Me no speak-ah Christianese-ah.

17 Sep

Sometimes I think Christians would have a better chance of being understood and a lesser chance of being mocked if they would not resort to speaking in Christianese when they are trying to discuss simple concepts.  Here’s a statement I found in the latest Boundless thread (a thread I would eventually like to discuss since it’s about online dating):

Treat other men and women as prized children of God and help them to guard their hearts, rather than becoming one more in the arsenal of the enemy who wants to dash their hopes about finding a Christian spouse and rob their joy in the season of singleness.

Seriously, is anyone not born and bathed in churchliness going to have any sympathy for a statement like this?  (I mean, aside from the fact that the sentence is 48 words long and therefore the average American reader’s eyes glazed over 32 words ago.)  The whole thing is one declamatory churchly cliche after another.  “Prized children of God”?  “Guard their hearts”?  “Arsenal of the enemy”?  “Rob their joy”?  “Season of singleness”?  Who talks like this other than the churchliest of the churchly?  The whole thing would have been more effective if communicated less like a blustering televangelist and more like a person you might actually speak to in real life.

I’ve noticed that in general, Christianese is a rampant affliction in evangelical circles.  Who hasn’t attended a Bible study and heard someone say something to the effect of God just laid it on my heart…?  Or such-and-such just touched my heart, or that just blessed my heart so much?  WHO TALKS LIKE THIS IN REAL LIFE????  I get that every subculture has its own jargon, but there’s something about Christianese that rankles so deeply.  It overly smooths the surface of everything and speaks of things in terms of emotion.  In a world full of Christianese, nothing is raw or dirty.  Nothing is awkward.  Nothing bleeds.  Even pain is somehow blunted.  For me Christianese is strangely gooey and antiseptic at the same time.

On the upside, if you are a single Christian man in intentional pursuit of God’s unspeakably precious gift of a helpmeet designed specifically for you because God is wildly passionate about His utterly beloved children, then a young woman fluent in Christianese is often a good sign that you have found a righteous candidate.

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49 Responses to “Me no speak-ah Christianese-ah.”

  1. Bob September 17, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    I’ve long blamed the way I talk for the reactions I get when people find out about my faith – “Wait, you’re a Christian?”. It shouldn’t be a surprise in a majority-Christian nation, but meh. Most folks assume I’m an atheist/agnostic.

    Actually, my favorite reaction was from a conversation a few years back. Earlier in the conversation, we had been discussing his political science education versus my engineering classes. Faith came up later, and he said, “But aren’t most smart people atheists?” I had known him for about three months without it ever coming up first.

  2. Jennifer September 17, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I get poetic sometimes, but it’s not just because of my faith. It has its place, but we definitely need to avoid talking like King James in general conversations; I mean, that’d be like a guy talking like Shakespeare to a girl out of the blue.

    The people in Lori Wick novels annoyed me even without fancy talk, because they talked ALL THE TIME about God and faith. At the end when a mother was teaching her kid to use the potty when the urge came, she told her, “Go to the bathroom now, and ask the Lord to help you remember.” SERIOUSLY?? Auughh!

  3. Hana September 17, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    “For me Christianese is strangely gooey and antiseptic at the same time.”

    Haha – yes, this sums it up fairly well for me as well. That whole sentence about the “arsenal of the enemy” who wants to “rob people of their joy in the season of singleness” makes it sound like Christianity exists solely to protect people’s hearts from ever getting bruised. (Likewise, it makes it sound like “the enemy’s” central aim is to make people upset about their singleness – which I doubt is true.)

    Also, the other thing that bothers me about “Christianese” is – have the people who use it actually read the Bible? I’m thinking particularly of the way people on Boundless talk. There’s a Psalm that addresses the “Daughter of Babylon” and says “happy is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:9) The Bible isn’t always pretty or antiseptic – at all.

  4. Rich Cook September 17, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    +1 for Haley. Hearing this makes me absolutely cringe. Nobody talks like that, except church people that really have had no contact with the world. Every time I hear someone talk like that I am thinking “how ofter do you practice this stuff?” When I hear it I can’t help thinking “hypocrite!”. Does anyone really live their life that way? I mean the way these folks sound.

  5. Rich Cook September 17, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    I hear them and the picture of Paul and Jan Crouch of TBN pops into my head. Owww!

  6. lifeinlonglegs September 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    “WHO TALKS LIKE THIS IN REAL LIFE????” —exactly. …and guilty as charged. Most of the time we’re full of crap when we say things like ‘God laid it on my heart’ — we really mean, “I THOUGHT it would be good if…” We confuse what God wants with what WE want all too often. We feel like we have to apologize for doing anything we thought of “ourselves” – but God gave us a brain and using it isn’t a criminal act. Truthfully, sometimes God does ‘lay someone on your heart’ — but most of the time we’re using Christianeze as a means of identifying ourselves as part of a specific cultural sect within Christianity, [thereby excludiing others who do NOT speak in such a way – even Christians who think it is a load of crap.] It is a form of informational power and causes others to feel excluded. Is it even Biblical? There may be exceptions, where someone specifically draws on scripture – but most of the time I don’t think so.

  7. Jim September 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    “. . .if you are a single Christian man in intentional pursuit of God’s unspeakably precious gift of a helpmeet designed specifically for you because God is wildly passionate about His utterly beloved children, then a young woman fluent in Christianese is often a good sign that you have found a righteous candidate.”

    How about just saying, “I’m in the market for a Proverbs 31 woman.”

    :)

  8. noseintheair September 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I was so impressed by this, that I logged on to ChristianCafe and searched by the name “Haley.” I did.

  9. Ceer September 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    As a member of a different branch of Christianity other than Evangelicalism who grew up in a primarily Fundamentalist/Evangelical area, I’ve found it useful to have a good working knowledge of Christianese. I simply explain my own beliefs in lay terms and let my actions do the rest of the communicating. Either all the people I know are REALLY that bad at theology that they can’t spot the difference, or they are nowhere near as judgmental as they are made out to be.

    [quote]Actually, my favorite reaction was from a conversation a few years back. Earlier in the conversation, we had been discussing his political science education versus my engineering classes. Faith came up later, and he said, “But aren’t most smart people atheists?” I had known him for about three months without it ever coming up first.

    — Bob[/quote]

    Sadly, this is quite common among liberals.

  10. grizzledwolf September 18, 2011 at 12:32 am #

    I think Pentecostals (or charismatics if you’re Catholic) tend to ramp this up even further. “The Holy Spirit said to me” and all that jazz. I think its a cop-out; a way to blunt negative blowback on what is clearly just the speaker’s opinion. After all, how can you react negatively against something God “laid into” someone’s heart or something the Holy Spirit supposedly said?

  11. y81 September 18, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    What’s interesting is that, as some of the commenters allude to glancingly, modern American Christianese is not particularly Biblical, nor does it stem from some long tradition. (John Calvin didn’t speak that way, nor Jonathan Edwards, nor even C.S. Lewis.) It’s the Christian variant of modern American psychobabble, which has what has been called “moralistic therapeutic deism” as its metaphysical underpinning. One feature common to all dialects of this faith, as Haley notes, is that nothing is ever raw or dirty.

    The Boundless dialect of Christianese is particularly female. Crucial markers of this dialect are “perfect” and “precious.” (Secular psychobabble has as its female markers words like “meaningful” and “commitment,” and sometimes “pampered.”)

  12. Jennifer September 18, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    There’s nothing wrong with words like “meaningful” and “commitment”.

  13. Dalrock September 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    a young woman fluent in Christianese is often a good sign that you have found a righteous candidate.

    I disagree. More importantly, the data disagrees. Christian culture doesn’t really believe in lifelong marriage. If it did, marriages of devout Christians wouldn’t end in divorce 38% of the time, or at the very least Christians would feel this was unacceptable and worth taking real action on. As it stands, Christians are proud of this statistic.

    I only say this because I think a huge number of young men have bought into this very dangerous misconception. I made the point on a recent post that Christian women as a group are not used to being told they have any obligations. Ever. Even obligations resulting from a sacred promise they made in the church in front of God and everyone they know. Sheila Gregoire referenced this statement in her blog, and she and several of her commenters were troubled that they had to acknowledge that this was accurate. For reference, Sheila has written several books on marriage and regularly speaks at churches on the topic. Her audience is Christian women interested in marriage. Even so, when she dares to suggest that women have obligations to their husbands, Christian women write to her in outrage that this would violate the commandment that they be true to themselves.

    I should also clarify that I don’t mean this as a shot at you Haley. From what you have written, I believe that you take marriage very seriously. From this perspective, I wouldn’t want a young man to pass by a woman such as yourself for a frivolous one who speaks the lingo.

  14. Jennifer September 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    I’m surprised to hear that, Dalrock. All the Christians I know, from the more traditional to the slightly more open, take marriage very seriously (I’m talking about the ones online, the ones I know as authors and the ones I know personally). That “be true to themselves” thing must be a result of this horrible culture. Thanks a lot, Elizabeth Gilbert and lunatic followers. The book “Passionate Housewives” is recommended.

  15. Jim September 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    I think the furor over Pat Robertson’s assertion that Christians can divorce their spouses if they develop Alzheimer’s is a pretty good example of how seriously at least part of the Christian community takes marriage.

  16. Chris September 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Haley, take what Dalrock has written and blow it up somewhere. So true.

    Church language does not equal godliness. It equals fluency in Church Language.

  17. Will S. September 19, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Christianese is sentimental and treacly because evangelical church culture today is dominated by women – and worldly women, who’ve bought into modern psychology’s dogmas, at that.

  18. y81 September 19, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    “There’s nothing wrong with words like “meaningful” and “commitment”.”

    There is nothing wrong with those words, but the Bible does not indicate that meaningful commitments are what distinguishes appropriate from inappropriate sexual activity.

    There is nothing with the word “precious” either, but we should remember that we are, at best, “unprofitable servants,” and that our preciousness is an aspect of God’s grace, not our own worth. That is why being “true to ourselves” is not a particularly valuable activity.

  19. lifeinlonglegs September 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    “There’s nothing wrong with words like “meaningful” and “commitment”.”

    ooh. so many lessons to learn, so much pain ahead if not learned quickly.

    Words mean NOTHING.
    Action means EVERYTHING.

  20. detinennui32 September 21, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    I know many, many “christian” women who talk the talk and know the language. They know all the right things to say in Christianese.

    They just don’t walk the walk at all.

  21. Jennifer September 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks for the school lesson, Life, but I’m already well-aware that actions do mean something. That doesn’t mean that WORDS have no merit or power.

  22. Jennifer September 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Well-put, y81.

  23. lifeinlonglegs September 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    …I would rebut however the evidence speaks for itself.

  24. Lainey September 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I strongly dislike Christianese. It seems to be a signal to me of pride or “Christian competition” aka “I’m a better Christian than you.” Bah! Be real.

  25. jack September 21, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Lainey-

    Very interesting viewpoint, and one that I had not considered. It makes sense. Your way of stating it sort of closes the gap on my sense of unease about Christian jargon.

    As an aside, I often feel the same way about “worship teams” – the very term can imply exclusion or a sense of elite thinking.

    As a musician that has fronted a band, I can tell you that I am skeptical about many Christian bands’ attitudes. Sometimes I think that performing “worship music” is a convenient cover for attention-seeking. This, I think is why the traditional hymn or even the dreaded PowerPoint singalong can be superior to a well-executed, um, performance(?).

    It really has to be about Christ. If it brings attention to a person, then maybe it is not enough about Christ.

    I will never play in a worship group, even though it has been suggested to me many times. I played for my own recognition (in secular bands) long enough that I am unwilling to bring even a speck of that self-promotion to a worship service.

    Rather than risk bringing pride to a worship service, better that I sit in my chair.

    But I am a seemingly arrogant awhole in the comments section here and elsewhere? perhaps, but I am not acting as a member of church leadership by commenting here. Church leadership should be held to a higher standard.

  26. jack September 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Pukey churchy-talk:

    Forget leadership titles for a moment. The fact that you want to live before the Lord with hunger for Him and minister with a heart-throbbing vibrancy for Jesus is enough to go after your sin with violence, because sin disconnects that vibrancy.

    Now Jesus-is-my-boyfriend applies to men?

    Stop it, John, you sound ridiculous, no matter how well-intentioned.

    Anyone who wonder why men leave the church need only read things like this.

    It is almost enough to make me enter the ministry, if only to offer an option to this, this, this…

    Why must I cringe whenever I hear Christians talk?????????????????

  27. jack September 21, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Link to the source of the pukiness:

    http://www.boundless.org/2005/answers/a0002290.cfm

  28. Old Guy September 22, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Aunt Haley: Nice bit on “Christianese and the English Language.”

    Your last paragraph is just cruel, though. You maybe want to watch that.

  29. anonymous x September 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Christianese…. makes me runnnn in the other direction. Spare me the psychobabble! And I’m speaking as a Catholic who takes his faith seriously, but you would not know it to hear me talk. This babble is simply not authentic to me. Whatever happened to talking like an ordinary everyday person and letting your beliefs show through your actions?

  30. y81 September 22, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    “Catholic-ese” is a little different from evangelical “Christianese.” (I have had some very devout Catholic friends, including one who became a nun.) “Catholic-ese” features the words “Blessed” and “Holy” a lot more, it features a lot of references to mediating figures (the Virgin Mary, various saints, the pope) rather than to personal contact with God, etc.

    I’ll never match Haley’s rhetorical skills, but if you are a devout Catholic man seeking the married state which the Holy Father has rightly described as “blessed,” then a young woman noted for her adoration of the Virgin Mother of God may be helpful in forming a family which will obtain the blessing of the Holy Church and all her saints.

  31. Will S. September 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    ‘Reformed-ese’ includes frequent references to one’s election and calling, and to the Elect, to ‘our Covenant God’, and other such distinctives. Much of these are usually relevant to the discussion at hand, but I have wondered whether it really is necessary to refer to God as ‘our Covenant God’, because while He is that, He is also much more than just that, too.

    In addition, Reformed-ese also borrows much from evangelical Christianese.

  32. Hana September 23, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Will S.:

    Here is my attempt at Reformed-ese:

    “If you are God’s covenant child, waiting in patient obedience for your foreordained helpmeet who will love, comfort and keep you and who you are called to love even as Christ loved the church, then a woman who can confess in spirit and in truth the words of Article 1 in the Heidelberg Catechism is a gracious gift from God, from whom comes every good and perfect gift and who does not change like shifting shadows. To him be eternal praise, Amen.”

    Obviously, this is exaggerated. But Reformed people like their confessions and references to God’s call, God’s covenant, God’s changelessness, etc. And Reformed-ese lacks the mushiness of evangelical Christianity. It’s still steeped in some of Calvin’s rationality.

  33. anonymous x September 23, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    I know Catholic-ese. I don’t use it.. My best friend is also a devout Catholic and he doesn’t talk that way either.

  34. y81 September 23, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I think the “Reformed-ese” version should have, after the words “a gracious gift,” the words, “if it pleases Him to send it.” We’ve got to get God’s sovereignty into every phrase, if possible.

    I agree, not to let my own biases show too much, that “Reformed-ese” is a lot more theologically fulfilling than Haley’s generic “Christian-ese.”

  35. Hana September 23, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    y81 – Right – I felt like there was something off when I inserted “God’s gracious gift” without some kind of caveat about his will!

    Also, oops. I am a bad Reformed girl – it should be Lord’s Day One of the Heidelberg Catechism, not “Article One”. :S

  36. Will S. September 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    @ Hana, y81: Yes! LOL.

  37. Jennifer September 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    You guys know what book infuriates the devil out of me? “The Hiding Place”. Corrie Ten Boom was pretty cool, but two of her female relatives made me want to wring their necks. One was clearly Calvinist, yet always gave me the impression of a little sunny flower spouting seeds of glowing praise for God no matter the circumstances in the concentration camps. Praise for God is good; giving the impression of a spotless angel above the dirt of the real world is bad and REVOLTING to me. Calvinists are cynics by nature anyway, yet little Miss “God causes all things” is walking around the deepest pit of misery in history with nary a negative or despairing word? If you claim, even by default, that God caused this misery, you’d better be openly moved by it. I may be simplifying every action of hers, but this is my memory of the book.

    And Corrie’s other female relative was a self-righteous moron who told a Nazi, “Yes, those people are Jewish” when Jewish people were found in her home. Why? Because God wouldn’t want me to lie, wheedled the self-absorbed creature. Corrie disagreed, but didn’t strongly contradict her later when, miracle of miracles, the Jews her relative betrayed escaped! Of course she justified this to mean that God HAD wanted her to turn in the Jews rather than tell a vital lie.

    Corrie herself was far better, experiencing doubts like a normal person. But even she often reached an unrealistic triumph in whatever the present circumstances where whenever she prayed hard enough; urgh! It felt more like a sappy novel than a true story!

  38. Will S. September 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    And yet it was the truth. Sorry Corrie and her family, flawed human beings though they clearly were like all of us, weren’t as good as you would have liked them to be, Jen. Ah well. Deo vindice.

  39. Jennifer September 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I don’t know what you mean, Will. Of course they were good people; I liked Corrie and the rest of her family more than the sister and the other relative. The point is that those two sounded TOO good and happy most of the time to be real; point being.

  40. Jennifer September 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    The events were not what were unrealistic to me for the most part, but the attitudes. Sometimes things suck, long before you receive relief; if I’d ever read that Corrie’s sister was on her knees sobbing in pain at what she saw around her and THEN got reassurance from God, or that that other woman showed a trace of remorse for risking the lives of those Jews so her conscience could be spotless, I’d have felt differently. But as it was, I was struggling spiritually at the time and was already tense when I read the story, and the in-your-face almost perfection of the characters only made me feel even worse and more confused.

  41. Badger September 23, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Great observation, Haley – this sort of language is silly and off-putting to those who might be receptive to the message.

    Dalrock is right, too – no one should make assumptions about one’s goodness based on the language they use. And you don’t need his statistics to understand that language is packaging, and packaging can hide a rotten product and no man (or woman) should take the packaging as an indicator of internal quality.

  42. anonymous x September 24, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Amen, Badger! ;)

    When I hear this language from a girl, my bs detector goes on the alert. While no one is perfect, she might be using this language to hide defective internal qualities that I would not find appealing. I do not run into this very much at all, but then again I do not purposely seek out Catholic or Christian women.

    If you are a true believer, it will show up in your attitudes and actions without you having to add the packaging.

  43. Will S. September 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    @ Jennifer: Different people react differently to bad situations; some are able to hold their head high and smile and praise God as if things were going well in all circumstances. I doubt I could, and from what you’ve said it sounds like you’d be hard-pressed to be able to, but others can. Good on them; they are truly blessed.

    Why you begrudge them for it, I don’t know. I find that sad.

  44. Jennifer September 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    I don’t begrudge them for simply being thankful, Will; I don’t think you understand my position at all. Which surprises me, since you seem to have your own tight expectations of how people behave and should behave; mine is an example relevant to this thread. People may be very sincere when they speak in the passionate tones this thread discusses, but they SOUND fake and put people off. Likewise, being thankful in all circumstances is possible, but acting like horrors around you don’t affect you and implying that your prayers are answered on the dot, or risking people’s lives because your conscience must be clear of minor sins, are two completely different things.

  45. Jeff Stanley September 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. This blog post is funnier than crap. To Him be glory throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

    And I’ll tell you what else, “Christianese” statements are often aimed indirectly at someone specific. For example…

    “…rather than becoming one more in the arsenal of the enemy [like that crass Jeff Stanley] who wants to dash their hopes about finding a Christian spouse and rob their joy in the season of singleness…”

    …all of that, just because I said that Grace should try to be graceful enough not to pick her nose on a first date.

    Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

  46. Eumaios October 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Swineherdese includes frequent references to slaying suitors, hanging unfaithful wenches behind the shed, and delivering serious beatings to goatherds.

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