KEEPING THE FAITH: Conspiracy and compassion

Ronnie McBrayer
Ronnie McBrayer

The conspiracy theory known as “QAnon” or “Q” returned to national headlines this past week with another failed prediction about the future. This failure is no surprise, as no prediction made by this vocal yet debunked entity has ever come true. Still, thousands hang onto QAnon’s cryptic and apocalyptic postings from the nether-regions of cyberspace as if these fatuous communications are divine.

Not the least of these adherents are Evangelicals. I haven’t considered myself an Evangelical for more than a decade, but many of my friends and family remain in that camp, and many have succumbed to QAnon’s machinations. In fact, Evangelicals make up the largest demographic committed to this conspiracy theory. It is no surprise. Evangelicals have been uniquely trained to take Q’s bait by the proverbial hook, line, and sinker.

Consider: Evangelicals have a catastrophic view of the future with the Rapture, Antichrist, and the assurance that most of us will be “Left Behind” to face fiery cosmic judgment. Evangelicals, since Charles Darwin, have resisted scientific discovery and have long been suspicious of any authority that doesn’t reinforce their already established worldview.

And most telling, Evangelicals are instructed in the discipline of faith. They are taught to believe the unseen, inexplicable, and the yet to be revealed. As a person of faith, I can attest that this is a great strength! Hope, love, joy, goodness — all those superb qualities Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — cannot be diagramed, located by telescope, or explained by scientific routine. Yet, these qualities properly and tangibly sustain the faith of millions.

But this strength, this eagerness to believe, becomes a double weakness when it finds unworthy, unfit, and blatantly untrue principles. Such belief is not faith; it is foolishness. It is a foundation made of sand, primed to wash away when the slightest storm appears on the horizon.

Whatever QAnon is (either a hostile misinformation campaign or an internet joke gone destructively viral), and whoever Q is (either a skilled provocateur or a Cheetos-devouring-keyboard-thumping teenager), it functions as fanaticism not fact. It is more cultic than constructive, and those who foment this malignancy “are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain.” These have earned their punishment.

But those who have “been taken captive by these empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense” (the Apostle Paul anticipated such tragedies), do not need facts (established premises get in the way of hearing them and there will be time for that later); and they do not deserve our scorn. They need compassion, as they are afraid, exhausted and confounded by the world, exploited by nefarious forces, and in need of a gracious landing when they ultimately jump from the merry-go-round of plots, schemes, and conspiracy.

Thus, we are back to faith, back to those most important elements: “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and restraint.” Employing these forcefully and fiercely will do more to help those we love than arguing and fact-checking alone.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, speaker, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.org.