In 2020, Katelyn Beaty presciently titled an article “The alternative religion that’s coming to your church.”
It was about QAnon, and yes, it is an alternative religion.
So what is QAnon?
See if any of this sounds familiar: 5G radio waves are used for mind control; George Floyd’s murder is a hoax; Bill Gates is related to the devil; face masks can kill you; the germ theory isn’t real; there is a ring of pedophiles made up of deep state leaders.
Consider this from Beaty’s reporting in 2020:
Conspiracy theories – grand narratives that seek to prove that powerful actors are secretly controlling events and institutions for evil purposes – are nothing new in the U.S. But since 2017, a sort of ur-conspiracy theory, QAnon, has coalesced in online forums and created millions of believers. “To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion,” wrote Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic in June.
Named after “Q,” who posts anonymously on the online bulletin board 4chan, QAnon alleges that President Donald Trump and military officials are working to expose a “deep state” pedophile ring with links to Hollywood, the media and the Democratic Party. Since its first mention some three years ago, the theory has drawn adherents looking for a clear way to explain recent disorienting global events.
Once the fascination of far-right commentators and their followers, QAnon is no longer fringe… it has gained credibility both on the web and in the offline world: In Georgia, a candidate for Congress has praised Q as “a mythical hero,” and at least five other congressional hopefuls from Illinois to Oregon have voiced support.
One scholar found a 71% increase in QAnon content on Twitter and a 651% increase on Facebook since March.
As I wrote then, talking about QAnon is not about politics. It is not about whether you plan to vote for Trump or Biden. It is about the way a set of ideas and sentiments are infiltrating the minds of those who claim to follow Christ, even when those ideas do not reflect the mind of Christ. As Beaty rightly noted:
QAnon is more than a political ideology. It’s a spiritual worldview that co-opts many Christian-sounding ideas to promote verifiably false claims... QAnon has features akin to syncretism—the practice of blending traditional Christian beliefs with other spiritual systems…. Q explicitly uses Bible verses to urge adherents to stand firm against evil elites.
And what reared its head in 2020 isn’t just rearing its head again; it’s become a full-throated cultural and religious worldview. Yes, it’s updated its conspiratorial claims: Biden is now said to have killed JFK, Nikki Haley has been a prostitute, and Tom Hanks and Pope Francis have been added to the list of names believed to molest children and eat their victims to harvest the chemical adrenochrome. I really don’t have the emotional energy to recite any more of the claims. Let’s just say they claim “the storm is coming” when evildoers will be swept away and America will be restored to greatness.
As reported by The Times, a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institute found that the proportion of Americans who share the beliefs of QAnon has surged to now 23% of the adult population. As the article wryly notes, “That makes the conspiracy cult as popular in the U.S. as some major religions.” And lest you think this is simply a Trump/Republican/MAGA phenomenon, support for QAnon ideas has doubled in the past two years – from 7% to 14% - among Democrats.
So if you have believed that QAnon was simply part of the weirdness of all things COVID back in 2020, think again. It’s become akin to the way Hindu thinking has influenced popular culture. Few would claim to be Hindus, but ideas such as karma, reincarnation, and “the force” are not part of our folk religion. Which is why I have often referred to Hinduism as the unofficial pop-culture religion of our nation.
But I’m thinking I may need to update that a bit.
It now may be QAnon.
James Emery White
Adrienne LaFrance, “The Prophecies of Q,” The Atlantic, June 2020 Issue, read online.
Hugh Tomlinson, “How Donald Trump Fuels QAnon Cult That Claims Biden Killed JFK,” The Times UK, January 30, 2024, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
Image credit: ©Getty Images/Rick Loomis/Stringer
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.