Don’t cuss, drink, smoke or chew, and don’t date girls that do. — A Bible Belt Proverb
Some time ago, The Burner participated in a discussion of theological ideas at a local watering hole, immediately violating 20 percent of the above admonition. The person whom attracted the participants in discussion used some strong language causally as the discussion went on; this practiced was echoed by some in the group. This perturbed another participant to the point that he left the discussion but not before letting the swear-er know that the discussion was disappointing and not “edifying.” The swear-er was either miffed, chastised, surprised or all three.
The mother of TB used to prohibit any use of the word “butt” unless it was used as a verb or with the descriptive “pork.” In the early ’90s, Roseanne was doing it’s best to open up the use of “butt” in conversation while Beavis and Butthead did their part to appeal to the youth of the era. Mother The Burner did not allow TB to watch either show. “Butt” was rebellious and socially risky to use in polite company.
Mother The Burner now says “butt.” Times change.
Wikipedia has a fascinating entry on the topic of profanity. It notes that there has been a recent encouragement by psychologists to use swear words to express pain, anger, or any other extreme emotion. Whether or not Christians should ever swear, this does seem to be the appropriate time (at least for non-Christian pagans) to use these extreme words. They’re there for a purpose like any other linguistic tools: We need words to express our emotions and/or the significance of the situation. Even Brian McLaren says in Naked Spirituality that part of being angry with God is expressing your feelings honestly, even if that means swearing–a seeming new trend in Christianity long threatened by lighting bolts from Heaven. Maybe swearing does have a place.
From the world of media, the FCC has content standards that network television and radio cannot broadcast. There are some certain words on this list (George Carlin famously did an act around it), but The Burner finds it more interesting to read “What Not to Swear,” a survey published in 2010 by the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority, because the results show how ‘bad’ New Zealanders find certain words, and also because other English-speaking countries have some funny cuss words. The point is that governments–worldly, pagan, non-Christian human systems of power–have decided that some words should not be used in public media.
But the boundaries are being pushed, as boundaries are wont to do. The Twitter feed “Sh*t My Dad Says” has over 2 million followers and was made into a CBS sitcom starring William Shatner. While it was panned by critics, it won Favorite New TV Comedy at the People’s Choice Awards in January. Similarly, TB has already blogged about the ABC show this fall called Good Christian B_tches.
This week’s Billboard Hot 100 features Cee Lo Green’s #4 hit “F**k You” and Pink’s #7 hit “F**kin’ Perfect.” Enrique Iglesisas’ #12 “Tonight (“I’m Loving You)” is edited from it’s real version “Tonight (I’m…”) well, you get it.
Green’s song is very peppy and for radio edits has been changed to “Forget You.” It’s a change that sounds a little like a R-rated comedy broadcast on TBS. Pink’s song uses the f-word as an intensifier in encouraging a friend (if you like, watch the disturbing music video to see her encouraging intent–it’s either “purient” and “gratuitous” or “real” and “honest” (TB can’t decide). Iglesias’ use of the f-word doesn’t change the theme of the song to be any different than The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” but it’s radio edit to “Loving” changes an explicit song’s voice from a probable sex predator to a more romantic and amorous (and vigorous!) lover. (Don’t watch that video.)
So these words still have meaning and some importance in our culture, and even if frequent use strips them of both, the FCC still finds them to be important to filter out for public decency.
The Burner will in the next five years punish Burner the Elder and Burner the Younger for saying “ass.” In the next 15 years, TB will start using the same word and think nothing of it.
So while the popular culture is becoming more accepting of swear words, what does the Christian culture do? TB has lost count of how many times his Christian friends and leaders have used swear words in polite conversation–even TB is not innocent. But is it worth cheapening our special words for expressing less than our most violent or intense emotions? Sure, there’s no condemnation…
…but to paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcom, these Christians at the watering hole were so unconcerned with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
What do you think?