SEPTEMBER 14, 2020 BY CLINT SCHNEKLOTH
“The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” (Provocations: Søren Kierkegaard)
Bible codes, mystery religions, end-times predictions, conspiracy theories. All of these make for intriguing fantasy literature, exciting our appetite for special insider knowledge.
Such theories and traditions have been around about as long as humanity itself, all the way back to the early mystery religions, and all the way forward to the present with end-times scenarios like those described in the Left Behind novels.
In fact, it seems such constructs of the 20th century laid the ground work for even more bizarre Christian mystery theories in the 21st century, the most recent and disturbing of which is Qanon.
If you’ve missed out on the Qanon conversation, be thankful. It’s a mess. But Christian pastors like myself probably can’t avoid looking into it, since it is currently finding widespread appeal among many North American Christians. And it’s wise for us to offer some warning.
Qanon in Brief
It’s an internet-based phenomenon that perceives a “deep state” within the U.S. government, against which the current President is in a clandestine war for the heart of the nation. Only Trump can save us.
This deep state is especially into pedophilia rings (think Epstein and Pizzagate), and may even be a worldwide, systemic slaughter of innocent children.
True believers in Qanon, if asked to show facts, will typically respond with “do the research,” a typical move of gnostic mystery sects.
If you do a bit of research you quickly learn how closely much of Qanon parallels some Christian religious themes.
“The slaughter of the innocents, the citations of the Bible, the discovery and interpretation of signs of the times, the relation of esoteric knowledge to exoteric query—these are all recognizably religious themes and practices. QAnon’s followers also predict a Great Awakening and salvation in a future when the deep state is finally defeated. QAnon adopts common motifs of American religion and its history to articulate their worldview. Either you get it, or you don’t—and whether you do or don’t has ultimate consequences.” (https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/articles/playing-ostrich-or-how-not-think-about-qanon)
If you feel you need to read more…
I am absolutely not a Qanon expert, but I can provide readers with some resources that can help. Below, find some links to read in order to get up to speed.
The classic long-form article by The Atlantic that details Qanon the most clearly. This article is part of a longer series The Atlantic has been hosting on conspiracy theories.
Christianity Today has a solid article.
An article on how Qanon may represent a new religious movement.
The longest in-depth academic look at the issue I’ve yet to find. https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/sites.chapman.edu/dist/0/646/files/2019/10/McLaren-JandriA2019_Article_Th-eFellowshipOfTheCrookedCross.pdf
The roots of Qanon in 1940s sci-fi and 19th century agit-prop.
A solid New Republic look at the history of Trump’s meme approach.
But What Should Christians Think About This?
First of all, we should take to heart Søren Kierkegaard, quoted at the top of this post. the Bible is very easy to understand. So is Christianity. We don’t need to run off to secret traditions, mysterious knowledge, esoteric truths.
Christianity is remarkable for being right out there for everyone to see in its absolute unambiguousness and public availability. Anyone can read the book, it’s been translated into most languages, our worship is open to the public, and all the things we’re called to do as people of faith we’re called to do in the light.
Now, this isn’t to say we should ignore traditions like Qanon that truck in lies and half-truths and misdirection and straight up delusion.
Jesus teaches Christians to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). We can’t love our neighbors well if we ignore the ways they have been deluded, or the ways the principalities and powers organize to hurt the poor.
But on the other hand, as a Christian pastor in the end I’m just not very interested in fully comprehending the extent of the delusion Qanon is marketing. I’ll point you to some good articles, ask you to read a bit, and then in the end let’s talk about the clarity of Scripture and the public nature of Christian faith.
For Christians, the plain sense of the biblical text is the main sense. How would the text have sounded to the original readers of it? That’s about as complicated a question as one needs to ask.
After doing that exegetical work, then the Christian is to meditate on the text and then, as Kierkegaard urges, do it. We are obliged to act accordingly.
Which is to say, the main point of reading Scripture isn’t to discover secret, esoteric data, but rather to read to the point that we “suffer” the text, becoming subject to it so we do it.
Some of the things Qanon concerns itself with, like a global sexual trafficking ring, may actually exist in some form.
But Christianity has always been clear about this. We should love our neighbors, not abuse them. And we should liberate captives and protect the weak.
But if as a Christian you have suddenly become especially concerned about trafficking, and you think one political party or one set of leaders is especially complicit in such trafficking, well, you’ve drunk the koolaid, you’re into the cult.
All Christians opposed such trafficking. Some of us have been working for decades to reduce it, and provide support structures for the millions fleeing persecution and abuse around the world.
Christianity Is Public
The Christian gospel message was intended to be public. As I’ve already discussed above, the biblical basis for this is undisputable.
However, the Christian perspective on issues that are debated in the public sphere has declined in many places, or has been co-opted by pseudo-Christianities like Qanon.
Perhaps this is in part because in popular piety, Christian faith has tended to be restricted to the private sphere. It’s about your devotions and Jesus in your heart.
Of course, this is the wise as serpents and innocent as doves thing again. Inasmuch as private devotion helps Christians in their personal lives and grounds them, there’s nothing wrong. It’s innocent and good. But if those wielding power can then use it to keep Christians distant from, ignorant of, or even actively opposed to advocacy around issues that adversely affect the neighbors for whom Jesus had special concern, then the wise as serpents piece is absent.
One of the problems with combatting conspiracy theories is that they are typically predicated at least on a grain of truth. This means true Christian witness over against a movement like Qanon will have to sometimes align with in support of the grain (yes, we also opposed pedophilia) but then carefully discern the manipulations so deeply layered over such grains that they are buried and rotting.