant conspiracy theories? A 2020 article by Beth Skwarecki of lifehacker details some solid characteristics of conspiracy theories. Let’s put Christianity to her test (my comments in italics):

  • Contradictory ideas: Ideas that conflict with each other are absorbed into the theory even though if one were true, another would have to be false. Think about all of the contradictions in the Bible that Christians use apologetics to dance around or dismiss entirely.
  • Overriding suspicion: People who have bought into a conspiracy theory will discount official sources out of hand, regardless of their content. So, like any archaeology, biology, geology, or any other science that contradicts the Bible? Got it.
  • Nefarious intent: The powers that run these supposed conspiracies never have a boring (or benign) motivation. I think we can all agree that many churches are in it for the money and/or power, especially when we’re talking about megachurch pastors, prosperity preachers, and the entire history of the spread of Christianity across the globe.
  • “Something must be wrong”: Even if you can disprove a piece of information that supports the theory, believers will still believe the theory because of a sense that something must be wrong here. This happens all the time with creationists using pseudoscience or just bad science to try to back up their claims and “prove” real scientists wrong. We also see it with Christians when you show them proof of an inaccuracy in the Bible. They’ll say “well, I’m not an expert but you should talk to my pastor and he can tell you why you’re wrong.” Yeah, sure.
  • Persecuted victim: People held up as heroes are also framed as victims. If the supposed whistleblower turns out to be a fraud, that’s just because the conspiracy is trying to discredit them. “You’re attacking my religion!” “I can believe what I want!” “You’re trying to take religion out of America/schools/holidays/etc.” They’re all victims.
  • Immune to evidence: Any evidence that seems to contradict the conspiracy theory will be reinterpreted by believers as lies whose existence proves that people in power are trying to discredit the theory — which in turn strengthens their belief in the theory. Or better yet, they’re lies straight from the devil.
  • Reinterpreting randomness: Happenings that have nothing to do with the substance of the conspiracy theory will be interpreted as if they are somehow related. This one’s easy. Everything that happens that’s good is because of God, while anything bad that happens is part of “his plan” or because “he works in mysterious ways” or is actually our fault because we’re sinners or because of free will.

So, we’re 7 for 7 here. I think it’s safe to say that Christianity, and religion in general, is the biggest conspiracy theory known to man. And once people start buying into one conspiracy, they’re much more likely to buy into more of them. Conclusion: the more religious you are, the more likely you are to be a conspiracy theorist, the more likely you are to be a total wackjob who storms the US Capitol in order to execute the same Vice President you couldn’t say enough good things about a week prior. Religion kills.

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Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis

Writes at ExCommunications & SecularVoices, formerly of Patheos. Author of Understanding an Atheist. Co-founder of Young Skeptics. @KevTweetsThings