August 6, 2012

Functions of Christianspeak

Church signMy fascination with Christianspeak is nothing new, but I still don't feel like I've found a satisfactory answer for the purpose it serves. I used to think that its primary function was to communicate group membership. That is, Christianspeak served as a quick way to determine whether a new acquaintance was a member of the in-group or not. But I have difficulty reconciling this theory with the observation that Christianspeak is far more common here in Mississippi where virtually everyone belongs to the Christian in-group than anywhere else I've lived. Given the near universality of fundamentalist Christianity here, why would Christianspeak be more common? Maybe it serves other functions I haven't yet considered.

To be clear, I am referring to the use of Christianspeak among individuals and not businesses. When a business uses Christianspeak, it is little more than an attempt to market their product or service to a particular sort of customer.

Signaling Group Membership

In an area with as little religious diversity as Mississippi, why would Christianspeak be needed to signal group membership? Maybe instead of thinking of it as identifying who was Christian and who was not, I should consider the possibility that it is used to identify who belongs to the Southern Baptist majority and who belongs to any other denomination. There are certainly Methodists and Catholics here too.

One of my Southern Baptist associates did tell me that there are certain terms that indicate to her that the speaker is Southern Baptist the moment she hears them. But still, Southern Baptists are a clear majority here, so I'm not sure why this would have much utility.

Reinforcing One's Belief System

Perhaps Christianspeak is not primarily about group membership but is instead a means of reinforcing one's own belief system. Might believers use it simply to remind themselves and others of what they are supposed to believe? It could be thought of as a sort of reality distortion field, helping believers maintain faith in the face of evidence to the contrary. This is an interesting possibility, but it is only speculation at this point.

Coded Communication

Could Christianspeak serve as a code to conceal meaning from those in the out-group, allowing those who use it to communicate discretely? There is some evidence from the political arena that this could be an important function of Christianspeak. Evangelical Christian politicians are known to insert Christianspeak into their speeches to signal their commitment to their faith to like-minded audience members. It would make sense why they would want to do this covertly, but I'm not sure why this would apply to the average believer.

Atheistspeak?

In the atheist community, do we have anything like Christianspeak? Do we have words or phrases that are meaningful to us but nonsensical to the those outside our community? If there is any merit to the notion that such terms signal group membership, it seems like we should have plenty. As members of a small and thoroughly hated minority, quick identification of group membership could be quite valuable. On the other hand, most of us probably don't have a strong need to continually reinforce our beliefs since reality does that perfectly well.

I'm having a difficult time coming up with anything I think might qualify as atheistspeak, but I do have one candidate: "rAmen" and the rest of the Flying Spaghetti Monster meme. Could this count?

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