On Conspiracy Theories and Christianity: Part 1, Good Versus Evil

Yesterday, my friend Mark Love and I had a discussion on Facebook Live about conspiracy theories, psychological perspectives but with an eye on how Christianity can be implicated in believing in conspiracy theories. Obviously, with the rise of QAnon among evangelicals, this is a timely subject. So, a series sharing some of my thoughts and insights on Christianity and conspiracy theories. 

Let's start with affective polarization. 

Affective polarization has to do with the feelings and attitudes we have toward political opponents. The issue here is less our policy disagreements than how we regard about political opponents as human beings. Are people in the other political party good people? Are they honest? Are they trustworthy? 

Over the last twenty years political scientists have been tracking the rise of affective polarization. Increasingly, we are viewing political opponents as "bad people," even as evil. And this affects political paranoia and conspiratorial thinking.

In a 2014 study by Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood published in the American Journal of Political Science entitled "Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion," they found that a "Manichean" view of the world was a robust predictor of belief in conspiracy theories. A "Manichean" worldview involves seeing the world as a struggle between Good versus Evil, and was assessed in Oliver and Woods's study with the item, "Politics is ultimately a struggle between good and evil."

Given this finding, it should be obvious how a rise in affective polarization, seeing political opponents as "evil," would promote increased beliefs in conspiracy theories. 

And religion may fuel this trend. Christians are prone in viewing the world in moralistic, black and white, terms. 

Oliver and Wood noted that conspiratorial thinking was observed at roughly the same levels among both liberals and conservatives, observing that, "conspiratorial reasoning is not simply a style of one political group but is evident across the ideological spectrum." However, they did observe that religiosity was predictive of a "Manichean" view of the world. That is to say, insofar as your Christianity is causing you to see politics and the world as a struggle between Good and Evil your beliefs are predisposing you to conspiratorial thinking. 

However, a Manichean worldview wasn't the strongest predictor in Oliver and Wood's study in predicting endorsement of conspiracy theories. We'll turn to that, the strongest predictor, in the next post.

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