Every Wednesday in Holy Relics, Martyn Jones explores artifacts unique to the Christian subculture.
A wilderness camp I used to work at in Wisconsin came into a windfall of gear and supplies after the Korean War, when the U.S. government sold them tents, packs, and lockers full of other outdoorsy stuff on the cheap. These supplies lasted for decades. When I started working at the camp, the last holdovers from this era were red and yellow rocks of fossilized sugar we called “carbo candies.” Intended to lift spirits and stamina during strenuous activities in unforgiving terrain, carbo candies were standard issue for G.I.s fighting in Korea and they came by the pound in dirty pouches made of thick plastic. At my camp, a half century and a full hemisphere away from the war, everyone from our kindergarteners to our elderly visitors consumed these demilitarized sweets. They were succor during long hikes, and helped us to imagine ourselves as sharing in a fraternal bond with another generation’s soldiers when a mountain or river put the strain on us.
Testamints are like that.Scripture’s power and beauty are not the sort that lend themselves to superstitious beliefs about what single serving size amounts of the Bible can do when cast out into the world. Brothers, we are not magicians.For those who perhaps have never waited in line at a Christian bookstore or a Hobby Lobby for a register, next to which dishes of these things exist, Testamints are fairly simple to explain: they’re mints imprinted with a cross, wrapped in a Bible verse, and intended for distribution to people who are sensitive to the twin pangs of sin and halitosis.
I have never purchased or consumed a Testamint, although I often consume their secular counterparts, the commercial advantages of which might be explained by their narrowing the product’s focus to the body alone. Is this to the detriment of the soul? Studies so far have proven inconclusive but since fresh breath probably increases the mint-eater’s chances vis-a-vis fornication, things aren’t looking good for those who consume agnostic mints absent the moral ballast of a scriptural wrapper.
We might consider Testamints in isolation, in keeping with the company’s use of Bible passages. What is a non-believer to make of them? Charitably, Joe Secular might regard them as somewhat kitschy vehicles of bite-sized spiritual encouragement for the faithful. The verses, from what I can tell, are standard passages that make the rounds in evangelistic and devotional materials. Recalling ourselves to our hope in God through Christ in the daily minutiae? I’m for that, sure.
But Joe Secular might also receive a Testamint without explanation from a person looking to do a little low-commitment proselytizing. The verse on the wrapper commands him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, or to stop loving the world because those who do cannot be filled with the love of God, or perhaps it just leaves him with the bewildering standalone verse, “Jesus wept.” (Just kidding; you’d have to print that wrapper yourself.)
Barring the off chance that Joe Secular is actually the star of a Christian film and about to undergo a staged Damascus Road-style conversion, chances aren’t awesome that he is going to fall to his knees and cry out to God in salt-faced joy and need for this mint offered to him, a sinner. Scripture’s power and beauty are not the sort that lend themselves to superstitious beliefs about what single serving size amounts of the Bible can do when cast out into the world. Brothers, we are not magicians.
But perhaps the carbo candy association has a better light to throw on Testamints. While their decontextualized bits of scripture might not add nuance or depth to a person’s faith, the momentary reminder they offer of God’s promises to his Church is not a bad thing. Korean G.I.s (and my campers, most of the time) received full meals several times a day (parents, this was almost always true, I promise), and the translucent sugar dollops they kept on hand were never intended to replace these—only to make the going easier on the road between meals.
In a similar vein, the Bibles tucked into the Civil War soldiers’ jackets—the ones displayed in museums at the great battlefields, cratered by rifle shot that would otherwise have pierced vital organs—these also indicate something about Testamints. A century and a half ago, American soldiers reinforced Bible covers with steel plates in the hope of stopping bullets. Today we treat bad breath with candies that also put the words of Scripture into our mouths. These dual functions, interfaces between the material and immaterial worlds, are perhaps signs of a shrewd pragmatism. Why not kill two birds with one stone, especially if one is a dove?