Saturday, July 07, 2007

"fuck": the unforgivable sin

For a long time I’ve tried to figure out why christians avoid the use of cuss words. You know: damn, hell, shit, piss, bitch, (for some unknown reason) ass, and of course fuck. There’s probably more, but it’s been 13 years since I student-taught in a middle school, thus I’m quite behind on the world of cussing.

If christians don’t want to cuss, that’s fine by me. But why do they shame people who do?

I mean, there’s no list of forbidden words in The Book. No “thou shalt not say this or that”. Probably because the compiled writings that made The Book weren’t originally written in English. Or even King James English.

Despite what most people believe, I’m really not an advocate of “cuss” words. For reasons beyond my comprehension, they don’t seem to fit in most of my life situations. I’m told cuss words are not “constructive”. So I figure I have no need for construction in man-to-man settings and this blog. I also credit this limited usage to my church upbringing and possibly my middle-class, professional culture. I don’t know.

If anything, I’m a huge proponent against “defeatist language”. That is, words, accusations, or possibly innuendo used to defeat and/or destroy an individual, your self, or possibly a group of people. IE: I try to avoid using words that tear people down. There’s a great power in words. With words the CEO created the world, James 3 explains the tongue’s power, people bless and curse, and etc. That’s a slightly different subject.

Then again, I’m the guy that believes John the Baptist calling the crowd a “brood of vipers” was an ancient equivalent of “you religious mother-fuckers”. So, maybe there’s an exception with defeatist language when used against the religious establishment.

But christians, who are well known for ripping people to shreds with back-biting gossip and destroying individuals in a deacon’s business meeting, absolutely shudder and shame a person into oblivion if “fuck” is uttered within a distant earshot.

Why? It’s as if the offender loses all credibility forever. No forgiveness whatsoever. The offender might as well cease to exist with the offended. Persona non grata.

U2’s lead singer is a famous example. The guy, to my knowledge, claims to follow Jesus, writes and sings songs that have multitudes of wealthy westerners rethinking social injustice for the first time ever, and uses his fame to help relieve poverty and its related ills around the world. Yet if the guy utters “fuck” a half-dozen times during some banal awards ceremony, the christians disown him like he never existed.

Why is that?

One of the latest and most common christian responses to cussing is something along the lines of “if you say something on the forbidden list, you truly are unintelligent”. Why is intelligence held in high esteem? I didn’t know being smart was a prerequisite of faith.

Man, those poor mentally handicapped people. I hope they enjoy hell.

This response from christians, like others they come up with, are just 1) a nervous response to a culture they are uncomfortable with, thus they try to belittle the offender into a defensive posture while simultaneously removing the offender’s ability to cuss back in response and 2) a manipulative and strong-armed tool to “get those around me to align themselves with my beliefs and practices”.

Believers shouldn’t manipulate anyone into some sort of action or behavior. They should only model the behavior they value. The CEO doesn’t twist people’s arms. Why should we?


Beth said...

I think the frantic taboo about a rather short list of words among (some) American Christians has a lot to do with lack of informed exposure to other languages and cultures. Example: in French, the very very worst cuss word is "Name of God," which sounds like nothing here. Once you get used to that kind of dissonance, it's hard to attribute any objectivity to the notion of some specific sequence of letters always being intrinsically wrong or shocking.

I'm completely with you about not using language to hurt or demean, and some cussing definitely does that -- I hear a lot of it on my street -- but not all.

I haven't seen the kind of Christian dismissal of Bono for behavioral trivialities that you refer to as much in the past few years as I used to. But I do like Eugene Peterson's comment about this particular issue: "I think that's the way Irish Christians talk."

Tangerinetinselbreeze said...

I think part of it has to do with the images certain words place at the forefront of your mind. If you say "Bitch" to someone that lives in the Christian box, it does not mean a female dog in heat. It is a woman of ill repute to which no "in the box" religious woman would want to be identified with or for that matter religious man would admit to thinking of an "easy" woman of choice in his mind. We all know that thinking of sexually explicit things is not necessarily a road to purity, so why would utterance be any different to some people. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. is, according to wilkipedia a false etymological explanation. But- when I hear it I can't help but get a visual. Maybe I just need to pray more. And maybe you like saying it cause it gets a rise outta people. Either way I think it is one of those alcohol like things, are you goanna offend your weaker brother or just piss him off. This is one of those posts I have to chew on.

Leanne said...

You're making me cry here, B.

I had a pastor's wife at the church I just left tell me, "You sure have the Holy Spirit about you even if you do have a dirty mouth."

Granted, this woman has issues and "slapped" me down as much as I was willing to let her until I saw how scared and sad she really was, but still..........

You know what was so funny? I had just finished talking to her and had used words like, "freaking" and "hacked off" and a few other "christian" cuss words.

I was so proud of myself for having censored my words over the previous 2 years and her this lady discounted me and treated me as if I were as ugly as the "dirty words" I had just said.

I dunno.

I also am bothered by those who say cussing is a sign of unintelligence. On the one hand, they have a point. There are many words in the english-or any for that matter-language. I can do w/out the same 4 letter words repeated every other sentence myself.

However, there are times when "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a silver bowl", right?

Yeah, I went off on a tangent.

But what about the whole "having to answer to God for every word ever spoken" thing?

Think there is an accountability thing to what we say and the use of cuss words?

Leanne said...

Trish made a good point, too. I have certain images or visuals attached to certain words. Maybe because I didn't grow up in the church or middle class professional bubble.

When I hear certain words I KNOW how ugly they really are and it makes me feel dirty.

Hah-back to Romans 14 for me, huh?

Deana Watson said...

I think it's a cultural thing. When I watch British movies and they say "Fooking" this and "Fooking" that it CRACKS me up! But if I see a Hollywood Blockbuster using the word every other sentence I'll turn the movie off.

I don't throw the F-bomb because I don't think it sounds right coming out of my mouth. In every day conversation. Now I have used it in certain situations that I was very very angry...and I think that's where it turns "bad". When using words out of anger.

mike said...

the lack of intelligence thing is total bullshit. i mean, fuck dude. i am one of the smartest people i know and i cuss like a construction worker. plus, it seems to me that the people who make the biggest fucking stink about "bad words" are the most ignorant back-ass-ward fucks around. they also believe that people walked with dinosaurs, that men are "above" women, that the devil will leap into your belly if you drink booze, and a litany of other stupid things.

i for one think it requires a great verbal intelligence to be able to string together a set of "bad words" in such a way as to make a point. they are just fucking words people, get the fuck over it. seriously, don't these folks have something better to do with their time?

Agent B said...

Beth -

Yeah, other languages & cultures is a huge factor.

My wife is Canadian and is fluent in French. She noted that all of the french cuss words revolved around god or christianity where as american cuss words revolve around sex or body parts.

I think she said the french word for chalice (as in "the cup of christ") is one such example.

Agent B said...

Tang -

Visual. Good point.

And...not to insult your reading ability, but just in case you or anyone missed it, this report was not so much PRO cussing as it was ANTI judgment. That was really my main point.

Another point I didn't make is...if we are called to "the lost", then hearing words like fuck might be something we need to get use to. Flinching every time it's uttered will blow your cover.

Agent B said...

Leanne -

Your pastor's wife proves my point of using the manipulative tool to get you to become the way she thinks followers of christ should be.

I'm sure the HS will tell you what to say and not say. And...if you ignore it or mess up, there's always next time. And forgiveness.

Agent B said...

Deana -

Honest, I'm not a big fan of ultra cussing movies either. I still haven't seen "Good Will Hunting" because I couldn't get through the first 5 minutes. I feel weird to state that publicly...

But then again, I'm not a big fan of movies period. Or TV. Or anything popular and media-related...

Agent B said...

Mike -

You cuss LIKE a construction worker?

You ARE a construction worker.

Leanne said...

*kicks herself for resisting the urge to comment when she had the chance*

I was gonna say that, B!

Re. getting used to the "lost" and their language, you are dead on. I have a friend-my best friend, actually-who censors herself around me ALL the time.

When I became a Christian things got weird and as she's seen me change and realizes that I'm serious, she clams up around me.

Probably 'cause I was acting like that pastor's wife w/out even realizing it. We turned a big page when I called her up about 6 months ago and just spilled my guts about how freakin' hard it was to be a Christian and how sick and tired I was of living in the church bubble and how much I missed having FUN.

In that conversation, I swore and she was shocked. I didn't swear to show her I was still "cool" as much as that was what came out of my mouth and heart and what was real at the time.

It showed her I wasn't perfect or even trying to be. She still will apologize and censor herself. Sometimes I tell her to "shut up and get over it" and sometimes I remain quiet and let my silence tell her what I want to say.

All that to say, the judgement thing is dead on. I have heard vile, vile things come out of my own mouth while wearing the banner of God. Sometimes I've even cussed, too ;)

Leanne said...

"and there is always forgiveness"

that made me smile, B.

Tangerinetinselbreeze said...

I can completely relate to the anti judgment message. You are right. Most churchy people do live in Christianese bubbles that are not relevant to a lost world. I was thinking a lot about this last night, trying to relate. I am an oddball- I feel comfortable in many situations a lot of people could not feel comfortable in, yet I don't ever feel at home in the city I live in.
And - no offense taken.

Matthew said...

On Profanity

RCM- Steve said...

Growing up, my sisters and I got our mouths washed out with soap if we said a cuss word. So it was with some delight (and some latent guilt) when I became an adult and had the freedom to use "naughty" words. I don't believe it has ever got out of hand, but sometimes I get convicted to clean up my speech, especially around certain people. This is not really a bother since I care about others' feelings. However, if they start lecturing me about being such a poor christian, I like to tell them to get off their high horse.

BTW, do you know that there is a difference between swearing and cussing. I, like many I know, didn't know the difference to my 80 something year old grandmother explained it to me.

Leanne said...

the email isn't working.

ali said...

Ooooh...where to start....

I definitely agree that "cussing" is wrong when used to hurt or degrade someone. However, I would be just offended at being told to "shut up" as being told to "shut the fuck up". I also think that "fuck" (when used as an adjective) is the best word ever!

Also, swearing can be therapeutic. If I scream and swear at people in traffice, in the confines of my vehicle where they cannot hear me, it's much healthier for everyone involved. The other option would be if I put my car in park, ripped the offending person out of their vehicle, and stomped on their face like I really wanted to.

I must also mention that one of my most respected pastors (you know who you are, Gentry!) has said "fuck" during many a sermon.