Editor’s Note: Normally, one would expect philosophies that show themselves to be consistent wrong to be abandoned; however, this doesn’t seem to apply religious or political cults, where reality doesn’t seem to have much of an effect.

Cognitive Dissonance, Anyone?

Psychologists define the mental stress induced by trying to balance two contradictory thoughts at the same time as “cognitive dissonance.” It’s the sort of conflict that’s likely to afflict pro-choice Catholics or gay Muslims. As a pro-death-penalty/anti-affirmative-action liberal, I know how it feels.

During high school, one of my classmates became a Jehovah’s Witness. He’d planned to go to college but decided against it, based on his denomination’s study of selected Bible passages, which convinced them the Second Coming would take place in 1975. This wasn’t something they “believed”; it was something they “knew.” Hence, starting college in 1969 would have been a waste of time and money.

After enduring relentless and nonsensical preaching on fictional history (e.g., Noah’s Flood), pseudoscience (young-earth creationism) and mythological cosmology (Genesis), I let him know that the first voice he’d be hearing on January 1, 1976 would be mine, and I’d be asking, “What happened to the Apocalypse?” By New Year’s Eve 1975, we’d lost touch; however, around 12:01 a.m., I managed to drunkenly dial his number to convey my relief at surviving the End Times. But, sadly, no one answered, leaving me to wonder how he’d handled the conflict between what he “knew” to be The Truth and reality.

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. In 1831, Baptist lay minister William Miller proclaimed his conviction, based largely on his study of the Book of Daniel, that Jesus was returning sometime in 1843 or 1844. In a short time, Millerism would become a national movement. Adherents gave away their worldly goods and gathered outdoors to await the Second Advent. When a series of prophesied dates passed uneventfully, the Millerites suffered what came to be known as the “Great Disappointment.”

Despite 2,000 years of unfulfilled prophecies, and the Gospels’ doctrine that “concerning that day or hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son” (Mark 13:32), American evangelicals have been unable to resist predicting the End of Days. From pastor F. Kenton Beshore, who forecast the Apocalypse to be 1988, then 2018, then 2028, to evangelist Harold Camping, who’s wrongly predicted Armageddon some 12 different times, fundamentalists seem to lack any ability to practice skepticism.

Gullibility is a key trait of the Christian conservative bloc of the Trump base. Evidently, his perfunctory efforts to ban abortion and win “the war on Christmas” enable them to accept the former president as the “Chosen One” a “blessed” figure, anointed by God to rule. They have no trouble ignoring his penchant for adultery with Russian prostitutes and forgiving him for having unsafe sex with a porn star while his third wife was delivering his fifth child. No problem with cognitive dissonance there.

Trump cultists have short memories about promises made and unkept. The Wall is nowhere near finished, no Mexicans paid for any of it and the balanced budget promised to the Tea Party morphed into tax cuts for the rich, financed by the largest deficits in human history. His pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare (with a “great” plan) was never seriously attempted. Tax returns Trump vowed to release are still state secrets (the IRS is performing that audit with an abacus and Roman numerals), and even the most credulous can count up the number of pardons required by his undrained swamp.

Although the more fanatical nutjobs among the evangelicals are unlikely to abandon their loyalty to the Orange Messiah, there’s been talk lately that some of the QAnon conspiracy theorists feel betrayed by Trump’s acquiescence to Biden’s election, the GOP’s lukewarm response to their insurrection and The Donald’s failure to arrest everyone connected with the Obama administration.

QAnon isn’t an entity one joins, like the KKK or the American Nazi Party. It’s a mindset (aka “The Great Awakening”), in the same way that antifa (which stands for “anti-fascism”) is a philosophy, rather than an organization. However, they’re two opposing movements. I like to think that my father was antifa for enlisting in the U.S. Navy to fight Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan during World War II. Meanwhile, violent QAnon traitors who need a catchier name (I suggest “pro-fa”) showed their anti-democracy bona fides by seizing the Capitol to overturn a lawful election.

Some radicalized QAnon followers have become disillusioned that the 30,000 reputed indictments of Deep State “liberals” were never unsealed, martial law wasn’t declared and military tribunals haven’t indicted the Clinton/Obama pedophilia/cannibalism ring. Many had faith that everyone from Oprah to Tom Hanks would be arrested, and they’ve also ranted about how Biden wouldn’t be inaugurated, because he was headed for prison.

Some were also disheartened that the former president claimed, “I’m with you,” while he was inciting the Capitol takeover, but then watched the insurrection from his White House La-Z-Boy. If they weren’t such deplorable pro-fa sheep, this might damage QAnon’s enthusiasm for the Patriot Party that Trump is rumored to be initiating.

The decline of Trumpism and QAnon is probably wishful thinking on the part of anti-MAGA patriots. After all, the Great Disappointment notwithstanding, the Millerites became the Seventh-day Adventists, and their 18.7 million members today represent one of the world’s fastest-growing denominations. And, despite being relentlessly and repeatedly mistaken in predicting the End Times, the Jehovah’s Witnesses now have 8.5 million committed adherents.

Even four years of racism, mendacity and corruption — and more than a quarter-million COVID deaths — didn’t stop 74 million people from voting for Trump’s re-election. From the American Taliban to QAnon, far too many of us have developed an immunity to our consciences, our democratic tendencies and cognitive dissonance.

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