Toxic Christians are very fond of coded language.
Like most groups with a strong internal identity and a tribal bent, they employ a dense, impenetrable jargon that is often (and hilariously) called Christianese. It’s a super-secret members-only Thieves’ Cant that they can use right in front of non-believers to say some pretty awful things without getting in trouble for it. The words sound like English and vaguely work like English, but mean something very different from what those outsiders generally think it means.
Unfortunately, this coded communication can backfire around someone who knows what it means. I touched on this idea a little in a previous post by offering up translations for common Christian offenses against non-Christians, but today we’ll go into some more detail. We’ll be doing something different, though. We’ll be talking about why this language is used, not just what it means.
Please bear in mind that we aren’t talking about how Christians talk when they’re only with each other. Instead, I’m talking about how Christians often talk when they’re around people who they don’t know are in or out of the group–how they talk in public around people who they have reason to think are probably not members of the same tribe they are.
She’s a Grand Ole Flag, She’s a High-Flyin’ Flag.
The Christianese: I feel so blessed today! Have a blessed day! Just I just want to just love on you!
The meaning: I’m a member of the best group ever! (Don’t you want to be a member too? Yes, you do!)
When you hear a signaling attempt, you may well feel like you’re an extra on The Truman Show. Remember that movie? Jim Carrey played Truman Burbank, a young man raised in a reality-TV show who at first doesn’t realize that most of the world is watching his life unfold. In the “show,” the characters are often called upon to make advertising pitches, but when Truman begins to awaken to the strange nature of his life he begins to notice those pitches in a new way for the first time:
Meryl: [holding up a jar of cocoa, slipping into advertising mode] Why don’t you let me fix you some of this Mococoa drink? All natural cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mount Nicaragua. No artificial sweeteners.
Truman: [looking around] What the hell are you talking about? Who are you talking to?
Meryl: I’ve tasted other cocoas. This is the best.
Outsiders can feel the same discombobulation when someone issues a signal belonging to a whole different group. These out-of-nowhere proclamations make Christians sound like they belong on a particularly wholesome, peppy 1950s sitcom family–but they fulfill a vital function in Christians’ lives. Watch for how they’re used and you’ll soon notice that the Christians doing it are waving cross-blazoned flags in the air as high as they can manage. This is seen as a relatively innocuous way of announcing one’s affiliation with Christianity. Object to it, and the Christian who chirped this nonsense will get really miffed.
Christians themselves are becoming more aware of the signaling nature of their Christianese, but I don’t think this type of language is going out of style anytime soon. To the contrary, as more and more people leave the religion and publicly disagree with and object to its believers’ ideas, these signals will become more and more necessary so Christians can identify who is in the group and who isn’t–and who is at least willing to let them talk up their membership without making a fuss.
Put a Jesus on It.
The Christianese: I’m praying a hedge of protection around my family. I’m taking a prayer walk. I’m claiming this victory. I’m trusting Jesus for this thing I want!
The meaning: I’m safe now.
As we’ve discussed in the past, over the last 30 years or so fundagelicals have been busily Jesus-fying everything they possibly can. This tendency was lampooned in various books even back in my day and there’s always been a little ribbing regarding the tendency of fundagelicals to buy anything and everything if it has a Christian slogan or symbol on it, right down to toilet paper and ammunition (though that’s probably a satirical site), but the simple reality is that a great many Christians today have a serious suspicion about anything that isn’t festooned with fundagelical pictures and words–and appropriate jargon. At this point, there’s no reason at all why a Christian can’t go through their entire day, from awakening to bedtime, surrounded, soothed, and swaddled by Christian merchandise at every single turn.
This appears to be exactly the thinking behind Unca Pat’s infamous declaration that thrift-store sweaters can be demonically possessed–and the reason why not just any dehydrated bucket of pinto beans will do for a fundagelical prepper. It is also why Christian businesses advertise their owners’ religiosity by plastering Jesus fish all over their signage; these owners are declaring that customers can feel more confident in patronizing their business rather than that of some godless heathen who will (it is thought) cheat them somehow.
When non-business-owners talk up their religiosity, though, it’s very hard not to see this parade of symbols and phrases as not so much an expression of intense affection, sort of like how some kids in school wrote their crushes’ names on everything in sight (schoolbook covers, homework, jeans, bathroom mirrors, self; I admit nothing), but rather as an attempt to exert control on the affected person’s environment. In other words, as magical thinking.
When you hear a Christian talking like this around non-group-members, they’re not so much signaling as they are hoping to control their environment and to gain an advantage that non-Christians cannot, they imagine, ever obtain. They want other people to know that they have a much better chance of getting what they want because they have access to this magic and membership in this group.
Attention, Everyone: I NEED ATTENTION!
The Christianese: I have an unspoken prayer request. Everyone, please pray for me.
The meaning: I need a little attention and sympathy right now.
Alas, Christianity doesn’t have much of a way of dealing with really strong negative emotions. Anger, terror, shame, hatred, all of those difficult emotions have one and exactly one solution: “giving it to Jesus,” which means to think really, really hard about Jesus physically slicing away those feelings and substituting in their places nice happy chirpy peppy 1950s sitcom Truman-show emotions instead. (Actually fixing whatever caused those emotions is not a requirement for effectively resolving those emotions.)
Selfishness is regarded as one of the worst, most difficult emotions a person can feel. For Christians, the accusation itself is all but a declaration of someone’s Hellbound status. So when one of them needs a little one-on-one time from their loved ones, it can be really hard for them to simply say so.
When I hear a Christian friend say something like this, I know they’re trying to issue a call for help in the only real way that their culture has decided is acceptable.
Lord and Lady Expert, Coming Through Here!
The Christianese: I’ve felt a burden for you lately. I’ve got a real heart for (insert group or person here). #notallchristians. Jesus is so real and wants a relationship with you!* It’s a shame you’re so bitter. I’ll pray for you.
The meaning: By resolving your doubts, I resolve my own.
Well, they managed to resolve their own problems with the religion, so why can’t they also resolve everyone else’s? Jargon used for this purpose sounds very suspiciously like a sales pitch, complete with the presence of amplifying words like “so” to try to push the point home in absence of actual evidence. You might also notice an insistence on knowing exactly what their imaginary friend wants or doesn’t want. The use of the words “heart for” and “burden” are prime examples of Christianese; they basically mean that the object of that heart and burden is on the Christian’s mind, but in a really Jesus-y kinda way.
Back when I was Christian, we knew that making sales pitches to others was a great way of solidifying our own faith. Especially if we won our dust-ups with non-believers, we could come away feeling encouraged and more certain. And if we lost, then we could come out of the interaction at least feeling put-upon and martyred–and would insist that we had “planted a seed,” itself one of the most cringeworthy bits of Christianese in the culture. There was literally no way to lose. And I can see that nothing has changed there in the culture.
This Christianese might seem like a serious attempt to proselytize, and indeed the Christian doing it may well think that it is. They’ve often gone their entire lives being told that this-and-such is totally PROOF YES PROOF of Christianity’s claims, and that saying these things will make themselves seem like experts on the One True Christianity that every Christian carries around in his or her head and thinks he or she believes. But ultimately, these statements are more an attempt to shore up belief than to spread it–which we know because the person trying to make the sales pitch isn’t even remotely interested in knowing what their victim would consider compelling reason to consider purchasing their product.
*This one, incidentally, was actually recently seen in the wild on a friend’s Twitter feed.
“God” is Taking Too Long to Sort You All Out.
The Christianese: Lamestream media. Libtards. Religious freedom. Thugs. School choice. Traditional marriage. Sanctity of life. (Also see: pretty much everything one hears at a Trump rally these days.)
The meaning: Y’all need to get out of the way and let Daddy drive.
A worrying and increasing tendency of Christians to involve themselves in politics and civic life alike has only become more marked over the years as their control of American culture has waned. The last thing controllers want is to lose control of the people or situations they see as their rightful prey.
I still get just floored by how nasty and vitriolic Christians can get and how nakedly they grasp for power over others. But I try to remember that they might be talking out loud in spaces where we can hear them precisely because they need to flaunt their ownership of those spaces. One can see the same dynamic at work with catcalling and street harassment of women; such things are done not because the men in question want to find dates, but because those men need a soothing jolt of dominance. It’s not about persuasion; it’s about the expression of control.
Worse, it’s also about silencing opposition. When a Christian declares that some public figure wants to murder innocent babies or sell the country to Russia or whatever it is they imagine is happening, there’s not much else they expect anybody to say to that. It’s their version of a mic drop: a childish spluttered “Oh yeah? Well, TIMES INFINITY!” They want “traditional marriage” while opponents want to “redefine marriage.” They want “fair and balanced” journalism while their opponents delight in “liberal bias.” They “believe in the sanctity of life” while naysayers want to “murder preborn babies.”
This jargon isn’t about persuading. It’s about repression of dissent. They don’t care who’s listening or what those listeners think because this kind of talk isn’t about us at all. At these times, Christians will gleefully forget they are 24/7 salespeople hawking a product that others increasingly don’t want.
Here is where Christianese takes a very dark turn indeed.
A Multi-Purpose Tool for Every Need.
As you can see, Christian jargon fulfills a number of purposes–some of them benign, some really malevolent. And that’s just how it’s deployed among outsiders! When you hear a really strange way of saying something, or notice a Christian using a somewhat-archaic or uncommon turn of phrase, be thinking about why that speech is used and what it’s supposed to accomplish. You might just uncover a whole new bit of Christianese.
This weekend, join us for some fascinating rambles through what Christians often imagine were “the good ole days.” As I briefly touched on in the last section here, polarized and increasingly-politically-desperate Christians are doing their best to point to the past as some time of greater happiness, morality, and prosperity in America. It wasn’t–except for a very, very small subsection of people. One book completely invalidates such claims, and not to get all click-baity on you or anything, but that book might not be what you think. See you then!