Christians Should Swear More

Caring about the words we say blinds us to the feelings we hurt.
Dear younger Christians, 
You don't have to say "fuck" to be authentic.
This is what I think every time I read another impassioned angst piece by one of my fellow post-evangelical writers. Even worse is when the younger evangelical ones throw in the milder "pissed off" as if this somehow validates their indignation and scolds those crotchety old souls who don't care enough about whatever it is that matters to say the not-as-naughty words.

It's childish and all for effect. In a culture where swearing is as ubiquitous as breathing, no one wants to be the prude who says "ticked off". But it's deeper than playground acceptance and the ever urgent need to be cool. Younger Christians swear to distance themselves from their parents.

Whether it's their culture or their faith or both, many of us don't want to be anything like the previous generation. We saw through the thin veneer of their holiness code and dubbed all such rules hypocrisy and legalism. We were going to be different. We started smoking and drinking, got tattoos and picked up four-letter words as a second language. We became authentic.

There's a crumb of theology in there worth chewing on, but it's still the same game that kids have played with their parents for generations: everything they told us not to do, we did.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy fine, Trappist ales with a good cigar as much as the next guy. And those who know me well, know I enjoy trading creative barbs laced with obscenities because I'm sick and I think being mean is funny. But I also recognize that things aren't the problem; people are.

For the love of all that is malty and delicious, there is no such thing as a bad word. Words are just abstractions, vehicles for ideas. They make excellent scapegoats for our aversion to responsibility but ultimately, words don't hurt people, meaning does. And that means swearing is not a sin any more than communication is.

If you didn't catch that, I just gave you license to use any word you want. So say fuck shit damn it all to hell to your heart's content because they're just combinations of letters awaiting the meaning you assign them. Just don't say them in public.

We may rightly say that holiness isn't dependent on what we don't say (like avoiding certain words), but we're apt to forget that it does depend on what we do say. And since we decided that meaning is what matters, not words, then we also have to consider what certain words mean to others.

For some of us (me included), swearing is delightfully amusing. But for others, it's crass and inappropriate. There's no right or wrong here; again, it's a matter of assigned meaning. Thus, in Christ, we have the freedom to do or not do as our consciences confess.

However, swearing in front of someone who doesn't share your amusement is like wagging your liberty in their face. If a lewd image just popped into head, good. Because that's how disgusting it is to parade your selfishness around like a dollar store trophy.

By allowing all words, we're focusing more on ourselves and less on others. For a generation that claims to be more loving and compassionate, that's a pretty underwhelming report card. It's also thoroughly and unequivocally un-Christian. Our first and foremost priority is the needs of others, so kindly keep the expletives to yourself and those who appreciate them (message me on Twitter @alexbersin).

At this point, it's tempting to come full circle and declare that those words aren't worth the effort so we might as well avoid them entirely as our parents directed. They aren't worth the effort.

Maybe words aren't worth the effort, but people certainly are.

If you think that a limited vocabulary will keep your tongue in check, you gravely underestimate the creativity of your selfishness. In fact, some of the vilest things I've ever heard have come from Christians who don't swear.

When I worked in Christian radio, I once took a call from a lady who was upset about a Kirk Franklin song we played. And while it's annoying that white people still find black gospel music irreverent, it was the term she used to describe it that was offensive: jungle music. She called music made by black people jungle music.

The worst part is she didn't have a clue how awful she was being. As far as she was concerned, her obscenity-free speech was holy and blameless. Indeed, we're more likely to feel holy based on a checklist rather than actually be holy by considering the feelings of others.

Part of the problem is that many of us think there's a verse that supports a verbal checklist--the one about letting no unwholesome word come out of our mouths. However, we spend so much time trying to define what those unwholesome words are that we ignore the answer in the rest of the verse: any word that does the opposite of building others up according to their needs.

Our speech is an extension of our love. And like love, it's not a one-size-fits-all formula but a daily and exhausting concession to everyone else's needs. That's why by banning certain words, we're still focusing more on ourselves and less on others. Instead, we ought to do things that require us to use discretion. Things that require us to consider others. Maybe even things like swearing.

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