Christian evangelism and the QAnon cult

An interesting fact about the QAnon phenomenon is that even though the mysterious Q has not been heard of in over four months, suggesting that following Trump’s defeat they are trying to wash their hands of this whole thing, the cult keeps going on, though there has definitely been some attrition as some people’s hopes were dashed when Biden’s inauguration went ahead without Trump swooping in and arresting everybody.

Another interesting thing is that the cult members are not easy to pigeonhole and are all over the place, except for one common factor.

There are no stereotypical QAnon followers. 

They are artists. They are young and old and middle-aged. They are brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers; they are grandparents; they are sons and daughters. They are highly educated and barely educated. They are tech-savvy and they are digitally illiterate. They are pastors preaching from the pulpit. They are from all corners of the United States—and, increasingly, outside it. They are Republicans and Democrats. They were Bernie supporters and Obama supporters. They are business owners and elementary school teachers; they are professors and construction workers; they are IT directors and former FBI agents; and they work for the White House.

And yet despite all this diversity, there are some common threads, based on conversations with dozens of family members of QAnon followers who spoke to VICE News about the damage the conspiracy is doing to their loved ones.

Christian evangelicalism appears to be a major gateway to QAnon belief, with many of those VICE News spoke to reporting that their family member’s belief in the conspiracy theory was tightly integrated with their faith. 

The majority of the QAnon believers we spoke about were in their 50s, 60s, or 70s. The vast majority were white, and over half did not identify as QAnon supporters—even as they spouted, verbatim, the conspiracy theories boosted by QAnon.

There are various reasons why people who spout QAnon conspiracies don’t identify with QAnon, but it mostly stems from the fact that the vast majority of people who would typically be described as QAnon followers have not come to the movement directly, by reading the Q drops posted on 4chan and 8chan. Instead, they’ve been radicalized by a lighter version of QAnon that plays up the claims about saving children from the clutches of evil elites. While George’s mother was radicalized through her evangelical Christian groups, most believers get radicalized through social media.

A unique aspect of QAnon is the lack of a central charismatic leader who dictates the direction of the movement. Instead, adherents are asked to “do your own research,” which leaves every Q drop open to a million different interpretations. That’s happening even more now. Q hasn’t posted a new message in almost four months, so followers are looking to influencers within the movement for direction and reinterpreting old Q drops to try to find some new meaning.

The result is a constantly morphing conspiracy where followers can choose the parts they want and ignore the rest. 

And that’s how Christians are able to resolve the parts of QAnon that clearly do not align with their faith.

Michael Luo also looks at why how American evangelism went bonkers.

Evangelicalism in America, however, has come to be defined by its anti-intellectualism. The style of the most popular and influential pastors tend to correlate with shallowness: charisma trumps expertise; scientific authority is often viewed with suspicion. So it is of little surprise that American evangelicals have become vulnerable to demagoguery and misinformation.

The English Puritans who settled throughout New England had a deep scholarly tradition, which led to the founding of Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth. Puritan clergy were expected to be paragons of both learning and piety. American Christianity took a decisive shift, however, toward religious “enthusiasm,” as Hofstadter puts it, during revivals that swept the colonies in the mid-eighteenth century, a period that came to be known as the First Great Awakening. Believers’ direct connection to God became the primary focus. Ministers who believed in the importance of learning and rationality in religion found themselves increasingly under threat.

The comity between faith and scientific rationality that had previously existed began to fracture after the Civil War. The church found itself increasingly at odds with advances in science and also new understandings of the Bible, which came from scholars drawing on history, philosophy, and literary criticism to understand passages and the intentions and assumptions of the authors behind them.

The social and intellectual upheaval of the late nineteenth century eventually led to a rupture in Protestantism. Some drifted toward theological liberalism, rejecting historically orthodox beliefs about Jesus’s birth, humanity’s need for salvation, and other supernatural parts of the Bible; others retrenched and formed the fundamentalist movement. Crucially, fundamentalists came to embrace a number of theological innovations that were previously not at all central to Christian orthodoxy, including premillennial dispensationalism––a focus on biblical prophecies as a road map to different epochs in history and, in particular, the coming of the end times––and a simplistic, literal approach to the Bible.

The modern evangelical movement emerged as a response to fundamentalism, particularly its lack of engagement with the social problems of the day.

During the Trump era, it became clear that the wasting of the evangelical mind could even have dire consequences on American democracy.

Eventually QAnon may be able to claim credit for not only undermining the Republican party by sending it down weird paths but also undermining Christianity.


  1. says

    A bunch of years ago, I wrote a piece for some analyst friends who were pondering whether radical Islam (whatever that is) could be intellectually destabilized from within. Basically, a schizm-a-matic. It was an interesting thought experiment but mainly I felt that it was a bunch of white christians poking at the splinter in the eye of islam, while ignoring the telephone pole in theirs. Christianity would be ridiculously easy to troll, I think: set up a couple of mega-churches specifically as a way of fleecing the flock then, after a few years of raking in the money, go “ha ha ha you gomers, thank you for your hard-earned, I guess you didn’t read the notice in the bibles we gave you where it says that we’re here for entertainment purposes only and we may sell your contact information to marketing firms that want mailing lists of gullible people.”

    If anyone reading this has not seen Marjoe I highly recommend it, because that’s basically what he did. Except he thought that his victims would learn from the experience. Well, there are still itinerant preachers, so I guess not.

    What future societies may develop is a sort of “Foundation” (per Asimov) -like organization that tries to identify dangerous memes as they are forming, and redirect them or neuter them. In my opinion, a lot of that wouldn’t be very hard to do. It might be emotionally traumatic for the existing victims of cults but, uh, fuck’m. Here’s a fantasy scenario: FBI asks NSA for the identity of Q, and NSA replies with the identity and Q’s password for 8 kun. Or, more likely, TAO executes an exploit against the 8 kun server and resets Q’s password. Then, a series of postings are made that basically say “Thank you for playing and being played, the experiment is now over. We’re a bunch of social science sophomores who were doing this as an experiment and it worked much better than we thought. we’re trying to develop metrics for measuring gullibility and you’ve all been very useful but it’s time to shut this down now.” Then, maybe some links to papers on cult formation and cult behavior. [This would specifically play to the followers’ anti-science bias] Then every month for a while, “Just wanted to remind you: this experiment is over, thank you for participating.” I loathe the social sciences anyway, but heck, it might make for a good popular psychology paper or two.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    “followers can choose the parts they want and ignore the rest”

    Yup, sounds like Christians alright.

  3. Some Old Programmer says

    […] American Christianity took a decisive shift […]

    I had to do a double-take, as I’d read that last word without the ‘f’ . My inner 8th grader was too amused.

  4. mediagoras says

    If you’ve surrendered your mind and will to one cult, it’s probably quite easy to do it again with another.

  5. publicola says

    Wow, undermining Republicans AND Christianity would be a two-fer of epic proportions! We should be so lucky.

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