(RNS) — What is the difference between being faithful and being faith-filled, and how might that difference be shaping politics and culture today?
Those questions matter more and more, as we learn more and more about the role of faith in the lives of QAnon followers and the place of QAnon in the lives of many people of faith.
A recent report by Public Religion Research Institute indicates that 15% of Americans fall into the category of “QAnon believers,” defined as anyone who agrees with any of three statements: “the levers of power in the U.S. are controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles”; “American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country”; and “there is a storm coming that will sweep away the elites and restore the rightful leaders.”
While 15% may not sound like a critical share of the population, given the nature of those claims and the fact that the recent presidential election was decided by a margin of about 4%, it’s a hugely concerning figure. QAnon believers are able to seriously change the future of the nation.
This is doubly true because QAnon believers are concentrated in one party: About 25% of Republicans are receptive to QAnon, while only14% of independents and 8% of Democrats are. When compared with the number needed to sway an election, though, we see that this is an issue for all of us, regardless of party.
This is about more than partisan politics. We need to look beyond the pollsters’ three statements if we want to better understand and address the popularity of these beliefs. We need to look toward religion and the nature of belief itself.
The new data from PRRI’s report is very helpful in doing just that.
PRRI polling indicates that white evangelical Protestants, Hispanic Protestants (who are largely evangelical), and Mormons are more likely than other groups to agree with each of the tenets of the QAnon conspiracy movement mentioned above.
White and Hispanic evangelicals tend to agree with QAnon at 25%, LDS members at 18%. But the numbers are relatively high for other groups as well, including Hispanic Catholics (16%), Black Protestants (15%), other Christians (14%), non-Christian religious (13%), white Catholic (11%), white mainline Protestant (10%).
These conspiracy theories and the violent fantasies associated with correcting them, in other words, cut across political and denominational lines. As painful as it might be for some of us who are animated by faith, the data suggests that the issue is not simply about those who are faithful to a particular religious path, but about people who are “faith-filled” — animated and informed by belief that transcends the purely rational. This is not about who has the “right faith” or the “wrong faith.”
Nor is this an attack on the arational or the mystical elements of faith. Quite the opposite, in fact. We need to appreciate those elements for what they are, taking responsibility for their full potential, and more effectively addressing people with genuine respect for their faith, even when we have no regard for the conclusions to which that faith has led them.