According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 64% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s a decent number, but medical experts say it’s not high enough.
What’s holding people back? Some distrust doctors, some have fallen for misinformation about the vaccines and still others have unnecessarily politicized the issue.
And some are Christian nationalists. As scholar Samuel L. Perry noted recently in a column for Religion News Service aptly titled “The deadly dogmatism of Christian nationalism,” Americans who embrace Christian nationalism are more likely than others to refuse vaccines.
Perry points out that part of this is due to the tendency of Christian nationalists to become ensnared in conspiracy theories – no matter how fantastic they may be. These are the people, after all, who brought us QAnon and false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
But, as Perry writes, “[T]here is something more fundamental going on – something that makes these Americans vulnerable to conspiracy theories and bad information. Multiple data points show such Americans have a greater tendency toward dogmatism – the tendency to insist one’s beliefs are true without regard for counter-evidence.”
Perry and his colleagues conducted a study recently that quizzed Christian nationalists on some science facts. Interestingly, they found that Americans who align with Christian nationalism know as much as everyone else on certain issues, such as lasers, genes, molecules or viruses.
“But Christian nationalism was the strongest predictor that they would score lower on questions about religiously contested scientific facts such as the Big Bang or natural selection,” Perry, associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, wrote. “Christian nationalism, in other words, didn’t necessarily coincide with ignorance. Rather, it reflected a powerful dogmatism that rejected any facts that were inconsistent with cherished narratives.”
Perry and his fellow researchers also found that Americans who align with Christian nationalism also “held incorrect views about things like whether the Supreme Court actually banned people from praying in schools (no) or whether the First Amendment allows Congress to privilege Christianity (no).” Christian nationalists, Perry writes, were “more likely to pick incorrect answers that stressed the supremacy and victimization of Christianity…”
The false beliefs of Christian nationalists are not harmless. We’ve all suffered because of them. Before we had effective vaccines, Christian nationalists and their legal allies defied stay-at-home orders and demanded their churches be allowed to meet in person. After the vaccines were produced, they refused to take them. Even now, as hospital beds overflow with mostly unvaccinated people suffering from the Omicron variant, Christian nationalists scream about freedom and insist that they should have the right to go about unmasked and unvaxxed.
But there is a ray of hope. Perry points out that studies show that deplatforming people who spread bad information helps. “Even as their [Christian nationalists] numbers diminish in the general population, bad actors are working to isolate and radicalize these Americans toward political goals,” he observes. “Along with striving to persuade our fellow citizens who are being manipulated, sidelining those bad actors wherever possible should be our top priority.”
Private companies have no obligation to hand megaphones to cranks peddling nonsense. (Are you listening, Spotify?) As for the rest of us, we can keep challenging those bad actors, who may be politicians, media personalities, internet-based preachers and even celebrities. We should work to lure their followers, one by one if necessary, into the reality-based community – and boost those vaccine numbers along the way.