Christ, Country, & Conspiracies

The moon landing was faked.

The government killed President Kennedy.

The COVID-19 vaccine was designed to kill you.


What do all these sentences have in common? They are all conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories say that evil, powerful people or organizations control events around the world. These people or organizations don’t do what’s good for everyone but only what’s good for themselves, and they try to keep their actions secret. These theories are not truthful or accurate, but thousands of Americans believe them anyway. 

But does it matter if some people have some incorrect ideas? Absolutely. For instance, thousands of people died during the COVID-19 pandemic because so many people falsely believed COVID-19 vaccines and masks were dangerous. Additionally, the people who believed in the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen were some of the same people who stormed the US Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. They incorrectly believed that the presidency had been stolen from Donald Trump and wanted to stop Joe Biden from becoming president. This event posed the biggest threat to American democracy in over a century.

We wanted to know why some people are conspiracy thinkers. A conspiracy thinker is someone who tends to believe in lots of conspiracy theories. In our research, we study how religion shapes the way people think about politics. We had a hunch that some aspects of religion could make people more likely to believe in multiple conspiracy theories. These aspects were Christian nationalism and biblical literalism.

What You Need to Know First

Christian Nationalism

When scholars are trying to learn about how religion is related to political thinking, they need to think about Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism is a belief system that says that Christians are the most American of Americans. In other words, Christian nationalists say that being Christian is important to being American. Christian nationalists also say that the government should be based on Christianity. But what does that have to do with conspiracy theories? Well, research suggests that less powerful groups are more likely to believe conspiracy theories because they feel threatened. Many Christian nationalists feel that Christians are a less powerful group under attack. Christian nationalists are afraid of what the government might do to Christians. Given this, we expected that Christian nationalists would be more likely to be conspiracy thinkers.

Biblical Literalism

Biblical literalism is the belief that the Bible means exactly what it says. It is the belief that every teaching in the Bible should be taken literally. Biblical literalists, those who believe in biblical literalism, believe that they don’t need an expert (i.e. a priest or religious leader) to understand the Bible. Biblical literalists distrust people or institutions who try to explain how the world works to everyday people. When scientists, the media, or government officials say something that contradicts their own interpretation of the Bible, biblical literalists are not convinced. They believe their own interpretation. And this matters for conspiracy thinking! When someone believes a conspiracy theory, they trust their own interpretation instead of an expert's. They are not open to new information or any information that may contradict their original beliefs. When an expert tells them new information, they suspect that the expert is trying to trick them. This led us to predict that Biblical literalists would also be more likely to be conspiracy thinkers. 

How We Tested Our Hunches

In 2019, Chapman University surveyed over 1,200 people. We then took this survey data and analyzed it. The survey asked people whether the government was hiding information about eight different conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theories, which are false, were as follows:

An example survey question: 

The government is concealing what it knows about alien encounters.

Choose one: strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree

All but one of these conspiracy theories are real conspiracy theories that people believe. The South Dakota crash is totally made up. We included this fake conspiracy theory in our analysis because, if people say they believe in the South Dakota crash, we’ll know that they’re more likely to accept any sort of conspiracy theory. We combined all these answers together in order to see how many conspiracy theories people believe in.

The survey also asked people questions to assess their support for Christian nationalism. Researchers think that someone is more supportive of Christian nationalism when they support these statements:

An example survey question: 

The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.

Choose one: strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree

Finally, the surveys also asked respondents about their views of the Bible. They were asked which of the following was closest to their viewpoint:

Researchers think that someone is more supportive of biblical literalism when they more closely align with the statement that the Bible has no errors and is the word of God (the last option in the list). 

We used statistics - specifically a tool called linear regression - to look at the survey data and assess if Christian nationalists or biblical literalists are more likely to be conspiracy thinkers. We believed that both Christian nationalists and biblical literalists would be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

What We Found

We were right! People who think that the United States is a Christian country (aka Christian nationalists) were more likely to believe in more conspiracy theories. And people who believe that the Bible is literally the word of God (biblical literalists) were also more likely to believe in more conspiracy theories. But these two factors are much more powerful when they exist together. When people believe that the U.S. should be a Christian country AND that the Bible is literally true, they are much more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

Why We Care

When even a few people adopt conspiracy theories, there can be ripple effects for everyone else. When Christian nationalists are afraid they are being threatened, they are more likely to believe conspiracy theories about people who have power. Most biblical literalists do not trust leaders and experts and therefore tend to not trust authority. Both of these increase conspiracy thinking. Of course, not all Christian nationalists or biblical literalists believe conspiracy theories, but our study found that they are more likely to. We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic and at the January 6th Insurrection at the Capitol how dangerous conspiracy thinking can be for everybody.

History tells us that the conspiracy theories people currently believe in will fade. New conspiracy theories will present new challenges to the country. Our country has big problems that we need to solve together both now and in the future. Conspiracy thinking can make it harder for us to do these important tasks, making it an important topic to study. 

Written By: Dr. Brooklyn Walker & Dr. Abigail Vegter

Academic Editor: Health Policy Researcher
Non-Academic Editor: Writer

Original Paper

• Title: Christ, Country, and Conspiracies? Christian Nationalism, Biblical Literalism, and Belief in Conspiracy Theories

• Journal: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

• Date Published: 08 May 2023

Please remember that research is done by humans and is always changing. A discovery one day could be proven incorrect the next day. It is important to continue to stay informed and keep up with the latest research. We do our best to present current work in an objective and accurate way, but we know that we might make mistakes. If you feel something has been presented incorrectly or inappropriately, please contact us through our website.