Why did 81 percent of white evangelicals believe Trump’s lies? Why do they still persist in supporting this failing and flailing “president”? Why do they prefer fake news to facts? The answer can be found by juxtaposing 2 stories: Saen Hannity’s fake conspiracy theories about Seth Rich and the fact that Ken Ham built an ark, a Noah-sized ark he wants us to believe actually once existed.
If we can learn anything from these two related events — religious delusion on a literally monumental scale and conspiracy theories coursing through the alt-reality media — it’s this: fake news dies hard because a huge swath of the American public is quite literally mentally ill. Their mental illness is called evangelical Christianity. And these people made Trump president. Thus what they believe matters because their willful ignorance holds the rest of us hostage.
Evangelical faith in fantasy alt-facts prepares believers to believe anything at all, as long as it contradicts mainstream accepted facts. Trump’s rise is a case in point. So is Ken Ham’s ark, and so is the fact that Sean Hannity has an audience even after his proven lies about the unsolved murder of a Democratic National Committee staff member named Seth Rich.
As reported in the New York Times, “In case you haven’t been following it, the Seth Rich conspiracy holds that before his death (or, in this version of events, assassination) in July Mr. Rich had been involved in the leaking of Clinton campaign emails to WikiLeaks, which the United States intelligence community has attributed to Russian-sponsored hackers.”
Fox News watchers (a mostly white evangelical older Trump-loving crowd) were ready to believe this latest lie. Why? Because their brains have already been broken by their alt-religion.
There is a vast industry dedicated to breaking each successive generation of true believer’s brains. Take just one such group Answers in Genesis. They specialize in teaching children to disbelieve science, math and geology in favor of religious fanaticism. In other words they run a vast evangelical radical Islamic-style Christian madrassa.
As reported by the Washington Post
The founder of Answers in Genesis, an online and publishing ministry with a strict creationist interpretation of the Bible, employed 700 workers to erect the $120 million Ark Encounter, which is five stories high and a football field and a half in length, and packs a powerful whoa punch. He had the massive boat designed by a veteran of amusement park attractions, commissioned an original soundtrack to enhance the experience, and stocked the interior with an animatronic (and freakishly real) talking Noah, along with lifelike models of Earth’s manifold creatures. Including dinosaurs….
The ark opened last summer and is on target, Ham says, to attract more than a million visitors in the first year.
But Ham did not rest.
The 65-year-old Australian and his partners, Mike Zovath and Mark Looy, have launched an ambitious 10-to-12-year plan to re-create a walled city from the time of Noah and a 1st-century village from the time of Jesus.
Also, a Tower of Babel, concept snack shacks, a 3,200-seat amphitheater and a 10-plagues-of-Egypt thrill ride. Frogs! Fiery hail! Locusts!…
“How do you reach the general public in a bigger way?” Ham muses rhetorically, sitting in his expansive corner office at the Creation Museum, his first, more sober foray into the family entertainment business, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Memorial Day. “Why not attractions that people will come to the way they go to Disney or Universal or the Smithsonian?”
Ham and the evangelicals are creationists into a conspiracy theory that holds that science is a hoax foisted by liberal atheists on the world. They have many apologists like Ham — and like my late father Francis Schaeffer who was one such creationist too.
I grew up in this anti-science fearful world. I once even spoke at Jerry Falwell Sr’s., church. Then in the 1980s I fled the madness of the evangelical world as I describe in my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.
Today at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty “University” they still teach that the Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. In fact it’s 4.5 billion years or so older. But never mind that. An entire evangelical industry is built around defending the lies set forth in the Bible as related to actual facts.
You can see the partisan appeal to evangelicals.
If you don’t want to believe:
- in science or that global warming is man-made;
- that gays are born that way;
- that women are equal to men;
- the American intelligence assessments that the Russians were behind a national security attack on our electoral process;
- the news about the investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia;
- the fact that gays are born “that way”…
…well then, there’s an alternative to reality to grab onto. There’s a literal Noah’s Ark waiting for you and Fox News is waiting to stroke you and to tell you that all the world’s learning and experience is a lie. Evangelical magazines and pastors are ready to help you believe that only your Bible is true and everything else is fake news.
Ham, for instance, says that dinosaurs roamed the planet alongside humans and that the biblical flood created the Grand Canyon. (No kidding.) One of his books is “The Lie: Evolution.” He argues that Noah labored seven decades to construct his vessel and was 600 years old when the storm surged. And the same white evangelicals that say Trump is doing a good job also believe that Ham is a scientist.
Ham admits that his views aren’t commonly shared by sane people. “Obviously, we’re in a minority,” he says. But “just because a majority believes in something doesn’t mean it’s right.” The same “thinking applies to the religious right that put Trump in power. For instance just because the majority of Americans know Trump is a lying confused con man, doesn’t mean that this “liberal” “snowflake” is right. If you have a biblical (and/or Fox News perspective) Trump is a god-sent genius… no matter what the facts are.
Facebook and Google have worked up new computer formulas and dispatched dedicated teams to push the most corrosive alt-right lies off their platforms. But as the Seth Rich story shows and as the popularity of Ham’s Ark proves– we’re going to need a bigger algorithm to rid ourselves of the evangelical white Trump voters’ addiction to alternative reality and lies.
Like water, Fox News conspiracy theories and creationism find their own level.
No matter what the legitimate media does to stop uncorroborated conspiracies and false information, they will continue to live on as long as there are white evangelicals like Ham eager to spread lies about the Earth, about human rights and about politics. All the algorithms in the world can’t stop religious delusion. Just as any Saudi woman.
Speaking of wilful idiocy, as a condition of employment, the ark staff of 900, including 350 seasonal workers, must sign a statement of faith rejecting evolution and declaring that they regularly attend church and view homosexuality as a sin. So any non-fundamentalist evangelicals, let alone believers in evolution, or members of the LGBT community — and their supporters — need not apply.
The next generation of evangelicals are being groomed to join the fact-fearing Fox News fact-free throng. The goal is for the ark to become “something on people’s checklist when they’re traveling, like seeing the biggest ball of twine,” says Zovath, who supervised the encounter’s construction. “That gives us an opportunity for people who might never go to church to see something that is mind-blowing and get some information that could change their lives for the better and point them in the direction for a secure eternity,”… and maybe vote for Trump… again?