Donald Trump is my brainworm. I can’t think past or around him. So, as writers do, I am writing about what I can write about.
The reason Donald Trump is so goddamn popular with so many people is that many millions of Americans have accepted conspiracy theories as real. Here and now, I’m going to argue that one of the most significant reasons that’s true is America’s relationship to religion, specifically Christianity.
Christianity has a special status in the US. Essentially, it is beyond public reproach. It is almost impossible to have a substantial conversation about the social ramifications of Christianity in America. I’ve tried it! What happens is people accuse you of bigotry and intolerance, even you treat Christianity the same way that you treat all other religions.
For instance, if you were to discuss how Roman paganism influenced Germanic paganism, no one bats an eye. You are free to discuss the influence of Hellenism on pagan religions without an issue whatsoever.
If you then go on to talk about early Christianity’s links to Hellenic mystery cults, people who were open-minded about the connections between Hellenism and German paganism are suddenly singing a different tune. It is not possible that Christianity is the same kind of thing as Germanic paganism because of Christianity’s status in American society.
I consider this a problem in and of itself. Open discourse is essential to the political health of a democratic government! But Christianity is not value-neutral – Christians believe in concrete things, after all.
One of the things that tens of millions of Americans believe in is Young Earth Creationism. You know what it is! It says that about six thousand years ago, the Christian God created the heavens and earth in six days, including all modern animal species in (or less) their present shape. It explicitly rejects modern astronomy, geology, and biology – with particular resentment towards biology because of evolutionary theory.
This is a conspiracy theory. Our society does not regard it as a conspiracy theory because of the status of Christianity. Compare, for instance, the contempt with which most people hold Flat Earth conspiracy theorists. It is, after all, very stupid. With simple experiments, anyone can prove the earth is, in fact, spherical.
The proof of the core tenets of evolutionary theory is equally beyond dispute. One can go to any natural history museum globally and see quite a lot of the evidence proving evolution is real and true. On the other hand, there is no proof that six thousand years ago, the Christian God made the universe in six days.
This speaks to one of the problems of conspiracy theorists. They cannot be convinced with evidence. It isn’t that conspiracy theorists are wrong. We are all wrong about some things. Conspiracy theorists hold that evidence contrary to their beliefs is proof of the conspiracy. There is no way to discuss the conspiracy’s subject because they hold the only valid position is agreement.
Apropos evolution and fundie Christians, the fossil record and experimental results confirming evolutionary theory are generally dismissed – and this isn’t a joke – as a trick by Satan. It is often religious dogma of fundamentalist creeds that the fossil record was placed there by the Prince of Darkness to confuse humans about the creation of the universe!
They do not have, of course, even a little evidence to support this assertion. For instance, Christians cannot produce Satan or tell us how to prove he exists. There is also absolutely zero Biblical references to Satan creating a false fossil record, so there isn’t even a valid Scriptural reason to believe it’s true. Still, the fundie takeaway is biologists and geologists are quite literally dupes of Satan.
But it shows a conspiracy theorist’s mindset – any “evidence” contrary to conspiracy theory is “proof” of the conspiracy.
I consider the fundamentalist conspiracy theory of Young Earth Creationism (and its variants) to be the ur-conspiracy in American politics. Young Earth Creationism is untrue, but because of Christianity’s special status, we can’t dismiss these nutters with the same vigor that we do the Flat Earthers and other pseudoscience conspiracies. In turn, this creates a safe space for other, even more malicious conspiracy theories to form. All a person has to do is connect the conspiracy theory with fundamentalism, and it becomes nearly impossible to discuss.
It isn’t just evolution, either. As a group, fundamentalists are equally dismissive of climate change, for instance, which is another highly fact-based scientific fact. Historically, Christians have spread conspiracy theories, too, such as the “blood libel,” which is the notion that Jewish people kill Christian babies to mock Jesus. Indeed, we’d be here for a long time if we explored all the conspiracy theories – past and present – that overlap between historical Christianity or modern fundamentalism and Jews. But modern conspiracies that have broad fundamentalist support, including rejecting Barack Obama’s citizenship (the Birther conspiracy), and apropos this piece the baseless conspiracy that Democrats “stole” the election from Donald Trump… which is where the circle starts to close.
Trump’s most eager supporters are fundamentalist Christians, after all.
Until we can address fundamentalist conspiracy theories, we’re going to have Trumpism. Facts do not matter to conspiracy theorists! You can’t convince an anti-vaxxer that vaccines worth with mere proof. The proof already exists, it has been widely distributed. You can’t convince climate change deniers that they’re wrong with data. You can’t convince Young Earth Creationists that evolution is real simply because you have a mountain of facts.
Worse, because of Christianity’s status, you’re not even allowed to address the root of the problem. At the end of the day, fundamentalist religions (and this seems to be true of all fundie faiths, not only Christian ones) say to their believers that the stories they tell themselves are beyond all possibility of reproach. Any attempt – any – to convince a religious person that a matter of religious faith is untrue makes that person a scion of evil.
Trumpism is likely to endure – at least into the medium term – because the people who support, defend, and (I am sure) will come to define it will do so in terms of fundamentalist Christianity. And as long as Christianity has a special status that places it beyond serious discussion, we won’t be able to root it out at its core.