Herschel Walker is gifted and scary. Take him seriously as a Senate candidate.

Herschel Walker’s relationship with evangelicals is real and genuine. That could make the pseudo-science he has pushed even more potent.

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World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Four

Former football player and political candidate Herschel Walker interacts with former president of the United States Donald Trump prior to Game Four of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves Truist Park on October 30, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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He had the audience enraptured. The crowd of evangelicals at Sugar Hill Church in Georgia this weekend hung on his every word.

He spoke softly and with a smile, telling his personal story of finding the Lord and loving Jesus. He wove in parables and allegories that seemed both spontaneous and well-rehearsed. He seemed humble even as the pastor heaped praise on him and the audience murmured “amens” as he insisted he wasn’t there to preach.

But preach he did, and Herschel Walker, the former NFL running back and leading candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in Georgia, seemed right at home.

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I am an atheist, but I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools, got a master’s degree in religion and wrote a book defending American Christianity. I know evangelicals very well; there are a number in my immediate family. And as a movement conservative who’s attended countless prayer breakfasts and interviewed dozens of evangelical politicians from Mike Huckabee to Ralph Reed, I’m very familiar with the contours of the religious right.

With all that said, I’m not sure I’ve seen a more natural and gifted evangelical communicator than Herschel Walker.

Vaguely familiar with his campaign, amused by some of his kookier statements and disturbed by allegations of domestic abuse, I watched his full interview with lead pastor Chuck Allen this past weekend out of morbid curiosity. I was immediately taken by the ease and earnestness with which he wears his faith — and surprised by just how likable he is.

And that, frankly, terrifies me.

I defend religion regularly, but I’ve seen the way politics and religion have corrupted science over the past few years, and at the worst possible time for America.

While former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Walker, intentionally exploited evangelicals to get their votes, I worry that someone like Walker will get them honestly.

Nothing Walker has said — as controversial and head-shaking as much of it is — is surprising to anyone familiar with evangelical Christianity.

Over the weekend, he made predictable headlines when he said of evolution, “At one time, science said man came from apes, did it not? If that’s true, why are there still apes? Think about it.”

Of course, the theory of evolution doesn’t posit that today’s zoo primates should turn spontaneously into humans, as Walker seems to believe. It says that humans evolved over millions of years from now-extinct primates.

But I guarantee this barely registered among many evangelical Republicans, the majority of whom do not accept evolution.

Remember, in 2016, Rush Limbaugh famously questioned why Harambe, a gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, never became a human if evolution was real.

Walker’s questionable grasp of science extends to other areas as well. Back in 2020, he went on a podcast and promoted a “mist” that he said would “kill any COVID on your body.”

And this weekend, he suggested science “can’t do” the “conception of a baby.”

“They’re still trying to do that, but they can’t because there has to be a God.”

Of course, in vitro fertilization and other scientific developments might challenge his theory.

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This all tracks with his voters, and it might be fine if we didn’t just get through watching the disastrous consequences of politics — and indeed religion — corrupting science at a very dangerous time in America.

During the pandemic, ignorance and misinformation about COVID-19 proved deadly.

Pastors and preachers all over the country — like Rob Skiba, Gerald O. Glenn and Marcus Lamb — died from COVID-19 after spreading misinformation or anti-vax pseudo-science to their flocks. Roger Dale Moon, Tim Parsons, Bob Enyart, Dean Kohn, Robert Marson are others who tragically joined them.

Refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine remains high among evangelicals.

In the past few years, evangelicals also disproportionately took up dangerous conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy.

Trump’s big lie, that his 2020 election was stolen? Seventy-four percent of white evangelical Republicans believe that’s mostly or completely accurate. Only 54% of non-evangelical Republicans do. Sixty-seven percent of evangelical Republicans believe the “Deep State” tried to undermine the Trump administration, versus 52% of non-evangelical Republicans. A full 60% of evangelical Republicans believe ‘antifa’ was mostly responsible for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, compared to 42% of non-evangelical Republicans.

Evangelicals have also disproportionately supported voter suppression bills.

Without casting aspersions on an entire group of religious Americans — as I note, it’s not all evangelicals who are pushing junk science or conspiracy theories or undermining democracy — it’s hard not to acknowledge the deleterious effect Trumpism has had on evangelical Republicans, and the effect their embrace of Trumpism is having on America.

Trump cravenly and crassly used evangelicals to get what he wanted, and convinced them to believe in some dangerous, even deadly stuff. Herschel Walker’s relationship with evangelicals is real and genuine — which could make the pseudo-science he has pushed even more potent.

You can laugh at Walker all you want, but this is not time to be flippant. The stakes are too high not to take him seriously. Dead seriously.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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