Evangelicals, conservatives, and fake news

Reading Russell Moore’s article left me feeling dissatisfied – particularly on the issue of why Evangelicals, and American conservatives more generally, are so especially vulnerable to believing, and therefore acting on, fake news and conspiracy theories – such actions tending to further inflame the ‘culture wars’.

I am starting this as a new, Side Conversation, in an attempt to facilitate freer flow of conversation.

I should start by saying that I am by no means claiming that the following viewpoints are either canonical, nor necessarily the complete picture.

This blog post struck me as providing a good explanation:

Religion, too, has an important role to play in the political learning process. Not only is American Christianity increasingly intertwined with Republican partisanship, but religion itself provides tools for resisting information from secular sources of information. Evangelical Christians are taught to resist “worldly” influences in favor of trustworthy, Godly resources. In my 2019 paper, I find that religion has an independent negative effect on media trust and—consequently—knowledge of surveillance-policy issues. Contrary to what some on the left might think, I do not find that religious Americans are any less politically aware overall than secular citizens, controlling for other factors. However, on questions that require attention to and learning from the media to know, highly religious Americans are less likely to answer correctly, in large part because of high levels of distrust in and disdain for mainstream media outlets. To answer the question of whether religion affects political knowledge, the answer depends on what type of knowledge we’re talking about and whether the person has adopted a religious worldview that lends itself to rejecting secular authority and credibility.

This credibility problem becomes more acute when politicians such as Donald Trump double-down on sowing distrust for sources that report critical information. Trump carefully cultivated his supporters’ animus toward so-called “fake news,” which increasingly referred to anything that painted him in a negative light. Conservative white evangelicals were effectively presented with the following choice: believe Trump, who embodies your political aspirations, and protects your status and interests; or follow the secular news media, which despises your values and lifestyle. Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway was widely mocked by Democrats for saying the Trump administration used “alternative facts,” but this really gets at the heart of the phenomenon. It is quite politically useful if you can routinely discredit negative reporting from sources out of your control and construct an impenetrable reality that your supporters will adopt and are already trained to defend.

This dovetailed with something else I had read:

[Underyling research article here]

Donald Trump would seem to be to be the epitome of a Low Conscientiousness influencer, and I think I can discern a similar tendency in both many of his MAGA acolytes and in many of the action of the current House Leadership.

Where “Evangelical Christians are taught to resist ‘worldly’ influences” such as the mainstream media, and science, and to trust more “Godly” sources, which are increasingly being infested with Low Conscientiousness Conservative-injected misinformation, it is hardly surprising if their views, and thus their actions, are at ever-increasing divergence both to mainstream America, and to reality.

I think this misplaced trust is the direct consequence of Evangelical culture, a culture that Russell Moore has been one of the leaders in shaping in recent decades, and I really don’t think that some additional prayer and Bible-reading is going to have any appreciable impact on its trajectory.

[Mod edit: adding link to previous discussion.]

1 Like

My tentative explanation for this, is that Evangelicals are highly trained in the art of being gullible.

This is a position that I reluctantly adopted. I usually tuned into NPR news in the mornings. And when that was over, if the radio station had a program that didn’t interest me, I would tune into something else. This was often a Christian radio station.

My starting assumption was that Christian radio would filter advertising to allow only the most honest and least deceptive of ads. What I found was very much the opposite. There was a lot of advertising by snake oil salesmen. It seemed to suggest that these advertisers found Christian radio to be a self-selected group of highly gullible listeners.

1 Like

This would seem to be consistent with my hypothesis above.

Christian radio is a “trustworthy, Godly resource” (the more Godly, the more trustworthy, by this logic), so Evangelicals would trust everything that they hear on it (that did not contradict their core beliefs). Presumably “snake oil salesmen” are willing to pay a higher premium for advertising on Christian radio then the “least deceptive of ads” (probably as they can make more profit off of it). To the extent that the management of these stations even notice the difference between these ad sources, I’m sure that they can salve their consciences with the fact that the greater revenue will allow them to reach, and thus save, more souls. :roll_eyes:

1 Like

Right on cue (paywalled)…

While this is “right-wing,” there’s a huge overlap.


In the CBS News/YouGov survey, Trump voters were asked to pick who they feel tells them the truth. Trump gathered 71 percent of the vote, friends and family gathered 63 percent, conservative media figures had 56 percent, and religious leaders gathered 42 percent.

So the result of the Evangelical leadership’s detachment of their followers from mainstream sources of information is that those followers believe “conservative media figures” more than “religious leadership”, and Trump more than either of them. :roll_eyes:


On Tuesday, Enlow served as a guest host on “Elijah Steams,” where he interviewed Amanda and Henry Hastings, who run a biblically based tactical weapons training program called Shoot, Move, Communicate. Henry Hastings is a former special forces commander who “transitioned to the ministry” until, he claims, he had a “supernatural encounter” in which God reportedly told him to start training up “modern-day Minutemen”—emphasis on “men.”

“Jesus certainly wasn’t a pacifist,” Hastings said. “If you go to the Book of Revelation and you really get to know who the Lord is, he’s definitely not an anti-war pacifist at all. And if you want to go to the Old Covenant and see how men moved and operated, there were definite enemies. … They were people and they were enemies, and men had to go up when freedom was threatened by them and overtake and destroy those who would threaten freedom.”

Hastings then claimed that the Constitution and Bill of Rights place “supreme authority” in the local sheriff who has the power to establish militias under the Second Amendment to remove “domestic enemies” from office. Hastings’ claims about sheriffs’ authority are similar to those promoted by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, whose leaders talk about their mission in spiritual terms and train law enforcement officers in their “constitutional sheriff” ideology.

Hastings later read a prophecy from the non-canonical Book of Enoch to proclaim that “the kings and the powerful ones will perish and will be surrendered into the hands of the righteous and the holy,” which he declared was a warning to who have dared to indict “the Lord’s anointed,” by which he meant Donald Trump.


1 Like

A recent survey by Lifeway Research found that 52 percent of American churchgoing Protestants say their church teaches God will bless them if they give more money to their church and charities.

But while the prosperity gospel speaks to the groups who are experiencing the worst of times, it’s also being weaponized by some of the most right-wing elements in conservative religious circles as a form of retribution.

This is a worldview that seeks to wage not a war against poverty but a war against the poor instead—those who have, in his view, shown insufficient faith. This might come as a surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the teachings of Jesus, but it represents the culmination of a long strand of American Protestantism that gained hold after World War II.

I generally find Salon a tad too slanted for my taste, but the following piece seemed relevant:

This is why Trump has done so well with evangelicals, despite his utter contempt for their faith and his lifetime of unrepentant philandering. His life philosophy, where what is “true” is whatever he wants to believe, fits nicely within the demon-haunted rhetoric of the Christian right, where Noah’s ark is real but science is not. The “belief” that the election was stolen from Trump isn’t a statement of fact but of loyalty to the tribe. That’s why most Republicans now claim Trump didn’t try to steal the election, as if they simply didn’t see the months of loud, showy efforts to do so. They know in their hearts it’s not true, but the false thing feels better to say.


Maybe even “(Yikes^Yikes)!”

(Sorry, I’m no longer facile in notations like LaTeX.)

That wasn’t a “supernatural encounter”. That was Bigfoot. (I already said that he is very evil.)

Let’s see …


Gives us Yikes to the Yikes factorial. :grin:

Thanks. I like that.

Now put the exponential Yikes within parentheses so the exclamation points produces a factorial.


The idea that U.S. conservatives are uniquely likely to hold misperceptions is widespread but has not been systematically assessed. Research has focused on beliefs about narrow sets of claims never intended to capture the richness of the political information environment. Furthermore, factors contributing to this performance gap remain unclear. We generated an unique longitudinal dataset combining social media engagement data and a 12-wave panel study of Americans’ political knowledge about high-profile news over 6 months. Results confirm that conservatives have lower sensitivity than liberals, performing worse at distinguishing truths and falsehoods. This is partially explained by the fact that the most widely shared falsehoods tend to promote conservative positions, while corresponding truths typically favor liberals. The problem is exacerbated by liberals’ tendency to experience bigger improvements in sensitivity than conservatives as the proportion of partisan news increases. These results underscore the importance of reducing the supply of right-leaning misinformation.

Socially engaging truthful claims tended to favor the left, while engaging falsehoods disproportionately favored the right.

Which is academicese for “reality has a well-known liberal bias”. :wink: