What is it about Republicans that seems to make them more credulous to fake news than Democrats?
The answer to this question might have to do with the religious roots of today’s Republican Party in the Christian Right. Beginning with the Moral Majority, founded in 1979 by Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye, and continuing through church organizations such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, conservative Christians have helped reshape the Republican Party and its policies. Its “family values” positions on abortion, the sexual revolution, gender roles, pornography, and homosexuality have been heavily influenced by its conservative Christian theology.
Voters have continued to “sort” themselves over the last few decades, as political liberals became less religious and political conservatives more religious. Sociologists call this the “God gap” in partisan religiosity. Conservative white evangelicals have formed a hugely important and highly motivated core group of the Republican electorate for several cycles. In 2016, Donald Trump garnered 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, higher than Mitt Romney, John McCain, and even the born-again George W. Bush.
Christian fundamentalist Bible colleges and universities, publishers and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, radio and then television shows, museums and campus ministries, together formed a set of institutions that resisted elite, secular expert knowledge. Recognizing the power of expertise’s infrastructure, Christian fundamentalists created this counter-infrastructure to cultivate and curate its alternative forms of knowledge.
This alternative knowledge—the forerunner of today’s alternative facts— took the form of creationism and an alternative Bible scholarship demonstrating the Bible’s inerrancy and traditional authorship. This alternative educational and media ecosystem of knowledge was galvanized and mobilized when the Christian Right emerged in the late 1970s to influence the Republican Party. There were two long-term consequences for our fake news world. First, theologically and politically conservative Christians learned to distrust the proclamations of the supposedly neutral media establishment, just as they had grown to suspect the methods and conclusions of elite experts like scientists or historians. And second, they learned to seek the truth from alternative sources—whether a church sermon, Christian media (newspapers, books, radio or television shows), or a classroom in a Christian college.
The consequence is that theologically fundamentalist Christians have for years explained to themselves that what seems to be worldly wisdom and conclusions are really the results of conspiracies, biases, and misplaced human pride in academic, scientific, and journalist communities. This cognitive training to reject expert knowledge and to seek alternative, more amenable explanations has helped disarm the capacity for critical thinking and analysis.
This is what I've been saying since I left the Baptist church 50 years ago and never looked back.
The acceptance of supernatural explanations for the world around us makes us more susceptible to every kind of bullshit that gets presented to us throughout our lives.
Astrology, phrenology, numerology, past lives regression, palm readings, fear of contrails, seances, "reality" TV shows about chasing freaking Bigfoot, all of it relies on the suppression of the critical thinking skills that we need to safely navigate through our lives,
And without the ability to sniff out bullshit we find ourselves living in a country led by a cross between PT Barnum and an Oompa Loompa.
I cannot help but feel that if more of us rejected it we would be living in a much better world, with a much brighter tomorrow ahead of us.