Hi everyone! Welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about inner peace. As the religion’s star continues to fall in North America and Europe, the marketing promises only grow wilder. But last time, I mentioned that only a small part of Christian evangelists’ goal involves persuasion and recruitment. The major part of the magic of this campaign happens inside the heads of the salespeople themselves. Today, let me show you how this Christian advertisement works best: on the salespeople using it.
We’ll be abbreviating “inner peace” to “peace” for ease of discussion. Obviously, there are other kinds of peace. Here, we focus on the inner-peace-of-mind kind. According to Christians, its definition–when pared of specific and very self-serving Calvinball definitions requiring fervent Christian faith–includes the elements most of us would define it by: tranquility, feelings of calmness, lack of anxiety and stress, etc.
Change From Within (Is Impossible).
If there’s one thing we can count on in broken systems, it’s that self-interest trumps ideology every time. If Christians’ Dear Leaders really wanted their flocks to make sales to new customers, they could figure out a strategy that worked to do that. They could even hire a real live Mad Man from outside the tribe to help them figure something out.
They can’t even try, though, for two very important reasons:
First, what they’re doing now works beautifully in another area of concern (as we’ll see momentarily). Changing things up isn’t guaranteed to bring in enough people to balance out what’ll happen when the second reason comes into play.
Second, the sheep themselves are well-trained. They can be counted upon to reject any change in the message they’ve already absorbed and internalized. Not even the Pope himself can say he completely owns his flocks. Not anymore.
The Call Is Coming From Inside the Sheepfold!
No, instead of seeking brand-new customers, their leaders seek instead to retain the ones they already have. Just as with multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs), the salespeople themselves are actually the scam’s real customers–not the people they hit up to buy their generally subpar, overpriced goods.
And that similarity exists for the same exact reason.
Consider the criticisms many Christians offer of their enemies. These criticisms are the same exact ones they want potential doubters in the flock to take to heart. When these Christians insult us, they also re-confirm their own self-image–and their leaders’ teachings.
She was also re-convincing herself that the only real, lasting inner peace was found in compliance with her tribe’s teachings.
The Potential of the Promise.
When Christians promise something that they themselves do not possess, to them it’s not a lie. It’s a certain point of view, just how one looks at the situation, a matter of perspective.
Obviously, tons of asterisks lurk underneath any Christian promise. Converts only discover that terms and conditions apply after being well sunk into the tribe. Soon enough, they figure out that what they bought was only the potential for the promise.
Christianity becomes, instead of a promise of peace, more of a promised potential of peace.
In the minds of believers, their product–dedicated and fervent adherence to their particular flavor of Christianity–remains the literal only way to achieve true, lasting inner peace. It doesn’t bother them at all that many–maybe even most–Christians never achieve that peace.
Christians can be embroiled in the worst political infighting and personal drama of their lives, and simultaneously assure a prospective convert that their product is the only one that can deliver the benefits they promise. When they finally break down or get caught in the grips of something very unapproved by the tribe, they’ll blame themselves for not Jesus-ing hard enough and correctly enough. (See below for what Jesus-ing is.)
And they’ll do it because they completely believe in that potential as a promise all its own.
To explain why, I have to step back to explain exactly what many of these Christians think they have to do to achieve the promise.
When I was a Christian, I began asking questions about that. That’s when I learned that actually, we had to take steps ourselves to find peace.
Very few Christians find magic peace without asking (and thus building up some lovely confirmation bias, of course)! However, the exact sorta-mechanisms by which Christians may achieve peace rarely get fully detailed.
So let me guide you through the usual methods suggested.
The First Step, Obviously.
Obviously, first people must become TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
Many Christians think the quest ends there. That’s the usual marketing, and (as mentioned) what I personally had believed.
Sites promising that this approach works exist aplenty in the Christ-o-sphere–like Billy Graham’s, and like the one that actually flat out titled itself “Looking for true peace?” (That one provides a [CITATION NEEDED] “meta” content description of “how to overcome fear, anxiety, and worry”).
These authority figures assure anybody suffering with anxiety and unbearable mental tension that here, at last, is the way out of the pit of despair.
So all Christians need to do to find peace is telepathically promise obedience forever to their imaginary friend! Step Two might be ???, but Step Three is definitely Profit!
Unless that doesn’t work.
In case becoming a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ doesn’t bring someone peace, other suggestions abound.
Other Christians offer specific incantations to recite to find peace. These sorts of magic spells infest Christianity from one end to the other. Many leaders teach their followers to use specific Bible verses as spells in and of themselves. That’s why so many Bibles come with a little reference page listing the verses that Christians should recite as magic spells in specific situations. As well, plenty of internet sites offer the same service. (See endnote for a personal observation.)
A big apologetics site, Got Questions, trumpets that “God will sustain us, He will never let us fall, and He cares for us.” Then they tell readers that whenever they feel worried, they should take it “as an opportunity to practice Proverbs 3:5-6,” which commands Christians to completely trust their god.
Painted Into a Corner.Not one of the Christians I scouted out offered anything truly useful as advice. Very few groups recognize the need for outside help with anxiety and stress at all.
The ones that do, like Focus on the
Bigotry Family, still insist on the cringefest overload that is Christian therapy. J.D. Greear, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, offers his own church’s Pastor of Counseling up as part of his “Resources for Depression” page on his personal site. And that guy in turn drills down on magical thinking and Christian counseling (after quickly dispensing with lifestyle change as a suggestion).
One site for a Christian counseling practice begins their sales pitch with a shots fired first line: “Christian couples get a raw deal in secular couples therapy.” For that matter, Focus on the
Bigotry Family maintains a counseling service of its own. Another Christian writes about fearing that a secular counselor might call her “crazy or insane” for talking about her claimed experiences as a Christian.
These Christian leaders and self-interested hucksters carefully close off all methods of approved and acceptable help. But they only allow methods that categorically won’t help.
In the doing, they paint desperate Christians into a corner.
The Strength of Sheer Desperation.
Christian leaders’ suggestions for finding peace work, unless they don’t work at all. In that case, sometimes their god heals them. But he just does it “not in the way you would think,” according to a writer for Relevant Magazine. Except when he doesn’t even want to do that.
So Christians can choose between ineffective and disastrously backfiring methods to deal with their lack of peace. Their leaders will encourage them either way to blame themselves for not feeling peace of mind.
Thus, Christians cling to the advice their leaders offer. They learn to use potential relief as a promise. Really, that’s literally all they’ve got. Nothing else could work–within that worldview anyway.
What’s inside the bubble only works if a bunch of conditions are met. What’s outside? Well, that doesn’t work at all, and could make matters even worse for them.
Deconversion then becomes the most horrifying of all ideas. Just imagine! The moment someone loses faith in Christianity’s claims, they lose not only their humanity, but even the half of the chance they think they have as Christians to find peace at all. Their evangelism training demands that they see unwashed heathens as living a desperate, scrabbling half-life on the fringes of the human situation, aching and yearning for the promises held out by the evangelist.
Fervent Christians will gamble on a bare chance over no chance at all.
The Fear Ruling the Flocks.
In addition, nobody in Christian-Land actually wants any anxiety-plagued tribemates to feel safe in publicly airing something they all feel to some extent. That spectacle would destroy evangelists’ already tanking recruitment rate.
I’ve heard countless Christians–many who eventually became ex-Christians–speak to how unsafe they felt in their church groups to admit they struggled with a lack of inner peace. How could it be otherwise? The standard Christian advice for finding peace assumes that literally the only reason someone might fail to find peace is if they aren’t Jesus-ing right. And their advice in turn will always be something about Jesus-ing harder and more correctly. That’s all they have in their toolbox.
Every single time a Christian chirps about finding peace, they reinforce their leaders’ lessons. Worse, they reinforce the paint job on their painted-in corner.
Their Acceptable Costs.
And I think that’s kinda the goal here.
Christian leaders clearly would rather see their remaining congregants get so stressed out and terrorized that they break down than teach their flocks something non-canonical that’s useful and compassionate. Doing that might distract them from seeing their product as essential in every way.
It’s so telling to me that these leaders clearly recognize the need for leveraging fear as a retention tactic. Without coercion, Christianity simply doesn’t survive.
But Christians continue to lose cultural dominance. As such, they’ll increasingly find themselves surrounded by people who do find peace without their religion. They’ll also find growing numbers of dissenters who don’t fear telling them that it certainly feels like perfectly acceptable and valid peace, in violation of Christian advertising.
I wonder how many people will need to tell them so for them to begin doubting that their product can deliver on its promises. At the rate they’re going now, invalidating all of those dissenters will basically render their promise’s potential so inaccessible that it might as well be a living wage on an MLM’s income disclosure statement!
NEXT UP: And that’s it for the peace series, folks! Next time, we roast Al Mohler over the coals for that misogynistic assertion he made. Then, we tackle a question that Christians fear–and their demonization of those who ask it. As usual, it’ll be a busy! See you soon!
About Rick Warren’s terrible suggestion: Warren wrote that suggestion five years after his son Matthew died by suicide. I can’t even imagine the compartmentalization a parent must have going on to write something that basically slams his own child like that. WTF, Rick. WTF. (Back to the post!)
About those cards and sites: Not much makes me feel downright nauseated when I research posts. However, this image search sure did. You can buy or download and print any number of these cards, all promising “Scripture Cards For When You’re Stressed” or “10 Bible Verses to Overcome Anxiety” or “9 Bible Verses About Money” or, my un-favorite, “52 Bible Verses for Working Moms.” I find this kind of faux-spirituality grotesque. What makes it even worse is the implication that all of these worries have super-easy answers. Like, JUST RECITE THIS MAGIC SPELL! It’s repulsive. (Back to the post!)
They’re half right: Competent therapy providers might tell Christians something REALLY dangerous, like “You can’t ‘pray away’ a mental health condition,” and then speak directly to the total lack of effectiveness of Christian non-solutions. (Back to the post!)
For new folks, when I talk about “Jesus-ing:” I’m referring to the nonsensical advice given to Christians like “go to the Lord” and “give your stress to Jesus.” It has no applicability to lived experience or concrete actions. It just gets traded around as advice, then used against people who fail to achieve the marketing promises. Nobody ever has any idea exactly what it means to do any of this stuff. They just… They just Jesus as hard as they can. Have you Jesus-ed correctly? Well, you must Jesus correctly! Obviously you didn’t Jesus hard enough! That’s why you deconverted! You should Jesus like I do! It’s ridiculous. (Back to the post!
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