Christopher Douglas’s article “The Religious Origins of Fake News and ‘Alternative Facts,'” published yesterday on Religion Dispatches, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why and how America’s asymmetric polarization–polarization from the Right–has led to Trumpism. You cannot understand this apart from the theocratic element and the relationship between fundamentalist psychology and political authoritarianism.
The key, as I explain in this Twitter thread, is to understand the psychology behind the construction of parallel institutions, of enclave communities, by fundamentalist subcultures. These enclave communities–I grew up in one–are designed defensively to protect the group’s “absolute Truth” against facts that are too difficult and painful to face. As Douglas relates in well sourced detail, fundamentalists’ parallel institutions–like the Christian schools, colleges, and bookstores built by conservative Evangelicals–are “bodies of counter-expertise” meant to oppose and undermine credible science and scholarship that threatens the fundamentalist worldview.
People in enclave communities, of course, are aware of “the world” out there. They know on some level that they are in enclave communities, and, however much they may try to discredit the authentic scholarly expertise of “elites” intellectually, the existence of this expertise is a threat to them. This is important for understanding why enclave communities are not meant to stay that way. If they can, fundamentalists will expand from the enclave, take political power, and try to impose their views on the wider society that threatens them, or at least make them equivalent. This is not something they can achieve in a fair intellectual context, but their sense of identity is so threatened by other possibilities that they are willing to achieve it through coercion. Indeed, coercion is endemic to any sort of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalists–including the vast majority of white Evangelicals in the US–are inherently authoritarian. Authoritarianism, for its part, is a form of abuse on a social scale that depends on gaslighting, hence post-truth politics and “alternative facts.” And as Douglas carefully documents, it is the Christian Right’s #AltFacts, post-truth ethos that has radicalized and overtaken the Republican Party. Having broken one of our two major parties, the Christian Right broke America. It’s been a long time coming, but here we are–and since those of ex-Evangelicals who grew up indoctrinated and mobilized to fight the culture wars have been well aware of the plan, many of us are particularly angered and even retraumatized by the white Evangelical backlash that, with 81% of the white Evangelical vote, has brought us the disastrous Trump presidency.
On Twitter this morning, I suggested we might start using the hashtag #ChristianAltFacts for two reasons. First, as with #SpiritualAbuseIs, the hashtag can give ex-Evangelicals a way to connect with each other and experience catharsis at a time when we are particularly upset by the resurgent theocratic threat in the form of Trumpism. Secondly, the hashtag can help inform outsiders on the Christian Right’s ideology, psychology, and tactics, which it is now urgent for the American public to understand. As I’ve said many times, Evangelicals have been doing fake news since way before it was cool. Now they’ve “crossed over,” if you will, and made it mainstream.
30 thoughts on “#ChristianAltFacts, or, how the Christian Right Broke America”
Reblogged this on cherokeeschill and commented:
When reading this, look also at how cycling advocates create their own insular communities. For example 1. The infra only crowd. (All problems can be solved with infrastructure alone.) 2. The vehicular cycling crowd. (All problems can be solved by following rule’s. )
Cycling enthusiasts are not planning to take over the government of the United States.
I lived through the exact life you wrote about, for years. I am angered that this has taken over our country and is ruining every type of progress made. Christians have in effect turned me away from God.
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You and me both – to all of the above.
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Wow, very powerful stuff! Chris, I’m 64, sort of an old hippie that has been wondering just what the hell is happening in this country!! Wondering why being a liberal is such a dirty word, and appalled by the absolute hatred, bigotry, sexism, you name it that is so apparent with the right wing Christian crowd! You have given me much to think about, along with some answers!
Thank you for sharing! I will be following you!
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Thanks for the feedback and kind words, Colleen! I’m glad you found reading this helpful.
Thank you Chris for tackling this subject . After coming close to suicide years ago over the continuous fight to be *right* inside .. I, too, left the church. The church sucked the life out of me, to the point of despair, like a wound that never heals .
Carry on ❗️
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I’m sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing.
Isn’t the problem that all cultist’s ( I include all religions as cults. Only difference between the two is how many people have been scammed for how long and at how great a profit. – Do it long enough and profitably enough and viola a cult is a religion) beleive in “alternative” facts rather then reality.
Child dies from cholera is not gos will it is poor sanitation medical treatment, soldier dies is not gods will it is a bad policy of conquest, and so it goes.
Once a person sips of the koolaid they become vulnerable to even more absurd and dangerous “alternative” facts. Faith in and of itself is the prime mover for “alternative” delusional fantasies.
Chris, have you read Kurt Anderson’s “Fantasyland”? I recommend it. Among other things, it basically makes the point that much of the very founding of this country involved many alt-factual players and movements; more than elsewhere. Anderson (as I read him) days that, as a society, the US populace has inherited and continued to demonstrated a greater-than-the-mean predilection for fantastical, alt-fact narratives, as well (in my opinion) a constant/recurring quest for significance – indeed, of destiny, by which I really mean seeking fulfillment of the feeling that we are destined for greatness. In my view, that quest – that addiction – shows up as a neverending pursuit of the payoff of the dopamine/psychic reward system. Those who want to control us with it, those who dangle that carrot in front of us, feed us a candy in the form of a story that, when you distill it down, has as its purpose engendering the feeling that we who are alive right now are caught up in a dramatic and heroic narrative with all-or-nothing stakes (“our backs are against the wall but we won’t back down!”) that, during *our* lifetimes, will reach its dramatic climax. At that climax it will be the divinely revealed that *our* tribe and *our* credo was the true and correct one all along, and we will be rewarded and our naysayers vanquished. They – meaning everyone except us, all the others (other sects, tribes, the educated with their “ideas” and “studies” and “facts” that they’re always trying to use to put us good people down) – won’t laugh at us anymore. … Telling the history of the various manifestations of kooky, destructive thought systems is Anderson’s metier, and he does it well. Please read it if you haven’t.
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Ugh, apologies for the typos…
I haven’t read it, but it sounds like a god book!