Hi! Lately, we’ve been talking about peace. A great many Christians think that their religion is the only way possible for people to find real, lasting peace of mind. As I’ve shown you, that claim is completely false. Even worse, this false promise can lead to very real, very lasting harm to those who take it too seriously–harm that can take many years to fix. But the allure of the promise proves too great for Christians to drop it as an advertising tactic. Today, let me show you the dark side of the false promise of Christian peace.
A Get-Out-Of-Tough-Stuff-Free Card That Doesn’t Work.
To a great extent, I see Christianity as a massive marketing machine. Its salespeople promise stuff that they simply can’t deliver–and never could. Way too many Christians see their religion as a Monopoly card granting them instant freedom from various universal fears: aging, sickness, death, hard work, losses, loneliness, insignificance, being wrong, being without a safety net… You name it and some huckster’s promised it and seen tons of converts as a result.
Taken as a whole, these promises help Christians sell their product–membership in their particular flavor of Christianity–to the unwary and vulnerable. In marketing terms, we’d call those promises the benefits they say come to those who purchase that product. (See endnote for marketing shtuffs.)
When none of these promises come through, then almost all of those adherents blame themselves for not getting that stuff. Worse still: when someone like me comes along and makes a big stinking deal out of the falseness of those promises, those adherents blame me for having done something wrong.
Recently, in fact, a Christian came along to our comments to do exactly that! When we tell Christians their product doesn’t work as advertised, literally all they have in response is a weak oh, well, you must have simply used it wrong.
To Christians, the message itself remains perfect and immune to all critical examination–always.
Blaming the Victims.
Christians have been playing that victim-blaming game for a long time, I’m betting. They probably began it right around when it became safe to tell them their product simply doesn’t confer the benefits they’ve promised. And this victim-blaming likely accounts for the enduring popularity of peace as a promise for Christians to make.
Even Christians themselves take for granted that the promise is true and that any failures to achieve it must be happening on the consumer’s end. They’ll beat themselves bloody trying to figure out what they did wrong, but they’ll never once consider that the promises ain’t true in the first place.
Man alive, imagine how much any secular business would love to respond like that to a false advertising accusation! Just imagine, for example, what Christians would do if they discovered that an outfit they’d spent good money on didn’t even resemble its advertised photo! They’d be angry–and nobody’d blame them there.
False advertising with mail-order prom dresses.
But somehow, certain businesses enjoy an exemption from accountability. As a result, those businesses’ false promises fly right under the radar. Religious groups certainly aren’t the only type of business that only rarely gets held accountable for their hucksters’ false promises. The mountebanks pushing fad diets, magic cures for complex medical conditions, and add-on modules for religions skate through in similar ways.
Most religious groups keep their promises poorly-defined and subjectively-evaluated. And if so, they’ll be fine. It’s only when these groups get overly-ambitious that people start giving them serious side-eye–like when Transcendental Meditation gurus claimed that their adherents would learn to levitate and turn invisible, or how Breatharians claim adherents can learn to go indefinitely without food and water.
About the only time Christians encounter accusations of false advertising involve their silly predictions for the future. As Christianity’s credibility tumbles along with its ability to punish critics, I’ve noticed fewer and fewer of those predictions gaining traction in the Christ-o-sphere. (Mockery works!)
More sensible Christians have always avoided such accusations by tacking onto their promises tons of asterisked conditions that must be met before the promise gets considered binding (that’s the essence of their “you did it wrong” accusation), or else never promising anything tangible or specific. (See endnote about how those solutions backfired for me.)
Hmm, I doubt Christians decided by accident to use a purely-subjective emotional state as an advertising promise!
ABC: Always. Be. Closing!
The Christians making all these promises and claims do not offer them out of neutral, disinterested friendliness.
The classic scene from Glengarry Glen Ross. Except in Christianity, second prize is, you go to Hell! (NSFW language.)
They stand to gain from our purchase decision. Either they stand to gain materially, as a pastor might, or else they hope for serious Christian street cred from their friends. Maybe they even hope to parlay sales success into a lucrative career–like Mark Driscoll and Billy Graham did. Nor can we overstate the satisfaction involved in them seeing their beliefs vindicated and validated by converting a skeptic into a believer like themselves.
Best-case scenarios: some few poppets really do simply want you to be safe from their imaginary friend’s rage. In those cases, they’re willing to lie to you to help you reach Heaven. Or maybe they really do think that Christianity alone is the only way to achieve happiness, and they want you to feel happy. At various times, I fell into both those groups.
But these Christians will be vanishingly rare. Self-interest, terror, and greed mark the average evangelist, not compassion and empathy–just as they do the salesmen in the movie scene above. (We’ll discuss why, later.)
So even a Christian who values truthfulness and honesty often feels pressure to exaggerate or overstate a testimony. And any Christian who dares criticize a dishonest testimony–as I did–will be the one the tribe retaliates against, not the liar.
How We Know It’s False Advertising.
Even if Christians’ testimonies were true–even if a few of them were–their promises and claims don’t hold up in reality.
And y’all, Christians themselves show us this truth.
I’ve known literally thousands of Christians. Maybe it’s been tens of thousands. I can tell you truthfully, without any reservations at all, without any conflict of interest either, that Christians are quite possibly the most stressed-out, dishonest, and angry group of people I’ve ever run across. The more right-wing they get, the worse they get.
In fact, if you wanted to just go by peacefulness, tranquility, calmness, etc., then pagans would win that fight hands down.
Further, we know that Christians pursue the same vices that this Christian says she did in her testimony, plus others besides. I’ve known and heard of countless Christians caught up in alcoholism, food and drug abuse, unapproved sex, and other coping mechanisms besides. The news reports are filled top to bottom with Christians caught breaking the law–stealing, sexually assaulting others, lying in various ways, cheating on their spouses, and even paying the ultimate price for their religion’s utter inadequacy to address and improve the human condition.
If their religion really did offer true peace, they wouldn’t be doing this stuff. They’d be Jesus-ing to find their bliss and their solace. Nor would they be constantly asking what peace feels like in the first place.
For Non-Christians Who Don’t Feel Peace.
Nobody has to actually try Christianity to figure that out (unless, of course, they just want to). And someone doesn’t have to be a guru-atop-a-mountain, either, to assess its claims. We can immediately see that there’s no viable way to test most Christian promises. The mechanics of belief don’t even intuitively lead to the process of achieving inner peace. For me and many others, Christian directions for achieving peace only caused us stress.
Instead, we can look at how their adherents behave. Do they seem like people who’ve achieved peace? Are they, in fact, peaceful and tranquil people? For the most part, do those believers live out their religion’s ideals?
“Bad apples” only goes so far as an excuse. If Christians themselves have that much trouble gaining their product’s benefits and following its rules, then either their roadmap is busted or else it’s very ineptly communicated. Either way, there are lots of other worldviews out there to consider.
Then we see this dealbreaker and end the assessment:
Any time a group claims to have a monopoly on a universal state or emotion–be it love, joy, ecstasy, family harmony, peace, or whatever else–then we can safely ignore their salespeople. No group has such a monopoly. The only reason Christians keep trying to claim that is because they can’t compete against other worldviews if people know they can get that benefit elsewhere. (See endnote.)
So if someone outside of Christianity needs to find peace, then there at least is one place they know they won’t be finding it.
I’m forced to conclude a few things from Christians’ behavior.
Very, very few of them actually have “the peace that passes all understanding.”
The ones who really have it probably achieve it some other way than through the approved recipe(s) provided by Christian leaders, since following their directions does not reliably result in the promised emotional state.
It’s very likely that for many Christians, the only real ways to find peace are to pursue it through other means than those recipes, or else to walk away from Christianity entirely. All I can say there is that the path to peace that I chose worked wonderfully for me in the end.
NEXT UP: We look at “Christian peace” versus “the world’s peace.” It promises to be a doozy. (I had to cut it out of today’s post. As it turns out, I had a few observations to make on that topic!) See you soon!
About marketing: The handy formula is F-A-B, meaning “Features-Advantages-Benefits.” Here’s the classic explanation. A “feature” for a church might be “We have a parking garage!” An “advantage” answers the question of why the feature is desirable: “It’s right next to the church!” And the “benefit” represents the reason why any of that’s relevant to the consumer: “…So you can conveniently park for free and never worry about finding a spot!” Evangelism-minded Christians don’t typically GAFF about what their “consumers” actually want, though, so they don’t normally know about this technique. Their utter lack of salesmanship skills just fascinates me. (Back to the post!)
Sometimes the tactic backfires: When I was Christian, I noticed that I myself had begun giving my god both kinds of latitude. I did it to avoid disappointment when my prayers went unanswered. All by itself, that realization was a serious blow to my faith. (Back to the post!)
About that monopoly idea: In fact, Christianity only grew once it had the power to eliminate all competition from the religious marketplace. Now that Christians have lost that power, they find themselves in free-fall. Their solution: hamfisted attempts to create an artificial monopoly through emotional manipulation. If they still possessed the ability to force people to obey their demands or face imprisonment, torture, and execution, I have no doubt that they’d still be doing that. They HATE being salespeople–it’s a distinct loss of status for them. (Back to the post!)
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