The Story Of A Former Conservative Conspiracy Believer


Back in the early 2000s, I used to be a conspiracy-believing conservative Christian. I'm going to talk about how I got there, and how I ultimately got out. Be forewarned, this article will talk about religious abuse and trauma.

I also want to make it clear that I don't have a problem with people being Christian, or believing that Jesus was bringing an important message to humankind. I am not, however, going to pull any punches when it comes to certain interpretations of Christianity. If you read passages describing eternal torture and think, "hmm, yeah, that sounds like something an all-powerful, all-loving God would come up with," that's your problem.

I hope this article is helpful to you in some way, whether it gives you some kind of useful insight or helps you heal from your own trauma. In any case, I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

First uploaded: November 11, 2021.

Table of Contents



The Beginning

So, I was raised as a conservative Christian. I wasn't necessarily brought up with the worst beliefs out there, but they were still bad enough. I was told that "the world" would "do anything to destroy your faith," as if the entire world had some kind of grudge against real Christians. I was taught that homosexuality was unnatural and a sin, on the basis of Paul's made-up origin story of Rome in Romans 1:20-32. I was taught that the only reason other churches and even other religions existed was because people "didn't want to follow God's perfect plan of salvation" and "wanted to do things their own way."

In retrospect, this was what my mother would call evil surmising, but making uncharitable speculations about the hearts and minds of outsiders never seemed to strike anyone as strange or unwarranted. They basically had a whole made-up mythos about people they didn't even know, and they took it as, well, gospel.

I was very young when I was introduced to the idea of eternal damnation, probably about four or so. My mother explained that if you do bad things, your soul will burn forever. To my four-year-old self, this made a kind of sense. If you were bad, then you deserved to be punished for it, so it followed that damnation was an earned consequence of your own action.

But it wasn't long before I learned that it wasn't just about your actions, no. Your salvation relied on belonging to the right church, who had God's Holy Spirit, and not one of those false spirits that was allegedly guiding every other church. And this didn't sit right with me, because it meant that salvation was now mostly a matter of sheer luck. It meant that the "worldly" people my parents interacted with upon occasion, who seemed like perfectly nice people to me, would be damned to eternal torture over an unnecessary technicality.

I had been taught that God was all-powerful. I understood that God could speak the world into being, destroy it in a flood, part the Red Sea, and raise the dead. Thus I understood that whatever obstacles were placed between humanity and salvation were God's own personal decision. Even while people assured me that this was God's "perfect plan of salvation," I couldn't help but notice that God's outreach efforts were awfully small.

Now, I still believed, because this was the only worldview I understood. To the best of my young comprehension, evolution, or more specifically what some people call macroevolution, was an unsubstantiated hypothesis made up by people who didn't believe in God. I was taught to believe that Jesus was so explicitly foretold in the "Old Testament" that the Jews were absolutely ridiculous to reject his claim to messiahship.

When it's the only reality you know, belief is not a choice. The idea that billions of people would suffer eternal torment because the almighty God chose to put such minimal effort into his outreach program disturbed and distressed me, but I could not imagine a world where this God had not created the universe and had not done all the things attributed to him in the Bible. Therefore, I was a very unhappy prisoner within this belief system. I could not "rejoice in the truth" when I understood that so many people would suffer unimaginable pain for all of eternity, simply because God decreed it so. But I couldn't just not believe this would happen, because to me it was absolutely, certainly, 100% real.

I was also taught that the Beast would likely arrive in my lifetime, and I was taught about the Mark of the Beast and the One World Government the Beast would create. I didn't like this, but again - belief was not a choice at the time.

At some point, my Catholic great-grandmother began sharing her Angels on Earth magazines with us. I loved reading them. They also made me realize that the narrative I was told about "worldly churches" being full of faithless and self-centered people really didn't hold water. I also had to ask myself, if ours was the only true church, then why were these people having such profound spiritual experiences? Why weren't these loving angels kindly informing them that they were practicing their religion wrong and telling them what corrections needed to be made? Was God just leading these people on? It was a very uncomfortable idea.

There was one time when my mother complained about a Christmas song singing about "peace on Earth," stating that Jesus said that he had come not to bring peace, but a sword. I thought this was a very strange and unnecessary thing to get upset over, because the song was clearly referencing Luke 2:14. Overall, I noticed that whenever two verses or passages seemed to be in conflict, she would always favor the cruler, harsher one. And I'm very sorry to say that this programmed me into thinking that the purest, truest form of any religion or ideology was always the cruelest, harshest interpretation. I've worked on deprogramming myself from it, but it still likes to flare up during depressive episodes.

Then in 2001, 9/11 happened. It was around that point that an aunt who had always been highly interested in anything occult, conspiratorial, or apocalyptic started getting into conspiracy theories, which she shared with my family.

I remember when my mother first started telling me about this stuff. It all began with a moon hoax conspiracy theory. This wasn't the typical "they never landed on the moon; they just faked it in a soundstage" one. I got to hear a variant where they actually did land on the moon, but they found something of alien origin and the government decided to cover it up. This was pretty interesting to me, and plausible enough because the possibility of extraterrestrials visiting Earth was just something I took for granted. (I mean, I've seen things in the sky that I really cannot explain, even nearly thirty years after the fact.) Basically, it was pretty non-alarming to me.

But it wasn't long after that things, well, went downhill. One day I was in my room trying to hang up a set of Little Mermaid curtains, and my mother walked in and pretty much freaked out. I was confused, because I'd grown up watching The Little Mermaid on VHS, and here was my mother losing it over these curtains I'd been given for Christmas.

My mother proceeded to explain to me that Disney was controlled by the Illuminati, a Satanic organization that was supposedly working to take over the world and install a one world government, or New World Order. I remember reading about many of their alleged abuses and agendas. In retrospect, most of it was completely ridiculous. But at the time, I was a sheltered teenager, and it all lined up with what I'd been taught about the Beast and the One World Government. To disbelieve these conspiracy theories was tantamount to disbelieving in God and Christianity.

For a short while, I did feel a kind of glee or satisfaction at knowing the "truth," but that sense of glee didn't outweigh the terror I felt over believing that the Mark of the Beast would happen sooner rather than later. I also didn't put as much effort into studying as I should have, because I saw no point. My family believed that the Antichrist would come into power in under ten years.

It was sometime around this point that my aunt discovered the Cloud Ten Apocalypse series, which was about a bunch of people who didn't make the Rapture converting to Christianity and opposing the Antichrist. Basically, the same concept as Left Behind, which my aunt also discovered. I was forced to watch these films, and by "forced" I mean I didn't say no because I had no choice. To turn down watching these movies would have been spiritual cowardice, and that was not allowed. If I had said no, I'd have been subjected to a lecture or been grounded from my hobbies. If I'd tried to put my foot down and simply just walk off, I'd have been slapped or beaten for disrespect. My parents loved these films, but for me they simply reinforced the fear and dread I was already feeling.

And then there was Nibiru. My parents believed that Nibiru was due to come by sometime in 2003, and that it would be the star Wormwood. In the summer evenings there would be a strange object in the western sky, and they decided it was Nibiru. Later I pointed out that "Nibiru" had a jet trail. They weren't amused. I was shocked at their reaction; why did it matter whether or not this was Nibiru, or even whether Nibiru was coming at all? Exactly why was an obsession with the End Times such an important tenet of faith?

At some point I heard 1st Thessalonians 4 read out loud, and I noticed that Paul was talking to the people of his own time. It struck me that if they expected an imminent End Times, then it would be silly to assume that the End Times were right now, too. Of course, I was eventually told that the End Times technically started back then, but now is when the Apocalypse really starts to begin. Something something a thousand days is but a year to the Lord, and all that.

I also read Revelation, and noticed that it likewise addressed to people living in the author's time, and conveyed a deep sense of urgency. When I asked about it, I got pretty much the same explanation. The End Times started 2000 years ago, but the Tribulation is about to start very soon. In retrospect, this explanation is so hilariously absurd, because literally nothing in any of the New Testament's apocalyptic texts or passages actually support this. The only parts that do support are texts that were written at a later date, when early Christians were realizing that Jesus wasn't coming back anytime soon and trying to rationalize it.

This was not enough to completely shake my belief, though. I was still surrounded by people who functionally guilt tripped me into believing a certain way (usually by playing themselves up as having pure, good beliefs and faith that big ol' mean "world" wanted to destroy for some reason), and they would swiftly and firmly shut down any line of thinking that contradicted their own.

I was trained to assume that my parents were more spiritual than me, and therefore understood these things better. So I would try to force myself to see it their way.

In 2006, though, they made a fatal mistake.


The Beginning of the End

In 2006, we took a vacation and visited places such as a mystery spot and a fossil museum. At the fossil museum, we watched a video presentation that went over topics like geological ages, My mother, ever the insecure control freak, had to lean into my ear and in a sly voice, said, "Well, they have their idea of what happened but we know better, don't we?" And my first thought was, "These people carefully study this, you don't. Which one of you is more likely to have the better idea of what went on?" I mean, the Book of Genesis doesn't describe dinosaurs at all, so why should I take it as some kind of authority on what happened to them?

As for the mystery spot, for those who don't know, mystery spots tend to pass themselves off as anamalous locations where things mysteriously change size or where gravity doesn't work right. It's actually caused by forced perspectives, but many people don't realize that and take it at face value.

At the mystery spot, I took photos of the alleged anomalies. Some of these photos even turned out to have "orbs" in them, which I had heard were caused by spirits. Later at home I read about the forced perspective effect, and decided to conduct some experiments. I found that I was able to recreate effect well enough in my own back yard. I thought that if I showed my dad these photos he would accept the explanation with some mild amusement, but to my surprise he concluded that we might have had an anomaly in the back yard. What?

I was also able to recreate the orbs as well, simply by shaking up some dust in a closed space and taking photos with the camera on. I showed these to my mother. I thought this would be no big deal - I thought she'd accept that she might be wrong about this one thing, and we'd move on.

To my surprise, she yelled at me. She told me that I was acting like "one of those skeptics" who tries to "disprove everything" and basically acted like this was a slippery slope to atheism.

Like, what? Since when do you have to take literally every paranormal claim at face value to believe in God? What on Earth?

At this point, I realized that my parents' faith wasn't honest. These people were fooling themselves. I had been told that God was always truthful and honest. My mother was so determined that lying was such an extreme sin (based on Revelation 21:8) that she would beat me anytime I lied. So I had it drilled into me that truth and honesty were of the utmost importance.

I was stressed out from the belief that the Illuminati was trying to take over the world. I was stressed out from believing billions of people would suffer eternal torment on the whims of a capricious god. This, however, made me realize that maybe, just maybe... it was all wrong.

One day while cleaning the kitchen, I said the magic words:

"I've had enough of this nonsense."

It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders, and I felt an immense sense of relief. This was the first step in a years-long process of deprogramming myself. In that moment, I set a boundary and claimed my autonomy.

I decided to find out for myself whether their faith was as truthful as they claimed it was, or whether they were lying to themselves. I knew that if the Bible was as honest and true as they claimed it was, then it could stand up to any questioning. If it could pass muster, then it wasn't honest and true.

This being the mid-2000s, the New Atheist movement was in full swing and materials critical of the Bible were easy to find. I learned that the Bible was full of contradictions, and that the passages that allegedly prophesied Jesus as the messiah had been taken out of context. I learned the principles of biology and evolution, and read through everything on Talk Origins. I realized that the creationists were actually doing pretty much everything they accused "evolutionists" of doing; IE, going off on wild speculations and disregarding the vast majority of the actual evidence.

That said, this wasn't the end of my belief, exactly. It was the beginning of the end. I had to find an explanation for the mystical experiences in my church. I finally convinced myself that they were making it up or were somehow delusional or mistaken, but that turned out to be a bad move.

At one point my mother saw me crying. Now, I'd been crying because I'd been considering how believing in Christianity (at least, the way my parents believed in Christianity) required so much dishonesty, and how was that any different from the way this Illuminati that they believed in supposedly operated? Now of course, I had pretty much no ability to lie, because it had literally been beaten out of me. So I basically blurted out that everything I'd believed in was a lie, and tried to demonstrate it with actual Bible citations.

That... Did not go well. She freaked out and spent the rest of the day arguing back. She brought up the mystical experiences, which let's face it, couldn't be explained by everybody just making it all up or having some kind of delusional episode. I was forced to surrender into a state of, uh, re-belief, I guess. And for a few weeks, I was miserable over the idea that billions of people would be burning in Hell.

Seriously, how does anyone "rejoice in salvation" knowing what's supposedly going to happen to everyone else? How are people so self-centered, so able to write off other people's suffering? It baffles and disgusts me. I have seen so many people attempt to explain and justify this, but each and every time it comes down to imposing their own arbitrary limitations upon a supposedly infinite being. The idea that the Christian God is somehow unable to forgive and cleanse people of their sins without a bunch of magical rituals is so absurd to me. He's supposed to be an infinitely powerful being. He should be able to just decide that things should be a certain way, and make them that way. If he can speak the world into existence, then he can just as easily speak sin out of existence.

(I've come to realize that people only defend the idea of eternal punishment because they want it to exist, and the reason they want it to exist is because they are vengeful and cruel. Now, I'm no pure angel myself, but at least I recognize where the desire for others to experience pain comes from, and it doesn't come from love.)

This relapse didn't last more than a few weeks, though. Because even if I couldn't explain the mystical stuff, Christianity couldn't explain... everything else. I think it was around this point that I started researching other forms of spirituality and trying to find out if other people had mystical experiences. I learned that other people reported being able to banish harmful entities, something which should be impossible if all were under the command of Satan, and Satan could not cast out Satan. I learned about the concept of thoughtforms.

Later I got into another argument. This time I didn't go down so easily; the argument lasted for three days and only ended when I was so stressed out that I suffered a seizure (not something I ordinarily experience). My parents took it as me being divinely punished and I just... took the opportunity to drop the whole thing. I kind of did believe for awhile, for maybe a few days. But eventually everything else I'd learned came back.

At some point, I decided that I would make it impossible to be dragged back into that, and I continued a habit of learning actual history and science. I learned about cult survivors who had experiences similar enough to mine that I could find resonance in them.

This is not to say I haven't struggled. The fear of eternal damnation, a common element of religious trauma, is hard to shake. On the other hand, knowing that other people have struggled with it, and not just me, helps me remember that this isn't God's voice speaking to me or something, but old brainwashing rearing it head.

I've seen a few people who basically act like, "Well, if I was raised in a cult, I just wouldn't believe what they said!" But that's not how it works. You don't have a choice because it's literally all you know. These beliefs could be so horrifying that they torment you day and night, but you can't stop believing in them as long as they're the only set of beliefs you have. And even then, getting past them can take years of self-work. If you think you can just change your whole entire worldview in one day, you are sadly mistaken. Never having believed in conspiracy theories or in any kind of conservative wank whatsoever isn't something to be proud of or brag about. It's something to be humbly grateful for. Not all of us were as lucky as you.

The thing is, a belief as big as the Christian God isn't supported on just one pillar alone. It's part of a mega-belief; which is to say, it's a belief that is supported by a number of smaller beliefs. One can easily lose a few of these smaller beliefs without necessarily losing the mega-belief. For example, my faith easily withstood the realization that Genesis was not likely to be literally true, and the realization that Luke and Matthew told differing accounts of Jesus's birth. The fatal blow was realizing that my parents were lying to themselves and trying to get me to lie to myself in the name of believing the "truth."

It was actually only this year (2021) that I was able to overcome my worry that reading the New Testament would pull me back into Christian belief, and actually read the book for myself. The experience was pleasantly surprising. It only took about a week to read the whole thing, and the entire time I was noticing odd little details that I never would have picked up before. Differences in tones and themes in the Gospels stuck out to me, and through reading all of the books I developed a clear sense of a budding religious movement figuring itself out and evolving over the course of seven decades. I noticed that the various writers sometimes had very different ideas about things. The early Christian community was literally no different from any modern religious community - it was messy, complicated, and so very human. And that realization was itself a kind of religious experience, and one I hold dear.


In Closing

In retrospect, my particular religious indoctrination made me extremely vulnerable to believing certain conspiracy theories. These conspiracy theories basically were made to dovetail with popular notions of the End Times, to the point where it seemed that they had to be true - after all, who else besides an all-encompassing cult of Satanists could set up a One World Government? (In retrospect, the world according to John of Patmos was probably very similar to something like the the world according to Herodotus - a size one could probably well imagine the Roman Empire overtaking.)

For what it's worth, my parents have actually cooled a bit on the whole End Times thing. The aunt who initially pulled them into this eventually suffered a severe decline in mental health, and my parents realized that a lot of her beliefs and fixations had been coming from a really unhealthy place all along. They also realized that the predictions just weren't coming to pass. So at least there's that.

Unfortunately, not everyone who gets into conspiracy theories is going to get out of them. Sometimes they see the conspiracy theories as inherently inextricable from spiritual beliefs they hold dear. Sometimes they find conspiracy theories to be a convenient way to justify hate or violence against others. Some people have made a career out of creating and platforming conspiracy theories.

But not everyone who gets into conspiracy theories is going to stay in them, either. Some people will eventually find their way out, especially if help and information is made accessible. I benefited from the skeptical community that rose up in the 2000s, and all the information on science that was available at the time. I know it's definitely not possible for everybody to just go and try to talk some sense into people (and generally speaking, throwing facts at a conspiracy theorist doesn't really work), but I think if we put more effort into spreading information that challenges the narratives conspiracy theorists are trying to spread, we can make a huge difference. Even if you can't make this kind of content yourself, you can still like, upvote, and share the content you find. Considering how fascism and hate in general are so often driven and bolstered by conspiracy theories, you might very well be saving countless lives by doing this. At the very least, you might save a few young people from brainwashing and radicalization, and give young victims of religious abuse the tools they need to begin deprogramming themselves.

I hope you got something out of reading this article. It was honestly difficult at times to write, but I felt like I had to write it for a number reasons. All of this is basically why I've been putting so much work into challenging conspiracy theories lately. No one should have to be hurt or feel hopeless over some made-up baloney, and if we can do anything to stop a moral panic, we absolutely should. If you appreciated this article, then please share it on your social media and with your friends, and consider supporting me on Patreon or buying me something from my wishlist. I'll be including links I think are relevant to this topic down below, so make sure to check those out.


Other Pages You Might Like:

Relax, It's Not The Mark of the Beast!
What Conspiracy Theorists & Bad "Psychics" Have In Common
Some Observations On Conspiracy Propaganda
Sketchy Spiritualities & Shady Pseudohistories: What People Need To Know
A Beginner's Guide To Spotting Cranky Websites & Culty Groups

External Resources

Swallowing The Camel
I'm an ex Q, former conspiracy theorist, ama.
Expert: The best way to fight a conspiracy theory isn’t with facts
How to talk to conspiracy theorists—and still be kind
Conspirituality Podcast
Metabunk.org
RationalWiki



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