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America's Fascination With the Illuminati Traces Back to the Fourth of July

Why are Americans fascinated with the Illuminati? From Taco Bell ads to rumors about Beatles rocker Paul McCartney, the U.S. seems to have a weird fascination with a group that, frankly, does not exist in the way conspiracy theorists think it does. This fascination actually goes back to the Fourth of July — 220 years ago!

On July 4, 1798, the president of Yale College — who was also a pastor — gave a sermon warning about the Bavarian Illuminati. He claimed that this secret society was behind all the secularism in the world, and especially the anti-God streak that led Jacobins in the French Revolution to kill priests and turn churches into Temples of Reason.

"In the societies of Illuminati doctrines were taught, which strike at the root of all human happiness and virtue," declared Timothy Dwight IV, the eighth president of Yale College (1795-1817).

Dwight warned that the Illuminati were a global secret society, dedicated to undermining faith, morality, and order. According to him, the Illuminati denied the existence of God, derided government as a curse, hated private property, rejected the Christian virtue of chastity, and condoned "adultery, assassination, poisoning, and other crimes of the like infernal nature" as "virtuous" so long as they furthered the secret society's end goal.

"The great and good ends proposed by the Illuminati, as the ultimate objects of their union, are the overthrow of religion, government, and human society civil and domestic," Dwight declared. "These they pronounce to be so good, that murder, butchery, and war, however extended and dreadful, are declared by them to be completely justifiable, if necessary for these great purposes."

In short, the Illuminati aim to "unite mankind against God," and bring about a kind of hell on earth.

Seizing on the Bavarian Illuminati — a real organization in southern Germany — Dwight warned that its branches extended into Switzerland, Italy, England, Scotland, and most importantly France, where the revolution was raging. Finally, he cited "private papers" reporting the presence of these societies in America.

Dwight used this fear to urge his congregants to live sober Christian lives, escaping the evils of the world. "Where religion prevails, Illuminatism cannot make disciples, a French directory cannot govern, a nation cannot be made slaves, nor villains, nor atheists, nor beasts. To destroy us, therefore, in this dreadful sense, our enemies must first destroy our Sabbath, and seduce us from the house of God," the Yale president declared.

In his book "Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump," Messiah College history professor John Fea argued that white evangelical Christians have a long history of pushing fear, grasping for power, and utilizing nostalgia. He used this example of Timothy Dwight warning about the Illuminati to suggest that evangelical Christians have an increased propensity to believe in conspiracy theories, and connected that to the birther conspiracy suggesting Barack Obama was born in Kenya.