Qanon: Witnessing the Birth of a New Religion in Realtime
How the rapid growth of Qanon sheds light on the early days of Christianity
As a political watcher, I've been somewhat fascinated by the growth of a fringe online conspiracy theory known as Qanon into an active cult with a real world following.
Qanon began as series of cryptic posts on 4chan, and later 8chan claiming to be some government source with top secret security clearance detailing President Trump's supposed mission to round up the Satanic pedophiles who inhabited the government and elite circles, who just happened to all be Democrats (or Never Trump Republicans).
You can read full details about its history here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QAnon
The poster would routinely post predictions in a cryptic fashion that never came to fruition, but instead of losing followers after these predictions never came to be, they gained followers.
Not only that, the person behind Q (who also ran a livestream to "analyze" Q drops while never claiming to be Q himself) outed himself by accident during a livestream revealing that he had access to make the Q posts.
So even the pretty easily identifiable hoax was not quelled after being outed, it just kept growing and growing and gaining real world influence to the point that you even see Trump and people around him playing to them.
A psychologist tried to explain this phenomenon as such:
On multiple occasions, QAnon has dismissed his false claims and incorrect predictions as willful misinformation, claiming that "disinformation is necessary". This has led Australian psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky to emphasize the "self-sealing" quality of the conspiracy theory, highlighting its anonymous purveyor's use of plausible deniability and noting that evidence against the theory "can become evidence of [its] validity in the minds of believers". Author Walter Kirn has described QAnon as an innovator among conspiracy theorists in his approach of enthralling his readers with 'clues' rather than directly presenting his claims: "The audience for internet narratives doesn’t want to read, it wants to write. It doesn’t want answers provided, it wants to search for them."
This leads me to the early days of Christianity. In my observations of the Q phenomenon, I'm struck by how it mirrors some of what we know about the early days of Christianity and the information contained in the Gospels.
Like Qanon which is centered around the personality cult that has formed around Donald Trump, Christianity formed around the personality cult of Jewish preacher. Yet, like Qanon which is not run or molded by Trump himself, Christianity following the death of Jesus was not run or molded by him either - his ministry was coopted very early on by Saul of Tarsus AKA the Apostle Paul.
Here are some facts we know about that period in the religion's infancy:
Jesus was a radical apocalyptic Jewish preacher who came into conflict with the "elite" Jewish establishment and rabbis of his community
Jesus made a claim of being King of the Jews, which put him in the crosshairs of the Roman government
Jesus, on multiple occasions, predicted that the Kingdom of God would come to EARTH in his lifetime, over which he would reign as King of the Jews.
His predictions of the Kingdom of God coming to Earth during his lifetime did not materialize upon his death
Jesus never intended to form a separate religion. He was speaking to a Jewish audience, not gentiles.
The Gospels were written several years after his death, in some cases several decades after his death
There was a lost source of Jesus sayings which seem to be referenced by multiple Gospels: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/qthomas.html
Paul, who converted to Christianity and who never met Jesus during his lifetime, shaped Christianity very early on, winning the battle for the heart of Jesus' ministry over Jesus' own brother (Making Christianity something that could be practiced by non-jews, paving the way for its explosive growth)
Most of the Gospels were written after the time Paul's influence in the Church was strong
The fact is, the Christianity we know today is really the religion of Paul, not of Jesus.
Seeing how Qanon has grown due to confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance not allowing them to accept the failure of their theories coming to fruition, its a bit easier to understand what happened right after Jesus' death.
When Jesus died and his predictions about the kingdom of God coming to Earth never materialized, his followers could not accept the reality of the situation. This is how we end up with an empty tomb, and subsequent theories of him having died for 3 days and being risen from the dead, only with some vague stories of random women seeing him.
And that's where Paul comes in. It's hard to say if he was a true believer, or was merely exploiting it for his own benefit, but Paul essentially did for Christianity and Jesus, what the guys behind Q are doing for Qanon and Trump.
Paul turned Christianity into a religion ABOUT Jesus, instead of a religion OF Jesus. It became about salvation through the acceptance of Christ's sacrifice - his DEATH. Jesus' death - the very thing that invalidated his ministry to many followers upon his death - became the focus of the entire religion.
Believing in his death and resurrection, something that no one had direct evidence of, became THE WAY through which one could receive eternal life. It was their way of coping with a reality they didn't want to believe in. They had been so invested in this man, Jesus, and his teachings and predictions, that not even death would deter them.
And we see the same with Qanon today (and its no coincidence so many Qanon believers are also Christians of the most paranoid variety), no matter how much incompetence and criminality is exposed about Trump, they are so invested in him that it all becomes "part of the plan".