How come so many Christians fall for conspiracy theories?

 

Progressive Christian blogger Joe Forrest has a great piece up on Medium about conspiracy theories, that begins with the story of how he convinced his sixth grade class that the moon landing was faked. He rounds up plenty of thoughtful links, quotes, and observations about these dangerous beliefs in general, but also how they seduce and appeal to those who worship Jesus.

Maybe it’s because, from a young age, many of us were taught the “scientific establishment” was out to destroy our belief in the Bible.

Or maybe so many of us were convinced by the Left Behind books that a satanic one-world government was on the horizon, it just makes sense we need to be as vigilant as possible right now.

Or maybe because we’ve already been conditioned by our own belief system that there exists a hidden spiritual reality that making the leap to a hidden “shadow government” reality isn’t all that big of a deal.

And it’s important to note that a lot of Christians share conspiracy theories out of good faith. They believe they’re “exposing the truth.” But most conspiracy theories are rotten at the core. It’s obvious they’re rooted in fear, insecurity, and loneliness. And they’re often designed to give us more reasons to loathe our ideological enemies.

Forrest's faith is clearly one of radical empathy, not of evangelical self-persecution, which gives him a unique perspective. He's clearly familiar with all kinds of Christian life, and writes with that audience in mind. Read the rest

The makeshift coronavirus hospital in Central Park requires workers to oppose LGBTQ rights

Samaritan's Purse is the Evangelical humanitarian aid organization behind the emergency pop-up coronavirus hospital that's set up shop in Central Park to help with overflow from other health facilities, specifically New York's Mount Sinai. In addition to the 14 tent, 68-bed field hospital in New York, the group also dispatched 60 disaster response specialists with 20 tons of medical equipment to help address the disaster response in Cremona, Italy.

On the surface level, this is largely good; hospitals are crowded and medical workers are overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it gets complicated when you factor in the group's founder: Franklin Graham, son of the infamous Evangelical fire-and-brimstone preacher Billy Graham. And lest you were hoping that the Graham apple had fallen far from the tree, Franklin is in fact a bit of an Endtimes Obsessive, who of course has a history of saying terrible things about Islam (particularly as it relates to Barack Obama) as well as Hinduism. Unsurprisingly, he's a hardcore Trumper, too, as well as an advocate for the s0-called gay conversion therapy that is unquestionably a form a psychological abuse. He's even praised Putin's anti-LGBTQ authoritarianism. In Franklin Graham's own words from 2014:

It’s obvious that President Obama and his administration are pushing the gay-lesbian agenda in America today and have sold themselves completely to that which is contrary to God’s teaching.

[…]

Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue—protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda—Russia’s standard is higher than our own?

Read the rest

Florida Pastor arrested after encouraging people to come to church in person during the coronavirus lockdown

To pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, the head of Revival Ministries International, telling people not to infect each other with a potentially deadly virus is a "First Amendment threat" to Christian ministries. "Because the climate change narrative for global governance failed, they are using the World Health Organization to then come in and take over the control of nations and then they are going to bring in vaccines," he previously said about COVID-19.

 

Unsurprisingly, Howard-Browne continued to hold religious services at his Megachurch in Tampa Bay — despite the warnings of police, or the overwhelming encouragement by the global public to cut down on large social gatherings in order to slow the spread of the virus. Howard-Boone did also livestream the services, which is how video got around of congregants packed shoulder-to-shoulder during this past Sunday's Mass. Which is how the police found out about it.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Howard-Browne was arrested Monday on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, said Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.

“Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanors,” Chronister said. “Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first."

State Attorney Andrew Warren added:

I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself.

Read the rest

Someone blew the whistle on Hookers for Jesus

The Department of Justice gives out grants to groups to help fight human trafficking. That's good!

But this year, the DOJ decided to ignore the expected recipients, who both received high marks from grant application reviewers, and gave around $500,000 each to the Lincoln Tubman Foundation, a new organization founded by the daughter of a prominent Trump-supporting South Carolina Republican, and the Nevada-based Hookers for Jesus.

Here's what Reuters, who broke the story, had to say about Hookers for Jesus:

Hookers for Jesus, which received $530,190 over three years, is run by a born-again Christian trafficking survivor who has lobbied against decriminalizing prostitution, a policy position aligning with many in the Republican Party.

Hookers for Jesus operates a safe house for female adult trafficking victims that, in 2010 and in 2018, maintained a policy of requiring guests to participate in religious activities, internal program manuals obtained by Reuters through public records requests show.

The safe house’s manuals had rules that included a ban on reading “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips.” Other rules limited everything from who victims could call to banning them from bringing their purses with them on weekly shopping trips. Rule-breakers could be penalized by being assigned chores such as washing windows.

There are major issues here. First, that the policies around this particular grant forbid the government from funding any activity that is explicitly religious — that whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. Second, that the organizations that have received the grant in the past, and expected to receive it once again, were both involved in activities that were decidedly opposed to the Trump agenda. Read the rest

A harrowing look inside the apocalyptic Evangelical cult around Donald Trump

I have kind of an unhealthy fascination with the cultishness of Christian Nationalist American Evangelicals. I was raised Catholic; before I went to high school, my mom actually worked at the local church, and later taught "family and life skills" at a private Catholic school. But she was always more interested in the Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa side of Catholicism. Later, in life, a family friend and child of Irish immigrants replaced his drug addiction with a Jesus addiction, and exposed us to a whole new world of hellfire-and-brimstone American Authoritarian Christianity that sharply conflicted with the Jesus I'd grown up with.

That family friend has now blocked me out of his life after I called him on his xenophobic and Islamophobic bullshit one too many times. But not before he tried one last time to get me to convert and accept his version of Jesus as my personal savior; apparently, my Agnostic view of "Idunno just be a good fucking person, and if there's Heaven, then you're set" is not enough for that wrathful, vengeful, Old Testament God that these people believe in.

But I thought of as I listened to a recent article from Rolling Stone written by a recovering Evangelical named Alex Morris. Morris dives deep into the ways that Trump has specifically courted the Christian Nationalist base, and why they fail to see any moral conflicts with his language, behavior, or beliefs. Over the course of 45 minutes (via Audm), she effortless weaves this political story with her own personal narrative of growing up in, and ultimately escaping from, this cultish movement:

For the God-fearing evangelical, gay marriage, abortion, and the evils of socialism — as opposed to racial injustice, family separation, or income inequality — put America squarely in the path of the wrath of God.

Read the rest

How America's hatred of poor people ties back to Puritan work ethic

Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowship-winning philosopher Elizabeth Anderson recently spoke with Joe Humphreys at the Irish Times about America's toxic obsession with by-your-bootstraps individualism, and specifically how it relates to poverty.

There are plenty of impactful quotes throughout the interview, but the parts that stuck out the most to me—as an agnostic born into an Irish Catholic family, whose mother worked for the church for a long time—were her observations about America's puritanical roots, and, later, the impacts of World War II. Anderson essentially proposes the idea that early America Puritans like the Pilgrims were determined to distance themselves from the institutional power of the Catholic church—which, for all its faults, has at least had a longstanding commitment to helping and empathizing with those suffering from poverty. In addition to Manifest Destiny, these Puritans believed that hard work was the only promise of salvation, which eventually evolved into the whole "rugged individualism" idea that consumes so many American conservatives and Evangelicals. While Anderson acknowledges that this ethic is rooted in a very pro-worker mindset, it's clearly been secularized over time into a highly partisan hatred of the poor, with a nod towards its religious roots:

There is a profound suspicion of anyone who is poor, and a consequent raising to the highest priority imposing incredibly humiliating, harsh conditions on access to welfare benefits on the assumption you’re some kind of grifter, or you’re trying to cheat the system. There is no appreciation for the existence of structural poverty, poverty that is not the fault of your own but because the economy maybe is in recession or, in a notorious Irish case, the potato crop fails.

Read the rest

Whistleblowers out Falwell's Liberty University as a grifty, multibillion-dollar personality cult

Jerry Falwell, Sr founded the Moral Majority, brought evangelicals into the voting booth, elected Ronald Reagan, and changed the face of American politics forever; his son, Jerry Jr now commands the Falwell empire, including Liberty University, which now has $3b in assets. Read the rest

Trump's pastor to flock: Give me your January salary or God will punish you

Donald Trump's “prosperity gospel” spiritual advisor Paula White, a pastor who is reported to reside in an 8,000 square foot house and travel on a $2.6 million private jet, is commanding her congregation to cough up their January salaries to her or else God is seriously going to punish them so hard. Read the rest

Megachurch pastor struggles to defend $200,000 Lamborghini purchase

A Lamborghini here, a Lamborghini there, sooner or later it starts to add up. Read the rest

Ugandan president wants to outlaw oral sex because "the mouth is for eating"

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni doesn't want people to use their mouths in ways he does not approve, so he trying to ban oral sex. This is the same gentleman who made it a crime not to report people suspected of being gay. "“Let me take this opportunity to warn our people publicly about the wrong practices indulged in and promoted by some of the outsiders. The mouth is for eating, not for sex. We know the address of sex; we know where sex is.

From The Week:

The remarks come as part of a broader crackdown on sexual freedoms by the socially conservative evangelical leader.

Sexual activity “against the order of nature” has been outlawed under Uganda’s penal code since the colonial era, but Museveni’s comments reflect a toughening of existing laws in recent years, mostly targeting the LGBT community.

Amid rising concern about the “spread” of homosexuality, partly stoked by US-backed evangelical Christian preachers, in 2009 one of Museveni’s ministers proposed legislation making same-sex activity punishable by death.

Museveni is enjoying his fifth term in office, and has run the corruption-plagued country for over 30 years. His estimated net worth is $4 billion and Forbes ranked him among The World's 10 Worst Dictators. Read the rest

Trump's Prosperity Gospel backers say Jesus makes you rich, cures Ebola, resurrects chickens

That weird meeting between presidential candidate Donald Trump and a number of so-called Prosperity Gospel evangelists sounds weirder the more we learn about who was there, and what they actually say they believe. Read the rest