Friday, September 15, 2006

Blankety-Blank Blank

Okay, who hasn't at some point used a "colorful" word. I just slammed by thumb in a door - @#!&!. That $@#!$# driver just cut me off. This world is seriously !@$#!$ up. Whether in anger or through deliberate choice, just about everyone has let slip the unspeakable. Think of Ralphie in A Christmas Story, bar of soap firmly implanted in his mouth. Think Sarge or General Halftrack in the "Beatle Bailey" comics. We are taught that it is wrong, both by society and by parental advice. And yet, both society and parents act hypocritically and used the verboten words. At best, we grow up confused as to the appropriateness of certain words.

Of course, as Christians, we are called to be above this all. Paul implores us to let to "unwholesome talk" proceed from our mouths in Ephesians 4:29. The use of such foul language is more than socially inappropriate, it is sinful and disgraceful before God. But, there are multiple cases of rather frank descriptive words in the Bible. For example, Paul (half in jest, I think) wishes that those who demand circumcision would just go all the way and castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12). In
Isaiah 64:6, our righteousness is described as "filthy rags" (NIV) or a "filthy garment" (NASB) as compared to God's righteousness - yet the accurate translation of this toned-down passage would be to say our righteousness is like a dirty Tampon (literally, a menstrual rag - yuck!).

What is the point of this meandering on vulgarity? I'm glad you asked. It so happens that, lately, it seems that every time I turn around I am hearing or seeing something about cussin' Christians. Whether it is President Bush letting it rip when he thinks he's off the air, the Christian artist peppering lyrics with harsh or vulgar language, or the brother or sister I know so well whose tongue is loosed, it has been a topic of conversation lately. There was even a recent article about this in
Christianity Today's Music section. The bulk of contemporary Christian artists toe the line, and avoid controversy, by keeping their lyrics unobjectionable. Then you have a few like Derek Webb and Todd Agnew who incorporate words and phrases that, while not vulgar, are certainly considered impolite because of the frankness of their description. Christian stations avoided Webb's "Wedding Dress" (from She Must and Shall Go Free) because he described us - we sinful, frail people - as "whores" and "bastard" children. Todd Agnew's song "My Jesus" talks about how Jesus spent his time with "thieves and sluts and liars" and was passed over to avoid the controversy of one word. Both artists used the words as defined, and were truthful in the pictures they painted with these words; and yet, these are not the words of polite society, not the words we want to be used in description of ourselves, and not the words we want to hear from clean artists.

And then there are the Christian artists, both in CCM and in secular music, who intentionally (with the great thought and consideration that goes into the writing process) include vulgarities in their lyrics. An occasional f-bomb here, the s-word there, all used to punctuate their point. Artists such as Over the Rhine, U2, Bruce Cockburn (a founder of the Jesus music revolution in the 70s), and Pedro the Lion all profess their spirituality and devotion to Christ, fill their music with heavenly themes, and pop in the odd cuss word. What are we to make of these? What of their stated devotion to Christ if their well-honed words embrace the ways of the world?

The basic question for some comes down to what is a curse word. What is a vulgarity, if not something that is not used in society? So some will say that these words find such common use that they no long are tainted, dirty, but are simple words. The Christianity Today article gives results of an on-line poll they conducted asking the question of the appropriateness of profanities and found that "64 percent of voters feel that profanity is always inappropriate in the music they listen to, while 29 percent said it depends on the context, and another 6 percent are completely unfazed by profanity." So, it basically comes down to about a two-thirds split among (likely predominately Christian) voters believing that profanities can be appropriately used in music. And then their is the issue of "soft" profanities, such as that alternate word for either a donkey or your rear end or that female-dog word. These find much more common acceptance in both secular and Christian circles.

To make a case for the colorful artists, come would say that the have the right to express themselves in a way that most accurately conveys their thought. But I would ask, as professed Christians, who should they be expressing? The author of the Christianity Today article (Russ Breimeier) does take a stand in the end. He concludes that some words, such as the f-bomb and s-word, simply have no "correct" use, as in Webb's choice of "whore" and "bastard." Their definitions are widely known and are not "nice ones"; they are used for their shock value rather than description.

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to argue with me, but I would concur with Breimeier that profanities have no place in Christian lives, much less in Christian music. I would also concur that the uses to which Derek Webb and Todd Agnew have used impolite words is warranted - this is stripping the veneer off of our white-washed tombs to let the dirt and filth be honestly seen. I would also say that the use of soft profanities is not the sign of a changing cultural acceptance but the misuse of words properly meaning something entirely different; thus the soft profanities should not proceed from the mouths and hearts of sons and daughters of Jehovah.

To conclude, I would like to present a skit that was often performed by my college group, the Aggies for Christ. In it, a father and young boy are sitting in a living room, with the child playing with his toy truck and the dad engrossed in the paper/work/TV/whatever. In his play, the child rams the truck into daddy's foot, to which the father responds "Blankety-blank blank cussword obscenity!" The scene continues with the child playing and again hitting dad with the truck. The response is the same; "Blankety-blank blank cussword obscenity! I've told you to be careful and don't do that!" The boy then goes on playing, ramming his own hand with the truck and exclaiming "Blankety-blank blank cussword obscenity!" The father is shocked and angry at hearing this from his son and tells him "Only a man can say those words." The son, with confusion and innocence on his face, asks his father "But, daddy, wasn't Jesus a man?"

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Anne said...

James 3:3-12

3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.

See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. NKJV

I became a Christian 6 years ago. Prior to that time I was a pro at the use of "colorful words". I stopped pretty much completely upon my conversion. BUT, I still used euphemisms such as "Jiminy Crickets", etc. I noticed that I said these with the same inflections and the same intentions as I did with other not so clean words. To me, the issue comes down to self control. Can we "keep" ourselves from reacting in an inappropriate manner? In our family, we don't allow even the simplest of euphemisms. If my kids ask me about a word or they say a word we don't think is proper we just simply remind them that if you don't hear Mommy or Daddy saying it then it's not appropriate. We don't usually hear it again from them.

I'm even a stickler about "gosh". That word is tossed about without the simplest of a thought. I just cringe every time I hear it.

I take it you like to listen to Christian music. I didn't know this was a worry within this genre. I tend to stick with Bluegrass music - I don't usually have to worry about my kids hearing things I consider inappropriate. I'm pretty particular about the "type" of Christian music out there - I prefer a more reverent form.

By the way, good post - thought provoking.

euphrony said...

Thanks for your comment and compliments. I listen to just about everything, music-wise. It is fair to say that I am a fan of music, not of any specific genre. In fact, my life has its own soundtrack (all in my mind). I noticed in your profile that you like Dar Williams - I don't own any of her music, but I have heard many of her songs and I like her, as well. (Look, you found someone else who knew who she was by name!) I also listen to a lot of bluegrass, Christian, classical, Celtic, pop, rock, metal, etc. and have a fair collection of each.

I didn't mention euphemisms in my post (I was writing a note, not a book, after all), but you are right that for all intents and purposes they are the same as the profanities. Only, in this case, it is not the word but the intent of the speaker. "Gosh" is not allowed in our house, though it is one my wife fights with. We cringe whenever we hear it said around our 3-year old girl.

It is not surprising that not a lot of people know about the "cussin' Christians" in music. The standard CCM station does a thorough job of researching and censoring without the general listening audience being aware they do so. I listen to a lot of internet-served music stations that are not so discriminating, and I also read a lot, so I catch more of what goes on then many. It troubles me, this laxness and willingness to do whatever to grab attention or make a point.

Chaotic Hammer said...

I certainly can't argue with the Scriptures, or the general idea that edifying, wholesome, and Godly speech should be the standard stuff that flows out of our mouths when we are Christ-followers.

But I feel like I have a completely different sense of this than what you are talking about, and the article is talking about.

Both you and the article make the distinction -- and a good one at that, I think -- that carefully thought out and deliberately repeated lyrics are a far cry from daily speech patterns. I'd like to look mostly at our speech patterns for purposes of this discussion, since that's closer to home for all of us, and doesn't attempt to discuss professional musicians and other "pop culture" issues.

It's an interesting phenomenon, and one that I've observed many times -- many people who lived as unbelievers (non-Christians for purposes of this discussion) had language that was heavily peppered with foul and vulgar language (for me personally, it was almost literally every second or third word out of my mouth -- quite offensive), but after being Born Again, that's one of the first visible outward changes -- a person no longer feels right using such language. A certain amount of that is socializing and training, meaning the expectations of your new "church friends" include that you will not continue using vulgar language, but that you should instead use more "family friendly" language.

But more than those expectations, I'd say that there really is a certain heart change that brings this about. When you use those sorts of words, you hear your own voice afterwards and realize that they just sort of hang there in the air -- awkward, foreign, no longer a reflection of what you feel inside. And so naturally over time, those words appear less and less, and the contents of a new heart begin to make an outward manifestation in our speech.

However, and this is where I think I'd differ or disagree with you, I don't feel nearly as strongly about certain words being a bad thing and certain words being a good thing as you seem to ("you" being plural, meaning Euphrony, the author of the Christianity Today article you cited, and even your commenter Anne). I don't really have a specific list of words that I consider "unacceptable". Sure, some bad words are obvious, and have no place in civil conversation, even among those who are unbelievers. There's a certain social decorum that seems reasonable to most men of good conscience.

But I believe that for the most part, words are just neutral carriers of content, and it's that content that really makes or breaks the words -- not the words themselves. For example, I believe that a person can have a conversation with another person, and without using a single "bad word", or any sort of forbidden or vulgar speech, can say things that absolutely crush the spirit of that person, slicing the heart open and causing deep, horrible wounds that may take years to heal. Now THOSE are profane and vulgar words. Those would be unwholesome and not edifying -- and that's the main reason we should choose carefully what we say. Offending somebody's delicate sensibililities regarding the possible inappropriateness of certain phrases or words -- relatively minor stuff in my book. As I said, the words that come out are a reflection of what is in the heart, so what's the point in putting a legalistic list in front of people and expecting them to abide by it?

I know that sounds like a very permissive attitude, and you may very well object that you don't want children, who listen closely and then repeat what they hear, exposed to so much vulgarity. And I would agree that children in the care of adults are a reasonable exception to my statement regarding legalism and "forbidden words". But we're not talking about children, we're talking about conversations between adults, and the ideas being conveyed by the words we choose.

I also believe that "taking the Lord's name in vain" has nothing at all to do with using some form of God or Jesus as part of a curse-word expression. To me, it's much more serious business to be tacking the name Jesus, or especially Christian, onto so many things and believing that doing so somehow sanctifies those things or makes them better. I know I'll have a lot to answer for when I meet my Maker, but I wouldn't want to have to be the one answering for being a crook or huckster of some sort who used the name Jesus as a merchandising tool, or for some sort of personal gain, when I didn't really mean it. I wouldn't want to be the one who used "I'm a Christian" as a justification for ungodly decisions as a political leader, for example, and I tremble at the thought of being held accountable for what I have done with what I've been given. To me, these are the examples of what using the Lord's name in vain is talking about.

There is also another kind of legalism regarding certain words that is common today -- it's commonly called "political correctness". There's a lot of confusion about this, too, because it seems like it's mostly people with a different morality than the standard Judeo-Christian one who seem to be the keepers of the "political correctness" word list. And once again, I think it's the content of the words that should be the key factor, not the words themselves. There are certain very hurtful racist, sexist, etc. words that have no place in civil conversation. But in this case also, you can have a lenghty conversation staying completely within the legalistic boundaries of using certain words, and still cut somebody's heart completely to shreds using "acceptable words" -- and that's really the point to me.

Maybe I'm wrong, and the Lord needs to show me otherwise. In my personal life (in conversations with my friends, my wife, and my daughter [who is 22 and not a child, by the way] I only use "bad words" for shock value, not in daily conversation. Meaning -- if they hear me using such words, they immediately perk up and know that this is not just an ordinary situation - this means something more extreme is being conveyed. I like having that as an additional form of communicating. When it's every other word out of your mouth, it loses shock value and sounds uneducated, quite frankly. But when you need to say something stronger, you need access to stronger imagery.

So anyway -- I guess that's my take on this whole thing. Great subject and discussion, Euphrony.

euphrony said...

Actually, Hammer, I think that you and I agree about a great deal on this subject. You are absolutly correct that the most benign word can be a killer when said with a hard and sinful heart. This is what Jesus was addressing in Matthew - lust=adultery because it is sin in your heart. I was trying to say as much when talking about using euphemisms.

I would still disagree with you about the use of certain words for emphasis. I'm no legalist, but I think that some words simply do not have an appropriate usage - the very definitions leave the words to convey only hurtful things.

Where I think the article crossed over from the "music world" to the "real world" was in the on-line poll. These are by no means scientific, of course, but it seems to indicate something I have seen in many Christians: both the emphatic use (like you mention) and the indiscriminate use of vulgarity. I would most certainly agree that not all of the vulgarity comes in the form of curse words - I know too many people who simply open their mouths and I cringe. But the well considered use of these words in Christian music has to be symbolic of the audience. The media/entertainment industries do not, as many suppose, lead us down the primrose path: we first blazed the trail, cleared the land, and paved the road that they drive down.

Hammer and Anne, I appreciate both your thoughts. Anyone else out there want to weigh in on this?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'll be a dissenting voice in this one. The words that we consider 'bad' are culturally ingrained. In others, they are not so. I have lived in many parts of our country and world and words mean different things to different people. And yes, that includes our 'cuss' words. We condition ourselves culturally to take offense to words that other people don't blink at.

I've worked for years in the entertainment industry. I have never once had a conversation with someone about cussing. The words we use mean nothing without the content and meaning behind them. On one side of this coin are so-called 'cuss' words. On the other is Christian-ese. Neither set of words means anything apart from the content behind them. As Hammer said, I can have a very 'unwholesome' or 'obscene' conversation without using a single 'cuss' word. I can also have a very uplifting and saving conversation without using meaningless phrases like 'personal relationship with Jesus.' Language is culturally tied and agreed upon. It is only among ourselves, largely in the American South, that we get our panties in a twist over these stupid words. No one else cares. Like I said, I've never had a conversation about cussing with a non-believer.

What we mean has to carry more weight than what we say. Like some of you pointed out earlier, what does 'shoot' mean? What does 'darn' mean? What does 'friggin' mean? Are these anything more than substitutes for 'cuss' words? Don't we mean the same thing when we say them? Don't we have the same intent? If we speak in hate or anger it doesn't matter what words we use. Likewise in love. But I wouldn't consider those words or even 'gosh' a problem at all. It's not sin or any kind of failing to be angry or express shock or frustration verbally. It's how we express those emotions, and I don't mean which words we choose. I mean our actions.

I've also heard that Christians who say 'cuss words' are causing others to stumble. Cussing? Stumbling? Really? Are we talking about a salvation issue here? Paul made those 1 Cor. 8 comments to people who thought their salvation was at stake. That's why it was important. But remember... was their salvation at stake? No! Paul said it was fine to eat the idol meat because a sacrifice to no-god can't hold a curse! The refraining from idol meats was a cultural courtesy.

So do you cuss in front of a Jr. High youth group? Of course not. Is that because you'll set them on the path to hell if you do? No, it's because their parents and our society would consider it inappropriate. That's just being a good leader. To think that we somehow have the power or responsibility to keep all people at all times around us from going wrong is foolish and arrogant. It is the element of knowingly leading someone to their weakness that must be present in order to be 'causing someone to stumble.' We have a pretty high opinion of ourselves if we think we can keep people from screwing up or even from sinning altogether. And again, we're not even talking about a salvation issue here.

It is without a doubt our responsibility to do all within our power to keep from leading those who follow us down any path we know will harm them. But I think we waste our time and theirs by coming up with creative ways to help them stick their fingers in their ears to avoid any offense that we've previously conditioned them to take. How about teaching them how to really engage their generation in this world so that by all means they may save some?

euphrony said...

Just an observation: the bents of the commentors here seem to be a rough microcosm of the statistics from the Christianity Today poll. About half (a majority) believe profanities inapproptiate at all times. Two minority opinions hold that profanities are either useful in select application or are useful at any time. Maybe the results of their poll are pretty decent, eh?

Cach, I'll continue to disagree with you. I'm not warming up a fire for you, but I don't think you're right on this.

erinlo said...

Good post. I wrote a post last year about the same topic and it had quite a different angle. I think there is an occasional time and place for a curse word or two.

I believe that when Jesus (in John 2) enters the temple and finds it being used as a shopping mall- probably used a few choice words to get their attention.

I think there are several instances when Jesus may have used a curse word or two. Not from being "out of control" but from being completely in control and knowing he needed to do something to get the attention of the offenders.

In my own daily life, I certainly have moments when I use a curse word out of impatience or pain.....or just plain sin. However, there are also times when I carefully use a word that I know will get the attention of my husband or a friend.

For instance, when Jeff calls me from work and asks how my day has been if I say, "It's not been good," it doesn't mean nearly as much as "I've been in a bitchy mood all day today and I need your prayers."

I am not a "pottymouth" so when I use a word like that, Jeff knows it's pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for dropping by. I guess you're working on getting into a post-Vietnam-now-have-a-toddler blogging phase.

And I think you just threw my microcosm comparison to the poll results out the window. Oh, well. I said in the first place that it wasn't scientific.

My Magic Word - eaueoavu: from French, to say "I love you" with a very thick accent - I don't normally get into the magic word on a more serious post, but this one was too good to pass up.

Anonymous said...

Cach, since I've also lived in other countries, I agree.
I am a strong believer in the power of language and don't like to see it abused. But I don't think James 3 means we should have a culturally defined list of words we don't say.

Last month, I watched Andy Garcia's movie "The Lost City" about the revolution in Cuba. After watching it and being sickened by what happened, I came home and immediately put in the U2 DVD "Rattle and Hum". In the middle of performing "Sunday Bloody Sunday", Bono gave a speech that reportedly won him a position on several death lists. He said:
And let me tell you something... I've had enough of Irish-Americans who haven't been back to their country in 20 or 30 years, come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. And the glory of the revolution. And the glory of dying for the revolution.

F*ck the revolution!

They don't talk about the glory of killing for the revolution...

What's the glory... in taking a man from his bed, and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where's the glory in that? Where's the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old-age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where's the glory in that? To leave them dying.... or crippled for life... or dead... under the rubble... of a revolution... that the majority of the people in my country don't want.

If Bono had said "I don't think I like the revolution" or "hey, we should stop the revolution", it wouldn't have been saying nearly the same thing. So while I'm against the indiscriminate use of strong words, I'm also against having a list of 'bad words'.

euphrony said...

Stephen said - If Bono had said "I don't think I like the revolution" or "hey, we should stop the revolution", it wouldn't have been saying nearly the same thing.

You're right, Stephen, it would not have been the same as saying "f- the revolution". But when you write it and read it that way, it comes across as mealymouthed and the flaccid opinion of an undecided rube. It is very possible to speak, and speak powerfully in a way the leaves the audience rapt and cut to the quick, without using coarse language.

Saying "f- the revolution" strikes a nerve, makes it raw, and elicits an immediate reaction. The long-term effects are not nearly so great because the response was reflexive and not the result of a person being changed in their core. (Think inciting a mob to riot.) Why should we, as Christians, seek to speak in ways that results predominately in reactions and not in inward change? Why should we prompt an immediate, but usually shallow, emotional response with a choice profanity when we can speak with the Spirit's tongue and move men's hearts, not just their hands?

And I'm tossing that Christianity Today poll out the window. Bye bye!

euphrony said...

By the way, Stephen, thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I have popped in to your blog a few times and found your thoughts to be good.

There have been some good comments here. I appreciate the discussion.

Seth Ward said...

So maybe one could provide a list of what is "profanity" and what is not. Maybe, while they are at it, they could include the style of clothing that one should wear and how one should cut their hair. Then maybe include make-up guidelines, books one should read, movies acceptable to watch...

Then you just might have the proper formula for...


No seriously. I wonder what the list of acceptable words would look like? Maybe that could be next vote at the Southern Baptist Convention. "What "cuss" words could get you removed from your Foreign Missionary Appointment?"

Euprhony, I appreciate the way you approach this subject. I have heard it approached with much less grace before. I disagree with you on some things but that is a-okay. But I also agree on plenty.

In general I don't like much in Art that is there simply to "Shock" me. I look and listen for honesty and I usually find it when I am NOT looking for it or noticing the lack of it. Sometimes honesty isn't pretty.

It is different than the mentality of “oooohhh look at me I am going to say the "f" word and that makes me a COOOL a Christian...that makes YOU a 'COOL' Christian for thinking its COOOOL..." However, when I read something by Bono, an Irish-Catholic Rockstar from Dublin who is totally passionate about Christ and his faith, I am not bothered in the slightest. More non-Christians read and were influenced by his Rolling Stone interview where his testimony (POWERFUL) was laid out peppered with some "cuss" words than the 5 non-Christians who accidentally read the Christianity Today article on 'Cuss' words.

To you it might have appeared to be "mealy-mouthed and the flaccid opinion of an undecided rube" but to the average rocking non-believing kid listening to God-knows-what, it came off as "What, I thought Christians were a bunch of tight-arsed stiff-necked hypocrites who are out to point fingers and poop everybody’s party. I thought that was what Christianity was about. Hmmm maybe it’s not about cussing or rules at all..."

I'll also admit, I was quite a bit more pro-"okay with cussing in context" until I found myself writing the story about my dad. After some prayer, I decided to leave them in with a "warning" to the reader.

euphrony said...

When I said "it comes across as mealymouthed and the flaccid opinion of an undecided rube", I was referencing Stephen's alternate for what Bono could have said instead of what he did say. I'm not sure if it can across that way when I wrote it.

For the record, I really appreciate Bono and what he does - about the only "star" out there who I truly believe is passionate about helping people, who is far beyond the photo op awareness raiser and actually gets his hands dirty in helping. I certainly have not wanted to degrade or marginalize any of the above-mentioned artists, and I hope that has been clear. Just raising a discussion on an issue relevant to Christians: something we need to periodically think about, not just take an opinion and run with.

My only regret in this post is not being able to find a picture of Ralphie from A Christmas Story with the bar of soap in his mouth.

Seth Ward said...

LOVE that movie. Sorry for the misread. I have to stop reading after 1:00 a.m. Also, on the re-read, my response sounded pretty smartarsed. I was not implying that you were in fact, a church lady. HA!

Sorry, for the pizza response over here, but I have tried and love Star's pizza. I will try the other soon. Thanks for the tip.

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