On Conspiracy Theories and Christianity: Part 7, We All Want to Live a Heroic Life

When psychologists look at what draws people to conspiracy theories they group those needs and motivations under three headings.

So far in this series, we've been mainly talking about epistemic motivations, the need to make life coherent and predictable. We've discussed how dispensational theology, ways of reading the Bible, and views regarding God's providence create and form a epistemic style that predisposes many evangelicals toward conspiratorial thinking in making sense of a confusing, rapidly changing, and scary world. 

Beyond these epistemic motivations, a second group of motivations are existential in nature.

Specifically, we all have a desire for a heroic life. And by that I mean we want our lives to count, to make a difference. And the difference here can be modest and small. Picking up a piece of trash leaves the world a little better than how we found it. And as we say in an oft-repeated sentiment, "If I can make a difference in only one person's life, that would be enough."

But meaning and significance is hard, and getting harder. Historians, sociologists, and psychologists have be describing the psychological toll of meritocracy upon the modern world, our success ethic as the route to self-esteem, meaning and significance.

I'll also add here the observation that many have made, that the burden of meritocracy has grown more acute in America with the collapse of US manufacturing. Once upon a time in America, when America as "great," a person with a High School diploma had a reliable path to a humble, but heroic life. A job at the factory, with decent pay, benefits, and pension. Careers in the manufacturing world provided huge swaths of Americans without college degrees stable and reliable ladders into the middle-class and a piece of the American Dream.

As we know, those days are gone. A High School diploma in America will likely doom you to multiple, low-paying, part-time jobs in the service sector. Fast food. Stocking shelves at Walmart or an Amazon warehouse. Retail. Gig work. And not just for those with High School degrees. People coming out of college are looking at the exact same future, plus being loaded down with tens of thousands of dollars of college debt. To be clear, all work is dignified and meaningful, if you have the proper metaphysical perspective. But fewer and fewer of us have that perspective. Instead, we evaluate our lives by the success metrics of the meritocracy.

Given this situation, economic and metaphysical, it can be hard for many to look at their lives and feel a sense of meaning and purpose. And it's into this existential void where a conspiracy theory like QAnon steps in. Once you take the "red pill" and go down the QAnon rabbit hole as a true believer your life will become, in an instant, meaningful, significant, and heroic. That is what you have to appreciate about conspiracy theories like QAnon, their existential power and allure, their ability to give us a heroic life.

Incidentally, the term "red pill" is a term of art in the QAnon world. It comes from the movie The Matrix where the protagonist of the story is offered a red or a blue pill. If he takes the red pill he will wake up to reality and finally be able to see the truth. Believers of QAnon are those who have taken "the red pill" and have woken up to the truth. They see, the rest of us are blind.

The critical point here is this: the red pill is an existential drug. Take it, and life suddenly becomes heroic. Consider the case of Edgar Welch and Pizzagate.

Pizzagate was a conspiracy theory that later morphed into QAnon. According to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, Democratic leaders, Hillary Clinton among them, were running a pedophile sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC.

Edgar Welch, a married family man from North Carolina, took the red pill and went down the Pizzagate rabbit hole. Convinced that someone had to stop this evil, Welch armed himself and drove to Washington DC. Arriving at Comet Ping Pong he fired shots but hit no one. Welch searched the restaurant to free the children held as sex slaves in the basement. Trouble was, there was no basement in Comet Ping Pong. Nor were there any sex slaves. None of it was real. Upon realizing his error, Welch surrendered to the authorities who had responded to the shooting.

We might be tempted to either ridicule or express sympathy for Edgar Welch. I bring up Pizzagate to make a different point. No matter how you think of Welsh, what should be absolutely clear is that Edgar Welch was acting heroically, at least in his own mind. Which is what we're trying to understand in this series. As Welch recounted, "I just wanted to do some good." He felt his "heart breaking over the thought of innocent people suffering." In court documents Welch said that he went to Comet Ping Pong to rescue the enslaved children. His motivation was entirely heroic. This is what we need to understand about conspiracy theories. The heroism.

QAnon provides its redpilled adherents with a heroic narrative. QAnon fills an existential void. Take the red pill and suddenly you're an embattled soldier and patriot fighting a holy war against the forces of darkness seeking to destroy America and the world. Life is rendered instantly meaningful and heroic. 

It's this same heroism that makes dispensational, end times theology so alluring. Because it's a distinctive and noteworthy aspect of proponents of end times belief that they, themselves, right now, are in the midst of the end times, or that it's right around the corner. No one ever goes down the rabbit hole of dispensational Bible study to return with the message, "I've worked the timeline out, and here's what I found: Nothing will happen in our lifetime." End times belief is always, if not ego-centric, then generation-centric. Dispensationalism trades on calendrical narcissism. Generation after generation of dispensationalists always come to the conclusion that the end times is happening in their very own generation, never in some later, future generation. And the reason for this is heroism. The gas that makes the end times engine run is the heroic notion that you, yes you, are living in the end times, the season of heroic action. Everyone is blind, but you see. 

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? Why is the end times always now and never a hundred years in the future? 

Why do we take the red pill?

Because we all want to live a heroic life.

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