Hi and welcome back! For a long time now, I’ve studied Christianese. That’s the jargon that Christians use among themselves — particularly the really fervent and toxic ones, like fundagelicals and Catholic hardliners. Thanks to Christianese, they can be utterly unintelligible to outsiders — or, conversely, can hold an entire conversation using common words in English that just mean something totally different to Christianese speakers. Today, let me show you one of those words: conviction. Here’s what it means, how Christianese speakers use it, and how it shapes their behavior.
(Previous posts about Christian wordplay: Love; Tolerance; Convenience; Fundagelical U; The Christianese to Know for the Endtimes Apocalypse. Also, presented without comment: As I sought example uses online to show you of how Christians use the word “conviction,” I had to sift through the 50% or so of search returns about various evangelical pastors convicted of various serious and mostly-sexual crimes.)
Conviction: The English Usage.
In regular English, conviction and its variants have a few different shades of meaning.
First and foremost, a conviction is the assessment of guilt, as happens after a criminal trial. To convict someone is to find them guilty, while to be convicted is to be found guilty by a judge and/or jury.
In addition, a conviction can also mean a strong and certain opinion. Someone might feel a conviction that might makes right, or hold a conviction about racism being wrong. In these cases, the opinion might not actually be correct. The word only communicates strength and certainty, not factual correctness.
Sometimes the word “conviction” can even be used interchangeably with the word “opinion” to convey that greater strength and certainty. Someone who holds those kinds of strong, certain opinions might be called “a person of great conviction.” If they’re sounding iffy about their opinion, we might say they “lack conviction.” To become convicted about something, in turn, might mean we’ve become convinced to adopt a strong opinion about that subject.
Christianese turns these definitions on their head.
The Conviction of Christianese.
Speakers of Christianese tend overwhelmingly to be really authoritarian people: thus, toxic Christians. They almost universally think that their god is not only literally a real being, but also the very real source of their opinions about him. Thus, he routinely makes them feel certain ways and gives them certain opinions about stuff.
To understand their language, you have to understand that fact about them.
So, conviction springs from the wellspring of abdicated personal responsibility. It is a divinely-sent feeling meant to produce feelings of guilt and the need for change — if not in the Christians themselves, then in those who engage with that TRUE CHRISTIAN™. As a Christian site called Bible Reasons tells us:
Conviction is more than the mere feeling of guilt for something we have done wrong. It’s normal to feel guilty after doing something that we know we shouldn’t have done. Conviction goes above and beyond having a “feeling.”
For the most part, Christianese speakers — overwhelmingly authoritarian as they are — tend to use conviction in the guilty-criminal sense more than in just the strong-opinion sense, though they use both meanings as the situation calls for it. Context is everything when figuring out just what a given Christianese speaker means.
Native speakers, of course, slide between meanings without even thinking about it, often shifting the word’s meaning in the very same sentence.
Usage: Strong Opinion.
In Christianese, a conviction is a very strong personal feeling about something. But it’s way more than that. It’s a Jesus-flavored strong opinion that comes straight from that person’s imaginary friend. Yes, Jesus himself handed that person this opinion and strong-armed them into believing its truth. So now, they hold this incredibly strong, certain opinion that they think is divinely sourced.
Occasionally, you find Christians who obfuscate things a bit by claiming that the Bible is what gave them their convictions. On Bible.org, we find this explanation:
Biblical conviction is really the product of three things that characterize the ideal Christian leader or the person of maturity: (a) a commitment to Scripture as one’s authority, (b) the construction of specific beliefs and convictions based on that authority, and (c) the courage to act on those convictions in faith.
Ah, but what force acts upon a person to create the urge to adopt “biblical conviction?” You guessed it: Jesus. Or rather, the Holy Spirit, which is sort of the Christian god’s sense of gumption.
Once their god hands them this conviction, it’s there forever and nothing can shake it — not even reality itself.
Usage: Conviction of Guilt.
In the other usage of conviction, this god sends people a profound awareness of their vast guilt and need for change. So conviction becomes, then, the essential first step in moving toward TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
Obviously, people don’t ever want to feel bad or change. Ever. (See endnote; this isn’t true for non-authoritarians.)
So the only way people can ever become TRUE CHRISTIANS™ is if a real live god makes it happen. And once he decides to make it happen, nobody can resist or stop it from happening. Officially, this doctrine is Calvinist, but most Christianese speakers buy into it at least in a contradictory way. (See the other endnote.)
If Jesus hasn’t inspired that conviction, then it won’t stick. Those Christians will just be fakey-fake Christians In Name Only (also known as cultural Christians). You can spot fake Christians because they change their opinions (and behavior) the moment it stops being fun and rewarding.
From some random Christian’s Bible study, we find an echo of what I myself learned as a young evangelical:
John 16:8 (NEB) “When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world, and show where right and wrong and judgment lie. He will convict them of wrong…”
The first work of the Holy Spirit is the conviction of sin. If we are temples of the Spirit, His presence, His name in us will convict us, and others, of sin. We will feel more affinity towards those who, like us, long for more conviction, repentance, and the power of God to live a life that will stand the test of fire. [. . .]
Conviction is First Base in Our Love Affair with God
That Christian site Bible Reasons features a meme saying, “Conviction of sin is God’s way of inviting you to restore fellowship with Him.” This appears to be their own invention, but they include it in a list of big-name Christian leaders’ quotes about the word.
Helping Their Lil Godling Along.
If toxic Christians had the capacity to just let Daddy drive the car, they wouldn’t be half the problem they are. But they can’t. Part of their toxicity centers around their ultra-authoritarian tendencies. And you can’t spell “authoritarian” without including an intense urge to judge and control others. Almost from the start of their religion, Christians began taking up the judging-and-condemning duties themselves.
Indeed, their behavior almost never reflects their stated beliefs.
In their apparent true ideology, the Christian god is simultaneously mind-bogglingly omnipotent and utterly impotent. He needs a lot of help to do everything, much like a toddler does.
Thus, his followers must help him create these feelings of shame and need-to-change in other people.
Many times, they just go about shoving their religious opinions at others (yes, exactly like a flasher). They’ll adopt ostentatious greetings like “Heaven-o!” or farewells like “Be blessed!” Or they’ll pray at inappropriate times, or frown at displays they consider worldly.
(Worldly is just Christianese for “something that isn’t as Jesus-flavored or as deferential as the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ judge likes.”)
Or they’ll very loudly perform charity so people can see them doing it, and hope someone asks why oh why they’d ever sacrifice so much for others.
Really, there exist as many ways to flaunt one’s religious affiliation as there are toxic Christians!
Taking a More Active Hand With Conviction.
As well as passive-aggressive religious displays, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ consider it a divine duty as well as a pleasure to help their god induce conviction. To do this, they take a more active hand in judging and condemning others.
This needs to be done very carefully, though. Obviously.
The best way to balance one’s divine duty with one’s inherent and sinful desire to judge and condemn others is to do it while wearing a simpering, sweetsy-syrupy Jesus smile. A Jesus smile is that insincere affectation of affection and harmlessness that toxic Christians deploy to cover their tracks. Here’s a good representative example of the trope:
In the inducement of proper godly conviction, it all but ensures the proper discharging of one’s divine duty.
See? They can’t be hateful bigots. They’re smiling as they deliver their judgment and condemnation! They’re not snarling in rage and hitting people! And they’re smiling because they’re obeying Jesus’ direct commands and just feel so loving toward their victims! Only a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ could ever love someone enough to do that! See?
Another popular method involves the deployment of nonstop Bible verses. Who could ever do that in the wrong mindset? How can someone be sinning in any way while copy-pasting Bible verses? Huh? HUH?
So with these smokescreens in place, toxic Christians can write really bigoted or sexist comments on social media, demonstrate against human rights, and scream insults at teenagers on college campuses. This behavior carries a bonus benefit of virtue-signaling their affiliation with the bestest tribe of all.
Conviction vs. Secular Judgment-and-Condemnation.
Now, this behavior I describe might look exactly like garden-variety secular judgment and condemnation, which are two activities that Jesus expressly forbade. Repeatedly in the New Testament we find him insisting that only his “Father” can do that. The Father is another aspect of the Christian god, sort of like his general authoritarian side. And Jesus, being the “Son” aspect of this god, left judgment and condemnation up to the Father aspect.
The Epistles continue that trend after his death. Romans 2:1, among a great many similar verses, tells Christians:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
It’s one of the very few commands that hammer out exactly how Christians should behave themselves in the long term. But dangit, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ just love doing it so much.
So they just renamed what they were doing and carried on as before. When you hear a toxic Christian talk about creating conviction in others, remember that it’s always going to look exactly like secular judgment and condemnation. To deal with that meta-criticism, they’ve evolved a lot of hand-waving excuses (many catalogued above), reframing/relabeling, and rationalization. As well, they bounce back with counter-criticisms that they hope will distract their critics.
The one thing they’re not gonna do is stop judging and condemning others. They love it too much to stop. Not even the supposed words of Jesus himself can stop them.
The Inevitable Response to Pushback.
If anybody objects to these passive or active displays, the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ acting this way will snootily reply that obviously Jesus must be making them feel convicted.
Remember, conviction only comes from their god. It’s not a natural feeling; it’s artificially induced, every time. It can’t even happen without divine intervention. And it can easily take the form of anger, if it’s not yet time for that person to be helplessly enslaved to this god. (Other Christians refer to this rejection as the result of hard-heartedness, which is a whole other can of LOL that we’ll have to open some other time.)
TRUE CHRISTIANS™ also believe that their god inhabits them and puppets them around at various times. Sure, their sin nature might prevail here and there, but while they perform ambassadorial duties for their imaginary friend they are acting in the Spirit. And since their god defines goodness as anything he does or likes, nothing he does is ever wrong. So their judgment and condemnation is really their god’s divine conviction.
As a result, the only reason anybody would ever object to the judgment and condemnation that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ offer, ever, is that they just don’t like being around someone with such a powerful Jesus Aura.
See, a shiny Jesus Aura totally makes everybody around a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ feel really uncomfortable. It’s like a big huge reminder to worldly sinners that they’re not right with God. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ think that nobody likes thinking that they’re wrong or that they’re accountable to a god, right? I mean, they don’t, so obviously everyone else is just like them, right?
So obviously, these critics have something they need to admit to themselves…. don’t they. Don’t you worry your pretty little feather head about it, though. These self-appointed divine ambassadors can wait while you figure out that a real live god is trying to get through to you.
If you refuse to admit it now, then they’ve at least planted a seed that’ll sprout one day. For sure.
How Toxic Christians Dogwhistle.
As I said a moment ago, I more or less subscribed to this Christianese when I converted to evangelicalism in my teens. What I describe here in this post today is how I and my tribe felt about conviction, and how I see modern evangelicals engaging with the idea today.
Christianese has always been an impressive exercise in doublethink and rationalization. Now, however, it approaches art in its refined purity and focus.
Case in point:
Yesterday, I brought up that Joe Battaglia book Make America Good Again. In it, he talks glowingly of Jesus’ behavior. He thinks Christians need to adopt that same behavior to save America. In his interview with Christian Post, Battaglia says this:
You see the great thing about forgiveness and redemption is there is no condemnation. Love cannot be born out of condemnation, only out of redemption and conviction; it leads you to repentance. Scripture says that in Romans, it’s God’s mercy, kindness that leads us to repentance. I don’t think many people like to follow somebody who’s harsh and mean. So when you see all the harshness and meanness on the streets today, all the things that have been hijacked by those who would create division, they’re not talking or speaking or living in that language of Christ, of bringing unification and forgiveness and reconciliation.
This little speech is 100% dogwhistle. In no way whatsoever is Battaglia actually suggesting that toxic Christians should stop judging and condemning others.
And the tribe understood his meaning completely.
How Battaglia’s Idea Really Works.
Obviously, authoritarians love the idea of becoming a mini-me of the ultimate authority. So in this case, I guarantee you one thing above all:
The toxic Christians who love what Joe Battaglia is saying in his interview will take it as a permission slip to continue the culture wars — just with more Jesus smiles.
They will not, under any circumstances, take his interview as an instruction to actually stop judging and condemning others. Remember, in their Bizarro world they’re not doing that in the first place! Instead, they’ll tut-tut over the very worst, angriest-sounding, meanest of their tribe and try to convince them to be less overtly nasty about it: Keep doing it. Just be nicer.
Indeed, at the end of the interview Battaglia gives away the game:
[Jesus] says, you’re an ambassador and you’re a minister of reconciliation, which simply means to restore friendship between you and God.
So. Now that you know what you know, I ask you:
In toxic Christianity, how exactly does this “restoration” begin? How exactly do people take that first step toward “reconciliation” with this godling?
NEXT UP: More Christianese! Battaglia used a lot of it, so I wanted to pause to discuss it. Tomorrow, we look at “faith-based” and “biblical.” See you then!
Regarding Christianese speakers’ opinions of humanity: Yes, outside of authoritarian systems, people can and do change all the time. However, for authoritarians guilt and feelings of needing to change are seen as admissions of weakness. They would seriously rather die. That’s why they get hung up on this false assertion about their god — and their religion — never changing. Change is sinful and human. Changelessness, then, becomes divine and perfect. (Back to the post!)
Regarding the strength of artificially-induced conviction: This doctrine always reminds me of this older fantasy series by David Eddings. In it, an evil god wants to make a heroine in the story his wife. She’s very matter-of-fact about just how easy it’d be for this god to make it happen. He could even make her love him beyond anything in the world. He probably would, in fact. And she knows that if he did, she would love him for real: real, all-consuming love with him. But she hopes — and fears — that there’d always be that little part of her screaming in desperation and horror even as she adored her divine husband to the ends of time.
That is what I think about this prized notion of Calvinism. It is one of the most monstrous violations of a human that could ever be imagined. I am thankful beyond thankfulness that this god doesn’t exist, but it chills me to imagine how many millions of Christians are convinced that he does and somehow aren’t working tirelessly to defeat him. (Back to the post!)
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