Let me start with a disclaimer. This blog post is anecdotal and based on my subjective opinion–not any scientific studies or methodology. That being said, I think it’s interesting to consider the relationship between theism and credulity regarding conspiracy theories.
2020 has been a unique year for most of us–coronavirus is one part of that, certainly, but the US election cycle has been equally strange. Never before have I seen a president endorse conspiracy theories like Q Anon, Anti-WHO, and his own unevidenced claims about widespread election fraud.
I don’t actually think that Trump actually believes most of these things, but I do think he understands how much that motivates his supporters. He is much more concerned with his cult of personality than with the truth and his followers are often quick to dismiss any actual evidence and accept what he says regardless of how little it comports with reality.
What does that have to do with religion? Well, the Christian right makes up a large proportion of the conservative movement in the United States and many Christians vote for Republican candidates independent of any specific actions or even policy positions. I think that some of the reason that some of these individuals are so willing to accept whatever Trump says in spite of the evidence to the contrary is that they are already conditioned to do so by their religion.
When you can accept religious claims on faith, without (or despite) any evidence, then that doesn’t stop with religion. It means that you can accept any claims on faith–how could you do otherwise? Certainly, some of this can be chalked up to cognitive dissonance but how many people can really think faith is only reliable regarding one proposition and be perfect thinkers that fully understand their biases and epistemology in every other situation? I think that even believers who are otherwise intelligent and rational are more susceptible to fall victim to this sort of “because an authority figure tells me so” acceptance of what many of us consider to be unbelievably ridiculous conspiracy theories because they are already primed to set aside their intellect and treat skepticism and doubt as dangerous (or even evil).
Are their skeptical believers who don’t accept wild conspiracy theories because Trump says so? Of course! Are their credulous atheists who do accept them? Equally, yes. I am not trying to reduce this to “all theists are conspiracy theorists” at all. I just noticed that the trend for the religious to be more likely to accept conspiracy theories probably has its roots in how they perceive truth and their epistemology in general.
I think part of the problem is that, at least for many evangelical Christians, there is little to distinguish their religious beliefs from their political beliefs. I would even go so far as to say that they blend so well together that they are virtually indistinguishable.
The marriage between the Republican party and evangelical Christianity, some 40 years ago, has lead us to this place and I’m not sure what can be done to unwind the two short of letting it run its course and die.