Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about Christians’ various marketing claims. One of those claims involves peace of mind. Christians love to claim that their religion brings believers a state of peace–and not only peace, but a specific sort of peace: a peace that passes all understanding. Over time, this claim became a popular marketing slogan! Today, let me show you what the slogan means, how I tested it, and how it fared in those tests.
Birth Of A Trendy Slogan.
It’s such a trendy, popular little slogan: “No Jesus, No Peace/Know Jesus, Know Peace.” One can easily find the phrase peppered all over the Christian swag-producing industry. The hucksters of that industry plaster it across shirts, bumper stickers, and wall hangings. Two authors calling themselves “Two Seekers” even wrote a book with that title.
Sometimes they get all clever with it–and maybe add in a Buddy Jesus figure to spice things up:
The phrase swept through Christianity about the same time as I deconverted. It didn’t exist before the early 1990s, it doesn’t seem like. The first real mention of it that I found comes from a Church of God (7th Day) newsletter from 1992. In 1996, some evangelical writers tested the waters with the phrase–one of those with a book about how to Jesus one’s way to quick riches. The waters proved warm indeed. By 1998, Americans began writing about those now-ubiquitous bumper stickers. (Also see this 2004 discussion!)
As we know already, once a bad idea enters canon in broken systems, it never leaves again. Well, this particular bad idea contains all the elements of a successful Christian marketing slogan: it’s short, pithy, catchy, and sounds very clever to people who already believe what it says.
Those folks really believe this slogan, too. They genuinely believe that if someone isn’t on very close terms with their imaginary friend, then that person simply won’t ever feel the ineffable, magical peace that they claim to feel. In fact, it’s flat-out impossible for a non-Christian to feel that way, as far as they’re concerned.
Around the Christ-o-Sphere.
Immediately, this marketing phrase exploded everywhere online. Even the Web 1.5 site Jesus Is Savior contains it. These Reformed Christians call the phrase “bumper-sticker theology” (yeah, ya think?), but they still think it’s not only true but about the most basic and introductory-level fact to know about Christianity.
In the wild, Christians parrot this phrase almost as a thought stopper. The phrase functions like a mantra that stops Christians from engaging too consciously with a world radically at odds with their claims about it.
Sure, some Christians object to it. They know that phrases like it don’t actually work to persuade people, whatever Christians (the hucksters using the phrase) claim. Often, they even perceive that the phrase pushes people away.
I sure haven’t ever heard of a single person seeing the phrase and then deciding to check Christianity out. That’s because it’s only slightly aimed at us heathens.
Insulting Potential Customers–Or Sending a Message?
This marketing phrase and the sentiment behind it functions much more like an insult to non-belief itself. In effect, it’s a threat almost as potent as the over-the-top gruesome ones they love to trade about Hell.
As the this Christian link demonstrates so well, a great many Christians do really truly believe that whatever people outside their religion call peace, it ain’t the same as what they call it. It’s quite clear that this blogger not only thinks that, but considers non-Christians’ sense of peace drastically inferior to what she claims to feel:
Christ’s peace (a gift to us) is different from the world’s peace. This inner peace is the tranquility of spirit that only Jesus can give. It’s not found in positive thinking or in absence of conflict. It’s independent of circumstances. It comes from being in fellowship with Christ, knowing that our Yahweh Shalom is in control and putting our trust in Him completely. Shalom (peace) means well-being, security, soundness, and completeness. It has to do more with character rather than circumstances. Peace is calmness in our heart no matter what’s going on around us. Peace is soul at rest in Christ.
Round and round the spinning wheel goes; where she stops, nobody knows…
If that paragraph made you feel as dizzy as it did me, there’s a reason for that.
So What IS It?
When I see Christians parroting all this Christianese, it reminds me of an episode from the old British comedy series Red Dwarf, “Stasis Leak.”
“So what IS it?” – the relevant segment begins at about 1:50 but the whole scene is great. Kids born when this aired are now adults with lives. The first kids those kids had are around 12 now. You’re all welcome.
CAT (to RIMMER): What IS it?
RIMMER: It’s a rent in the space-time continuum.
CAT (to LISTER): What IS it?
LISTER: The stasis room freezes time, you know, makes time stand still. So whenever you have a leak, it must preserve whatever it’s leaked into, and it’s leaked into this room.
CAT (to RIMMER): What IS it?
RIMMER: It’s a singularity, a point in the universe where the normal laws of space and time don’t apply.
CAT (to LISTER): What IS it?
LISTER: It’s a hole back into the past.
CAT: Oh, a magic door! Well, why didn’t you say?
Christianese can have much the same effect. Ask what something is, and chances are you’ll get back more gibberish that has no real-world meaning and no firmly-identifiable elements. And once the Christian regurgitates back all that gibberish, they will feel good because they’ve said the right answer according to the scripts they’ve learned and they get a gold Jesus star on their chart now.
In practical terms, these non-answers keep their wheels spinning–and makes it hard to gauge if the religion’s delivering on all its promises.
Meanwhile, people outside the tribe are left asking:
Yes, yes, but what does peace look like? … Yes yes, I hear you, it passes all understanding. What does that actually mean in lived reality? …
…Okay, you’ve said that twice now. I’m walking away.
Mostly, peace is a sort of diagnosis by exclusion: it’s what we have in the absence of its opposite(s). In a war context, peace is often defined as the state of not-being-at-war. Using that meaning of the word, Freakonometrics’ site tell us that the United States has been in a state of peace for about 20 of its 239 years in existence as a country.
That seems to be the definition that the guys at Desiring
Theocracy God think applies here. They have a big ol’ piece up about the difference between “contentiousness” and “peace.” They seem to think that fighting is a big part of finding peace. To be sure, their post has a lot more to say about fighting than about finding peace. And they think that part of their version of redefined love requires them to be very fighty. Ugh. Should have guessed, right?
Another Christian site denies that the whole rest of the world experiences peace. They do this by declaring by fiat that peace comes only from “a mental attitude of tranquillity [sic] based on a relationship with God in the Christian Way of Life.” What a tediously poor argument to make! See, if one assumes that peace literally only happens within a Christian context, then yes, of course one will likely also think that non-Christians can’t possibly feel peace. Thanks to this mis-definition, they absolutely can’t. But the Christians pushing it won’t ever examine if it’s possible to feel peace outside of their religion.
At least this site reminded me once again of the importance of defining terms when tangling with Christians.
That Wasn’t Too Useful. Moving On.
The actual site Christianity.com has a three-point listicle for finding peace. First, you must “be born again spiritually.” Second, you must be part of a Christian group of some kind. (Cuz nothing is more wonderful than a Christian group, amirite?) And third, you have to Jesus super-hard. Clear as mud?
The WikiHow entry for “Feeling Peace (Christianity)” turned out to be much more helpful. It implies very strongly that many Christians use the same kind of diagnosis-by-exclusion.To them, peace is a state wherein Christians aren’t worried about stuff, don’t let others’ judgments bother them, aren’t fighting with other people about anything or holding grudges against anybody, and fully observe Christian devotions like prayer. Dangit, almost got away from an exclusively Christian definition!
However, the site also includes some positive, identifiable markers of this state, like:
- Controlling one’s anger.
- Showing love toward everyone, even enemies.
- Being helpful to others.
- Apologizing for one’s wrongdoing.
- Not trying to control stuff that is actually out of one’s control.
No, right now I just wanted to know if Christians themselves have some idea of what it looks like in the real world for them to feel peace.
Have You Seen This Christian?
Part of the problem in assessing those metrics is that peace, like happiness and family togetherness, literally forms a big part of Christians’ sales pitch. Nobody sensible believes a salesperson’s claims without supportive evidence.
The reason we don’t is because we’re aware of how powerful self-interest can be. These evangelism-minded Christians are functionally salespeople. Thus, they benefit from people buying their product, which is membership in their group. Either they benefit materially, as a pastor or priest does, or they get a whole whompin’ lot of street cred from their church friends for having successfully scored a sale. (See endnote.)
However, eventually even the most evangelistic Christians leave their bubble. They order coffee, eat at restaurants (and probably stiff the wait staff), interact with others at work or school, or resolve problems with neighbors.
At such times, we see the truth about their peace that passes understanding.
The Witness: Is There Peace Here?
So when we look at most Christians outside of sales mode, what are they like? Do they seem like kind, loving, peaceable people? Do they apologize when they’re wrong, atone for mistakes, and help others whenever necessary? Can they keep their grabby little hands out of everyone else’s lives and off our stuff? Do they ever try to take what ain’t actually theirs?
But y’all, anybody from any worldview can be a decent human being. So we follow up those questions with the big kahuna of dealbreakers:
Are Christians markedly and distinctly more like that than non-Christians can manage to be?
Christians often call their credibility in the public eye their witness. Someone with a good witness enjoys a high level of credibility. Losing one’s witness means that a Christian has been caught doing something really bad, so bad that people won’t take their evangelism seriously anymore–or consider them for plum church appointments. (Be aware that these terms mean something else in Mormonism.)
So what is Christians’ witness with regard to their levels of peace? How well are they known for having tranquillity based on their relationship with God in their Christian Way of Life?
I’ll say this: I sure wasn’t at peace as a Christian. Quite the opposite.
I definitely was a very fervent, devoted Christian who’d been born again spiritually, joined a group, and Jesus-ed really hard (thus fitting the three-point listicle above!). However, I still developed a terrible anger-management problem, suffered from regular anxiety and panic attacks, and eventually received a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I probably had a sobbing breakdown about once a week, if not more often. Seriously, I couldn’t handle any kind of stress or problem.
For that matter, I didn’t know many Christians who would qualify as being at peace. Maybe one or two did. But most of the Christians I knew, from Catholics to mainline folks to Southern Baptists to Pentecostals, were little balls of worry, fear, anxiety, anger, and belligerence in varying measures.
Here’s the really damning part. As you know, I progressed further and further into more and more extremist sects of Christianity. I sought TRUE CHRISTIANS™, even those mythical “Original Christians” who Jesus-ed better than anybody else. But the further into zealotry and devotion I progressed, the less peace I found.
The peace that passes all understanding always looked a lot more like anxiety, dread, anger, shame, tension, interpersonal drama, frustration, depression, and conflicts–all of it always bubbling under our surfaces and sometimes boiling over.
Faking It Till We Made It.
Either we really didn’t understand what peace actually involved…
…or we were vastly distorting our accounts of how we felt.
Or both. I mean, it can always be both.
I mean, if I only found out what love meant after deconversion (or, for that matter, what an orgasm was), I can certainly understand someone else not knowing what peace was or how to find it. With the lack of clear instructions on offer from their leaders, how can anybody in Christianity figure this stuff out?
The Real Message (Is A Threat).
The problem is that feelings of peace have become part of the sales pitch. Feelings of peace come with the package of conversion and obedience, in other words.
Sales-minded Christians push this idea really hard at vulnerable people. From experience, I can tell you that many pretend they have peace even if they have no idea what it means. They even tell people–in and out of their group–that only Christians can ever feel this feeling.
And that marketing means that even if a Christian doesn’t feel at peace, that person will be scared silly to leave Christianity. If they do, then their only hope of achieving that feeling will be gone–forever.
That is a hell of a threat to make. I can only hope most of the people making it are simply too ignorant to know better.
I suffered under that threat myself, even as my faith dwindled down to nothing. Imagine my surprise when I looked around after deconversion and realized that not only was I not diminished, but that I’d grown wings somewhere along the way.
The Emperor Turned Out To Be Buck Nekkid.
This marketing about peace beams straight into the brain-pans of existing Christians: don’t you dare leave Christianity, or else you’ll lose even the barest hope of finding real peace in your life. That threat keeps them dancing from church to church trying to find the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who’ve unlocked the big secret already. They hold out their shopping-bags to other salespeople in hopes of finally having peace dropped into them.
They never figure out that the other salespeople suffer the same exact lack and that almost all of them simply pretend to have their acts together.
No wonder ex-Christians often liken deconversion to that story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes!” While everyone in Christianity pretends that the religion delivers solid benefits to believers thanks to their supernatural friend in the sky, we’re the ones who finally asked hard questions about exactly why it sure looked like our Emperor was paradin’ around in his altogether.
Let me tell you: figuring out what didn’t work to quell my anger and anxiety became a necessary first step to figuring out what did.
And that’s where we’re heading next.
NEXT UP: Why I deconverted with an anger-management problem and PTSD, and why Christianity hadn’t helped me with either one. (Also: One of the first Christian messages I ever got after starting the blog! O.O) See you next time!
About sales metrics: Most Christians don’t ever successfully recruit anybody at all. At most, someone might recruit one or two others or “plant seeds” (we’ll talk about that phrase later). Such a person becomes a spectacular superstar in their local area and considered a guru. I never converted anybody at all that I knew of at the time–though one of my dear childhood friends is now a Christian and I worry I had something to do with it. Biff never really converted anybody either, but he got close–and he did that often enough that he qualified anyway as a guru. (Back to the post!)
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