As a retired ordained minister born and bred in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I find the embrace of QAnon among ‘evangelical’ Christians staggering, but I am not stunned.
Satan is the central character of QAnon conspiracy theory. Satan conspires from deep within the Deep State from which an anonymous snitch exposes the truth — a Satanic plot of pedophiles, child molesters, sex-traffickers, cannibals, and kidnappers conspiring against the savior of freedom, righteousness, and truth, Donald Trump.
The historical roots of QAnon
‘Christian nationalism’ has a long history. A group of expatriating British citizens, seeking refuge to practice their faith without government interference, planted its flag on Native American soil. They brought with them two myths: white supremacy and Christian exceptionalism, essential building blocks to build the city set upon a hill, a holy nation, God’s own people, the New Jerusalem. It is not incidental that Satan, ‘the prince of this world,’ the source of evil, arrived with them.
Sociologist Kai Erikson’s Wayward Puritans: a Study of Social Deviance offers insight into the psycho-social dynamics of social cohesion and deviance. Social deviance is a tool of insuring a society’s cohesion. The Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth consensus was fraying. At Mrs. Anne Hutchinson’s trial, Presiding Judge, Gov. John Winthrop, expressed the reason the defendant had been brought to trial: “troublesomeness of spirit and the danger of her course amongst us, which is not to be suffered.”
“Unfit for our society”
“Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.” Judge, Gov. John Winthrop.
Anne Hutchinson accepted the court’s sentence and left the Bay Colony to co-founded, with Roger Williams, the state of Rhode Island.
Others were not so lucky. Quaker Mary Dyer was banished, and hanged in 1660 on Boston Common after three times violating the court’s banishment.
At Salem, between 1662 and ’63, women, men, and girls (19 female and six males) accused of practicing witchcraft, were executed as unfit for (a Christian) society.
The First Amendment: no to Christian Nationalism
A century later, when the Founders adopted the First Amendment establishing the right of religious freedom, the memory of this intolerance and the horrors of the idea of a Christian nation informed and shaped their conscience.
The idea of Satan has been kidnapped
How, then, did it come to pass that some professing Christians have embraced the Satan of QAnon? Only Satan knows. But there lies the problem. Satan doesn’t know, and can’t know, because there is no ‘being’ named Satan. QAnon misconstrues references to Satan in the Bible. The Hebrew שָׂטָן (śāṭān) is variously translated into English as accuser, adversary, liar, slanderer. Accusation, lying, and slandering are behaviors, not a name. Nearly always, the article ‘the’ precedes Satan: the accuser, the adversary, the trickster, the slanderer.
Delusion, illusion, and self-glorification
The New Testament Gospel narratives of Jesus alone with the Devil τοῦ διαβόλοß (Koine Greek rendering שָׂטָן śāṭān) for forty days in the wilderness are not about a being named ‘Satan’. They are about Jesus and the rest of us in our propensities toward illusion, delusion, and self-glorification. Will Jesus do what no other human being can do — turn stones into bread, leap from the Temple without a fatal fall, refuse power over the nations — as what defines him?
The scene of Synoptic Gospel narratives is the wilderness; the circumstance is mortal vulnerability: unassuaged weariness and hunger. The adversary beckons Jesus to become what he is not. The wilderness narratives paint pictures marking the difference between honoring the truth of our finite (limited) mortal nature, and confusing one’s self with what we are not: Infinite and Immortal. Jesus refuses to glory himself.
The beasts fo the human spirit
The Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the New Testament Gospels describes the wilderness experience without the three temptations added later added by Matthew and Luke. “The Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tested by the Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and angels ministered to him.”
Christian faith and QAnon
This is the Jesus professing Christians proclaim as Lord and Savior. It is this way of living that is the way of Christ. This is the Christ who leads us through the wilderness toward and beyond Golgotha (the Hill of Skulls). This is the savior who tells the śāṭān to go away when Peter acts as the Satan, the adversary, the liar who tells Jesus he will never die.
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, host of Views from the Edge, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Nov. 30, 2022.