Sunday, 18 March 2007

Oh Bother

I am a Christian, and sometimes I swear.

I was in the car with Priss listening to Rootless Tree by Damien Rice the other day, and I warned her that it had some 'rude words' in it. Sure enough, Damien got very upset, and in the chorus screamed a broken; "F**k you! F**k you! F**k you, and all we've been through!" She asked me whether I thought that he would sing different words if he became a Christian. I think it would be a real shame if he did.

I am a person that loves language. I love words and I love people that really know how to use them. I love the precision of it - that there is usually a perfect word to express that exact thing that you want to say, and I love the giving and recieving of that precision when we communicate. Sometimes I think that exact word has to be a swear word.

Imagine if Damien sang; "Go away! Go away! Go away!" or similar. There just isn't another word or phrase that communicates the pain and rage that he feels towards this ill-loved woman, than the one he has chosen. Trying to put a more socially acceptable word in there is an attempt to sanitize language, but language is not supposed to be hygienic. It describes the world we live in and the world we live in is not pure and lovely. We need words to express that, or it's like pretending that we live in a Walt Disney Mary Poppins bubble.

The world is not 'messed up'. The world is f**ked up. A messed up world is one where some people get sad sometimes - the kind of thing we tell little children when we try to guard them from the truth. The reality is that we live in a fallen world which is ravaged by sin; every concievable thing is spoiled by it and not as it should be. Every single person is fighting a losing battle against themselves from which they are helpless without a saviour. The language we need to describe that is strong and offensive because that is the nature of the thing it describes. We need the visceral percussiveness of that word to say things which make us rage.

Of course there are contexts where this is not true. Of course that word can describe sexual violence, or can be used as a weapon against someone. What makes language wonderful is also what makes it dangerous; it is powerful. We can choose to use words rightly or wrongly, for good or for evil. There's a reason why I've used *s instead of letters, and that's because I want to be sensitive to people that don't agree with me. I'm aware of verses like Colossians 3:8 (But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips) and Ephesians 4:29 (Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs) but surely this is about the context and the intent with which we use words. I don't think it means we speak in a watery way that doesn't express reality. I hope it doesn't mean that Christians don't have access to that precision of communication that others have.

Please don't hear me as saying that I think sermons should be peppered with swear words, or that Christians should regularly be effing all over the place. I know that there is a great inelegance in that, and a high potential for offending someone. I know there are few occasions when a swear word is the right word. All I'm saying is that we should not be afraid of certain words. They don't bite. They are just serving their function.

Anyone that doesn't agree with me can just....go away.

1 comment:

OddBabble said...

I think you have a good point here, and you make it very elegantly. I'm really into the idea of redeeming things that are not nice and turning them round to be more what they could have been... swear words maybe weren't originally part of the plan, but neither was sin and pain, but all are here... so we should use them carefully, but it is naieve to assume that it is never right to use them at all.

(well, that's my two pence worth - or two pounds with allowance for inflation!)

By Anonymous, at Wed Mar 21, 05:50:00 PM 2007

That exact same song got me thinking about the exact same things! Sin is disgusting and we need to call a spade a spade sometimes. Apologies for a shameless plug, but I wrote about the words we use for sin and how it tames us last year. Might be relevant. It's here if you're interested.

By Nathan, at Wed Mar 21, 06:17:00 PM 2007

i swear sometimes.
i like what you've written it clarifies how i feel.

By becci brown, at Wed Mar 21, 09:48:00 PM 2007

Just read your post Nathan, and I love it. That's just the kind of thing I'm talking about.

By OddBabble, at Thu Mar 22, 07:45:00 PM 2007

I get what you're saying, I think: sin is the one thing that can't be described 'nicely' using accepted vocabularly. It's worth noting too that there are 'unacceptable' non-swear words that we can use descriptively: I caused offense by telling students & tutors in the course of an 'Is the Bible sexist?' talk that we don't just do some stuff wrong sometimes: we're all sexual *perverts* (because we all pervert God's design, in our thoughts, desires & attitudes if not in our actions) and the simple use of the accusatory word 'pervert' seemed to actually communicate 'sin'. Anyway - ahem. I just mean to say that there are many unacceptable words we shouldn't be cautious of using.

Then again, the issue with swearing itself (as opposed to using swear *words*) is surely the anger, miscontent, etc., no matter what words we use? Some of my friends & I discussed this as students and decided that our house 'word to issue in moments of annoyance' would be 'pants', because it's so ridiculous that it's very hard to stay selfishly angry/annoyed for very long once you've exclaimed, 'Pants!' It caught on and also reminded us each time that we were to not be selfishly annoyed but thankful to God. Often we use swear words which are serious not to express the seriousness & sinfulness of sin, but to service our sinful emotions/reactions. Then we've got to not just change the word used, but get to the heart of the matter...

By étrangère, at Sat Mar 24, 06:15:00 PM 2007

Yeah, rosemary I agree - i guess thats a different line of thought...when we swear as a curse rather than a description. I guess asking the question what does it look like to be godly and reflect God's character in our language applies both to being honest about our word but also about our sin.

Helpful, thoughtful comment.

By becci brown, at Sat Mar 24, 07:57:00 PM 2007

sorry, 'world', not 'word'

By becci brown, at Sat Mar 24, 08:06:00 PM 2007

That post is the shizzle

By Anonymous, at Sat Mar 24, 08:07:00 PM 2007

just read your post, and its f***ing brilliant.

By Anonymous, at Mon Mar 26, 10:30:00 AM 2007

There seems to be an underlying assuption that language is a morally neutral thing that can be used to express emotions in a moral vacuum. I read it rather differently, these verses seem to make the point that language is not morally neutral but can be used to express our rebellion against God even as they might adequaely and emotively decribe the world we are living in.

Secondly, I don't agree that when Chrsitians choose to avoid using swear words they are creating a Disney/Poppins bubble. Instead we are exercising self control aware that our words are powerful and they expose the nature of our hearts. Why is it any different for the guy avoiding porn who should be commended for controlling himself for the Chrsitian who controls themself from foul language.

I am just not clear why these verses call on us to modify our behaviour if they are morally neutral and useful for desribing our world?

By Andy Weatherley, at Thu Mar 29, 02:55:00 PM 2007