That New Old-Time Religion

The recent behavior of thousands of members of the GOP sent me to Google to read up on collective delusions. One academic has explained such delusions, and differentiated them from mass hysteria. (Hysteria evidently involves physical symptoms.) Collective delusions are defined as the spontaneous spread of false or exaggerated beliefs within a population at large, temporarily affecting a region, culture or country.

I found the term “temporarily” soothing…

What I certainly did not find soothing was an article by Andrew Sullivan, sent to me by a friend. I’ve always found Sullivan thoughtful, although I have philosophical disagreements with him. In this essay, he makes a very persuasive case for the marriage of Evangelical Christianity with Trumpism. I say “persuasive” because his theory offers an explanation for what is otherwise inexplicable: the belief that an election lost decisively in the Electoral College and by over seven million popular votes–an election overseen in many states by Republicans, an election in which down-ballot Republicans did well–was “rigged” against Trump.

In a post-election Marist poll, 60 percent of white evangelicals said they did not believe the 2020 election result was accurate, and 50 percent believed that Trump should not concede.

Sullivan has coined the term “Christianist” to describe the Evangelicals to whom he refers:

In a manner very hard to understand from the outside, American evangelical Christianity has both deepened its fusion of church and state in the last few years, and incorporated Donald Trump into its sacred schematic. Christianists now believe that Trump has been selected by God to save them from persecution and the republic from collapse. They are not in denial about Trump’s personal iniquities, but they see them as perfectly consistent with God’s use of terribly flawed human beings, throughout the Old Testament and the New, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

This belief is now held with the same, unwavering fundamentalist certainty as a Biblical text. And white evangelical Christianists are the most critical constituency in Republican politics. If you ask yourself how on earth so many people have become convinced that the 2020 election was rigged, with no solid evidence, and are now prepared to tear the country apart to overturn an election result, you’ve got to take this into account. This faction, fused with Trump, is the heart and soul of the GOP. You have no future in Republican politics if you cross them. That’s why 19 Republican attorneys general, Ted Cruz, and now 106 Congressional Republicans have backed a bonkers lawsuit to try to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.

Sullivan says that these beliefs don’t simply characterize a few “fringe nutcases.” He offers examples of what he calls “the fusion of Trumpism with religious fundamentalism,” and Evangelicals’ ahistorical insistence that the United States was founded as a Christian, rather than a secular, nation.

As most Americans, religious or not, recognize, the word “faith” means a belief for which there is no empirical evidence.  Believers who reject science are threatened not simply by this or that scientific conclusion, but by the scientific method itself– by its approach to reality and insistence upon falsification. (They shouldn’t be, of course–many things we all believe in cannot be falsified: beauty, love…but they seem unable to grasp that distinction.)

I suppose if one has been raised in a religious culture that puts primacy on faith in the unknown and unknowable, a culture that insists on the superiority of one’s religion and skin color (because make no mistake, this particular version of “Christianity” incorporates white supremacy, along with male dominance), being forced to confront a reality that challenges those beliefs is intolerable.

I’d love to dismiss members of the cult that was once a political party as inconsequential, but I’ve read enough history to know how much war, devastation and human misery fundamentalisms have caused. (The nation’s founders read that history too–which is why they separated church from state..)

I sure hope this eruption of a “collective delusion” proves temporary.


  1. All your blogs are interesting, but this one is flat out fascinating. We have all been wondering why people voted for the orange haired bandit and you spelled it out quite clearly.

  2. Collective delusions do not just apply to religious beliefs. Such thinking also applies to other aspects of the American experience. “If you work hard enough you can get rich.” “All you need to succeed is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Rich people deserve their money.” “You don’t need the government.” And on, and on, and on.
    Kind of hard to solve real problems when so much delusional thinking permeates society.

  3. Sheila,

    This essay is one of your best illustrations of what so many of us on this blog have been grappling with over the last several years. There is nothing in Biblical scripture that supports any of the ravings of the “Christianists”. And they are, for reasons known only to themselves, harbor a pathological case of confirmation bias.

    These poor, misguided, weak-minded folk twist themselves into pretzels to justify their basic racism, bigotry and institutionalized ignorance. This is the religiosity that our founders feared would destroy civilization. They weren’t wrong.

  4. I can’t quote all of the stats but no other group will suffer more loss from the passing on of the boomer generation (now 5,000 per day and growing) than fundamentalist white Christians (FWC). And the knockout punch is that Gen Y, Z and ZZ are eschewing FWC churches in droves for many alternatives from athiesm to more mainstream Christian sects to Buddhism.

    It is my fervent hope and, yes, prayer that FWC goes the way of coal as an energy source. 100 years of their delusions and intolerance has done enough damage to humanity.

    But today I celebrate that: 1) yesterday The Electoral College cast their votes to make Joseph R. Biden our next and duly-elected President, 2) shortly after Vladimir Putin offered the President-elect his congratulations, 3) Bill Barr resigned after his short stint as one of the most corrupt Attorneys General in US History and 4) the first Pfizer mRNA vaccines were administered to our beleaguered health care professionals.

    It was a good day. Cheers

  5. Collective Delusions/Mass Hysteria; a rose by any other name….yadda, yadda, yadda. The Collective Delusions throughout this Trump reign of terror AND Mass Hysteria has evidenced FIVE YEARS of physical symptoms of racism, bigotry, violence and destruction on our streets and in our churches, schools, businesses and his armed troops at protest rallies at levels never seen since the Civil War. We have witnessed barely below the level of violence and destruction against the Jews by Hitler’s Nazi troops and brown shirts leading to his full dictatorship of most of Europe…which is where Trump and his red-hats have tried and are continuing to try to force this country. And Trump isn’t done yet; he has 36 days to destroy what he hasn’t destroyed since 2015.

    Trump may or may not disappear on or after January 20, 2021, but his scorched earth destruction of democracy, Rule of Law and near death of the Constitution has legal repercussions to overcome before HIS Republicans and their supporters are gone from Congress. The “old time religion” of Collective Delusions has been an old time revival with “speaking in tongues” and all but burning witches and stoning women.

    Totally off the subject; Theresa, E-mails to you are being returned by Mailer Daemon.

  6. One has to abandon critical thinking to accept religious beliefs, That explains the embarrassing ignorance of the Evangelicals. And it’s not only evangelicals, Ultra-orthodox Jews are crazily prominent in rejecting vaccination not to mention risking their lives attending mass gatherings during the pandemic.

  7. If you go back far enough, you run across an individual by the name of William Miller, in the early part of the 1800s, he proclaimed that the 2nd coming of Christ was imminent! Now, Miller was not an educated person, he was a farmer by trade. But, he was part and parcel to the new movement of an aggressive form of evangelicalism which we now know as fundamentalism.

    Fundamentalism was born of change, Miller and his millenarian movement existed in the vacuum between truth and irrationality. His movement was stoked by what he saw as capitulation by Protestant evangelicals at the time. Freethinking, skepticism, rationalism, and what he considered moral laxity, i.e. cultural blending, racial intermarriage, the separation of church and state and of course other issues.

    The Moody Bible Institute published a series of works called the fundamentals, in the beginning of the 1900s! This is directly responsible for coining the phrase fundamentalists, and combining millenarianism with the fundamentals hence forming fundamentalism! We see the examples of fundamentalism on Sunday mornings with all the televangelists, and on the radio, mostly always right-wing broadcasting stations.

    They have used fire and brimstone, damnation, and inappropriate interpretations to whip up frenzied resistance to mainline religion and or the secular government claiming its authorities as capitulating and being complicit with evil!

    This movement in America paralleled other movements especially in Europe, and more specifically, in 1920s Germany! As mentioned in earlier comments, John O’Sullivan and Rudyard Kipling, stoked the thought process where the holiness and righteousness of the white male fighting against the onslaught of mongrels, half human inbred savages, pagans, and everyone who basically wasn’t white or Protestant or male was the only thing keeping society together! In other words, the Atlas complex where world order was on the white male Protestant evangelical’s shoulders! And of course those shoulders were ordained by God!

    I like Andrew Sullivan, I’ve spoken with him on a few occasions myself! I agree with a lot of what he has to say otherwise I wouldn’t of taken the time getting to know his usually abrasive thought processes which in some cases are diametrically opposed to my own. But he does speak a lot of truth which is the most important thing.

    One of the driving forces eventually leading to the birth of fundamentalism and evangelicalism was the understanding of “Jean Crispin’s book of martyrs” it really delves into the hatred of the Catholic Church by the reformists. Of course during those days people were tortured brutally, then having their tongues extracted, executed usually by burning at the stake for heresy. All because they saw Catholic Church dogma as being man-made and not scriptural.

    Anyway, getting back to present day, modern media is a powerful force, there is no need for barnstorming and big tent revivals anymore, people can pop on their radio or Internet 24 hours a day. They can hear all the fire and damnation they can tolerate. Because, those brimstone preachers are telling them that everyone else is responsible for their lot in life, and that they have been wronged and removed from their position of reverence in society! It sounds complicated but it’s really very simple!

    This current incarnation of Protestant evangelical fundamentalism is the existential threat to secular society. When the European settlers came to this continent looking for religious freedom, they were trying to get out from under the warring factions of the Catholic Church and the onslaught and butchery of Protestant reformists, and of course, the burgeoning religious wars against non-Christian sects. The solution? Abolish religion altogether, because the current incarnation of Protestant evangelical fundamentalism is not Christian nor is it scriptural!

  8. The past four years mark the only time in my memory in which we would have been so much better off if the inmates had been running the asylum.

  9. Bottom line there is nothing Christian about these evangelical “Christians”. They are simply the current iteration of the calvinists who have gone by different names since their failed attempt to destroy Christianity in England. They were the Puritans then later Baptists. My paternal grandfather and his identical twin were Southern Baptist preachers who would be dismayed at what their church has become.

  10. John,

    That history lesson was not “yada, yada, yada.” It’s about understanding the root of the current lunacy imprisoning folks who are scared to death of … well, death, and anything else they don’t understand. What makes this situation so awful is that the “preachers” institutionalize the ignorance for the sake of controlling the pocket books of the acolytes.

    What a sorrowful state of affairs.

  11. I learned as a psych nurse that challenging a delusion results in an angry, defensive reaction from the person holding onto the delusion. I learned to pay attention to the feelings the person was experiencing instead.

    So the Christianists are afraid of losing power, afraid of those different from themselves, some are angry and feel disenfranchised etc. They feel existentially threatened by different faith traditions, cultures etc.

    They will, of course, deny the fear, pain, anger. That’s what the delusions help them do. They are avoiding looking at what the real issues are for them because they are painful and frightening.

    It’s very hard to free people from such group delusions.

  12. It’s hard to separate various tax-free institutions that call themselves “churches” from ultra-conservative cults. However, I’m sure that there still are some honest Christian congregations.

  13. Blog entries like the hit the spot – please renew my subscription!

    However, isn’t this preaching to the proverbial choir? While many of “us” agree on a lot of these rational ideas, I am disappointed in how very little in the way of actual counter-delusional methods have surfaced. The fundamentalists have it down to a well honed science – how to game the system – while we continue to address these issues based on their definitions.

    It seems like this would be an excellent forum for discussions about tolerating the intolerants in our society.

    Thank you

  14. You take me to one of my favorite themes: that all religion is “Culturally supported delusion.”
    In this particular, and fascinating explanation, it seems easy, to me, to conceive of people already living in a fairy tale incorporating a “simple” update thereto.
    It is nauseating to think that somehow, Mr. Malignant Narcissist will become a saint, or martyr to the cause these barely-in-touch-with-empirically-founded -reality profess.

  15. Vernon,
    I was just repeating what JoAnn put in her comment, basically saying that I liked it!

    I actually don’t disagree with anything she had to say, I just basically expanded on her comment! Maybe providing a little more context and personal observation.

  16. It appears that being an “irreligious libertine” is one’s guarantee for political support from the Falwells, Bakkers and other Trump clowns, themselves fallen by the standards they ostensibly live by. Thus truly good people (by contemporary if pretended “Christian” standards) who aspire to political office are assigned to the monkish set or to a life of the quiet and conforming Presbyterian insurance broker or perhaps if charmed by his/her philosophy professor, a Unitarian, or Buddhist, or atheist. Those atheists who wish not to be labelled as such may adopt the non-position of an agnostic. Some may even deny the existence of religion as well as a god and take no position since there is nothing to or from which to admit or deny.

    Back to the first sentence hereof > It seems one must have fallen in order to be cleansed in Christian orthodoxy a la David, and if so, and irrespective of what such “sins” may have been, one is thereby fit for public office. (See Trump) However, that same orthodoxy presumes that the sinner thus forgiven will either change his or her evil ways or forego this, their second chance to start anew after having had their sins washed away, following the red letter statement from Jesus: “Go, and sin no more.”

    Trump has never stopped “sinning,” so when does the second half of this internal drama (withdrawal of evangelical support) come to pass? Answer: It doesn’t. The Falwells and Bakkers crowd are only using this medieval Punch & Judy play to explain their affiliation and support of a known “sinner” for an inroad to people in high and influential places. It really doesn’t matter what Trump’s policies are or are not, though it would have been interesting to see how evangelicals would have reacted if Trump had come out in favor of abortion on demand.

  17. Some of my “Friends” on Face Book of Hyper Religion having been posting a Meme about putting God back in school. Never understood this if God is every where and in every thing God never left school.

    They want their version of God taught in school. Rote memorization and no questions asked. Salute the Flag, Obey -Obey-Obey.

    The Trumpet and Pastor Pence routinely violate “Christian” Teachings and Philosophy. Lies and deception have no effect on The Trump Personality Cult which includes the Bible Thumper’s. The Bible Thumper’s are supremely confident in The Trumpet – Best explained by willful ignorance.

  18. There was a time when Christian Conservatives demanded nearly perfect character before they would support a candidate. Over time they went completely in the opposite direction, overlooking every character flaw if the candidate simply supports what they support. While some do see God’s use of a flawed human being as biblical, I think those people are in a minority. Most of those in the Christian Right just doesn’t care about character any more…all it cares is the bottom line.

  19. We are not a Christian nation. At most, our founders believed in Providence, however that is defined. Religious wars have proven to be a disaster, and our founders wanted to avoid this kind of disaster in our new country. “To each his own” is the operative philosophy.

  20. With his departure, Trump’s delusionals will be required to ask themselves whether they value his accomplishments (care to enumerate them?) or simply his empty words. Politicians can’t thrive on words alone. Collective delusions can bring celebrants together, but eventually someone is going to ask what it is that they are celebrating.

    Gott sei Dank, there are a handful of Republicans out there with the smarts and the street creds to make the Republican party viable again (my concern is that without serious competition, Democrats could become as exploitative as Trump Republicans). Gov. Sununu of New Hampshire (a Civil Engineer from MIT) is one of them. Jeff Flake is another. John Kasich is shakier but possibly another. Mitt Romney (not my guy) may be a fourth who is more attracted to democracy than despotism. All of the members of the Lincoln Project can be included. In addition, a fairly large number of Republicans who abandoned the party because of Trump could be lured back in if it once again adopted a conservative philosophy.

    That’s not a lot of hope, but it is more appealing than the whiney baby approach to governance that attracts the delusionals. It should be encouraged. However this all works out, it serves all our interests to appeal to Republicans to re-adopt democracy as the finest form of government man has devised. We are not able to advance with 50% of the Republicans in Congress doing their best Benedict Arnold imitations. Yet there they sit, and if , as a nation, we can no longer tolerate stasis, then we must work to dislodge them from their perches. However much it sticks in the craw, we must save them from themselves. If we allow them to consummate the marriage of church and state they desire, the delusionals can then declare victory.

  21. Let me suggest 2 books that address this discussion:
    1.Tony Keddie, Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels(2020)
    2. Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation(2020).
    The first is a scholarly piece using original sources. The second covers a vast array of pertinent original and secondary works. Check them out. As a card carrying fallen Catholic I found them extremely informative.

  22. Perhaps the label “cult,” applied to what was once the Republican Political Party is a correct characterization. I prefer to call it the “New American Fascist Party,” because although it may now be a cult, it is a powerful one that appears to be quite durable, so we’ll be stuck with it for many years to come. And, as a practical matter, with our two party system, it is the only alternative to the Democratic party available to voters in this country. Consequently, “Lesser Evil-ism” is what inevitably guides the fundamental choices of the majority of votes that matter.

    The “hot off the press” book “Authoritarian Nightmare” by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, explains it all. Once you read it, the behaviors of the Republicans in either house, the sycophants that that have managed to survive in the Trump administration, and voters Republican and Democrat, all makes sense.

  23. I think the reason we don’t see postulated solutions here, and elsewhere I look, is that there aren’t any.
    I posit that world society has been allowed to grow, by greed, in governance, until our previous adaptation to social contracting has been overwhelmed by exceeding the Dunbar number (~150) of people with whom we can
    each interact socially.
    We just don’t have the brain for it. It’s very complicated to deal fairly and empathetically with so/too many people, so we invent, or fall into, various slapdash governance methods, with representative socialism always bringing up the rear, too little and too late.
    Nations with different slapdash systems still, of necessity, BELIEVE in their “system” and they war, with increasingly effective slaughter techniques, since there is no usable debating mechanism to clear the field.
    Thus, our evolved pattern of behavior, since it can’t save us, will kill us. Meet nukes. They work really well.
    Prove me wrong, scientifically, historically, but not theologically.
    Religion is bunk.


    Hello everyone –

    One of the things I appreciate about this blog is how every responder seems to add a useful point to the collective project of figuring out what the h*** is going on. And, together, we seem to have built up a pretty accurate and real, if terrifying, picture. Moreover, the thought that there seems very little useful to do about it adds to the terror.

    In this vein, I submit the Adam Serwer essay from the Atlantic (reference above – which I hope,
    works). For me, his idea sort of tops it all off. Who ever dreamt that any of us (all of us) were, in truth, not real Americans?

    Digression/explanation: (I did become Canadian, thereby relinquishing my American citizenship, in 1980. I am an interested (and grateful) observer, able to have a life here, despite my vast pile of pre-existing conditions and ongoing, neverending, health adventures.)

    Each person who, reads, writes, and otherwise responds here is carrying out a serious responsibility of national, and global citizenship, regardless of country of residence or origin. We are called to think, as deeply as possible about our world and to assist and support when and where we can.

    The difficulty and horror these days is in accepting that those nasty, nasty fellow Americans (and the rest around the world) are also responding to their perceptions of the needs of their worlds. It is a pretty much undoable ask, I think. Someone quoted scripture earlier…»go, and sin no more…». For me, these unreconstructed racist haters are like Lot’s Wife, in that they will not learn anything, period. What gives me hope for the future is the idea that they contain the seeds of their own destruction – certainly nasty on my part. Thankfully Biden is a much, much better person than I!

    I am hoping that the small, but real, margin by which potential willing learners out number the «don’t confuse me with facts» crowd will make all the difference. We need to hold on and keep trying to figure it out, keep learning.

    I am back into intense absorption of American news. A few days ago, Chris Hayes (MSNBC) came up with an accurate, colourful and very anguished phrase in describing the numbers dying from COVID while the White House keeps at center stage their orchestra of fiddles: «depraved indifference».

    The wonder is that achieving such a state of indifference is harder in every way than opening minds and hearts to other possibilities. As frightened and exhausted as we all are, I also believe we are blessed in our determination to do better!

    Best wishes!

  25. The problem is the very thought that there should be a collective thought. That some have aright in such collective thought to be hateful and coercive on any level and then call someone else a hater for being in disagreement. It is the very nature of a democracy free speech and an ability to cooperate with each other giving freedoms yet allowing others to live freely in their beliefs. Collectivism is not democratic in thought but socialist where one group decides how others should behave and somehow can brow beat them into a certain existence of nonexistence.
    The news cycle is no longer journalists for example but full of change agents wanting to fit in to such a collective that there isnt even differing views but one common narrative. Thats not journalism, to look at what someone else is saying and simply repeat it. It is extremely dangerous to call someone a Nazi and fall into the same mentality of a brown shirt by thought and have no ability to be tolerant or graceful.
    We have fallen so very far from the world of civility into one of anger and disdain that we wind up in the courts trying to bend others into agreeing with us in all behavior that we penalize them financially through legal means. Obamacare was one device that collectively caused others to pay for abortions and took nuns and other religious factions to pay for “ the murder of the unborn”.
    As a prelude to this thought we enter into why all religious groups not just Evangelicals just might support a person like Trump who lacked a certain character but was wiling to fight for freedom, although he in his own admission wouldn’t have acted such a way because his own actions tarnished the office he was elected to. With all sorts of laws in the midst of a culture war now coming front and center to a creativity of writing laws that force others to be in a collective instead of a democracy, one can see how whoever they put into office may exercise an executive order giving their group an ability to exist in its own beliefs. Thomas Jefferson stood writing laws even before we were a nation, laws that gave groups religious freedom that eventually became the first amendment to the constitution.
    So what is Trumpism? The willingness to support such a man of bad character in his own admission, who people like Oprah Winfrey once asked if he was going to run for President because he was made of a different cloth. Evangelicals are in support of such s disdainful person because he is willing to sign an executive order protecting their ability to exist without the
    Coercive law of due penalty to not behave according to a collective thought of what is someone elses right.
    In my own circles their are plenty of people of color with religious backgrounds who are seeing that the collective is areal thing and their own conservative values are being challenged.
    We are now entering a world where we no longer wish to “coexist” and in any terms lack any descernment on any level that a sixteen year old now challenged and won a Supreme Court decision in the UK because they didnt challenge her wishes as a teen to receive puberty blocking drugs.
    This is the kind of world we live in, wher we stop thinking like adults who have a mature kind of understanding but are forced to look over our shouldrr who might be willing to right a collective law that causes us to do harm people because wexare afraid to act under any kind of moral precedence.

  26. Christianist…I prefer hypochristian.
    If God does have his hand in this in any way, let me propose another “wacko” theory . Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the world.

  27. I believe the observations of hysteria of fundamentalism is quite real and it politically powerful by design. The most alarming thing about it to me is how Trump used it as a weapon to against anyone and everyone that didn’t agree with him became a individual target for his rage and his followers willingness to act on his desires.
    By cutting out individuals-and isolated them from the others who share mutual concerns are unwilling to stand with the individual raising questions, Trump finds a detraction to his imperial status a threat to be destroyed and his followers are more than willing to carry out his desires even to the point of treason.
    It made cowards of the Republican Congress and their abandonment or their oath as an independent governing body, and that’s destructive to our nation.

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