A Christian’s Perspective on "Cursing"

As my long-time reader(s) will know, I sometimes like to play it fast and loose with my vocabulary. Once or twice, this has landed me in some hot water. I’ve never really understood why some people think it’s an original sin to say words they *might* censor on television (depending on which channel you’re watching). I’ve also never figured out why those who ARE offended take so much time to complain about it when there are so many other options of things to watch/read/listen to/do that don’t involve “cursing.” Seems like it takes more energy to get mad about something like that than it does to just change the channel or avoid clicking over to a blog, y’know? …but maybe this is just the George Carlin fan in me talking

People occasionally ask me how I reconcile using “off colour” language with being a Christian. My answer is that I don’t think the former affects the latter, so I don’t have to reconcile anything…but that usually just pisses people off. Instead, I have developed a hermeneutically (look it up) sound theory on language that I base on the way Bible translations are developed. Follow me on this… Here are some examples of how the translators of the Bible have shaped the Greek words of the text into English.

1. There are three Greek words for “love.” One implies lust, or erotic love. One implies fellowship or brotherhood. The last describes perfect, all-consuming love–most frequently used to describe the unconditional love of God. The English translators almost universally have decided to translate the first one in some way to imply “fornication” (though that is not always its intention), often referring to sex as “knowing” someone–and how they arrived at that is anyone’s guess. However, what fascinates me is that the latter two words for “love” are virtually always translated simply as “love” with no mention of their specific connotations–two words with different meanings, translated the same way. This has led to some misconceptions in the Bible. For example, when Jesus re-instates Peter, He–according to the English–asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” All three times, Peter replies (essentially) “Yes, You know that I love You.” However, what the English leaves out is that the first two times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him with the unconditional love of God, and Peter’s actual reply is “Yes, You know that I love You as a brother.” The THIRD time, Jesus asks, “Peter, Do you love me AS A BROTHER” and Peter replies, “Yes, You know I love You as a brother.” This implies that Peter could not say to Jesus that he loved Him with unconditional love, but instead loved Him as a brother. Kind of changes how you view the First Pope, doesn’t it?

2. Another example… Somehow, the English translators created the word “Baptism.” The Greek word for it is “baptitzo” (or a similar such spelling). Sound familiar? That’s because, under the order of King James, they didn’t bother translating the word, but just came up with a word that sounded the same. They invented new language–and don’t get me wrong, that DOES kind of impress me. Why? Because King Henry did not like the meaning of the real word, as he did not practice baptism by immersion, but rather by sprinkling…because the actual Greek word LITERALLY means “to dip, plunge, immerse.” As such, we’ve had arguments about baptism splitting the church for years and years…but not based on the MEANING of baptism (as was argued in the Bible in Corinthians), but rather on the method. Shame.

3. One more example of interesting Bible translation… There has been bitter dispute in the church for many, many years over whether or not there are good, Biblical reasons for divorce outlined in the Bible. What justifies a divorce? Well, people point to Jesus’ words where He says (in the English translations) that the only reason for divorce is “marital unfaithfulness” (meaning one party or another had an affair). The only problem is that Jesus never said that. Jesus used the word “pornea” as the reason for divorce (and, yes, this is where we get our root for “pornography”). Pornea does not translate to mean “marital unfaithfulness.” It translates to mean “idolatry.” Idolatry could mean any NUMBER of things. Unfaithfulness, mistreatment, abuse, loving football more than your wife, her just plain not liking the look of you…this can ALL be idolatry. Once again, language has failed us.

Now, I offer two secular re-workings of language.

1. The word “faggot.” We know this word today to be a hateful word to describe homosexuals, or just as a general term of abuse hurled from one straight person to another, often in good fun. However, this is a word that was born in English, and whose meaning has changed within the lifetime of some of those still walking the Earth. It used to mean “a small bundle of sticks.” It was kindling, used to stoke a fire. If the fire was going out, you’d throw another faggot on the fire. If you do that now, you just piss off the GLAAD people and give Pat Robertson an erection. (Just a side note: I accidentally misspelled that as GLADD a moment ago…Gays and Lesbians Against Drunk Driving, I guess…)

2. The word “ass.” Used to mean donkey. Now it’s your rear-end and/or a sexual euphemism. Shoot, this one’s in the Bible too, actually. My personal favorite is when Abraham instructed his men to stay with his ass as he went up the mountain…and let’s not forget Balaam’s talking ass. In English, we used it to refer either to a donkey, or to refer to someone making a fool (or ass) of themselves. But time has changed that one, too.

So, let’s bring this all together. Both religious and secular culture have agreed that words may be changed, adapted, or even completely ignored in order to express the direct intent of the person speaking–often completely disregarding the original intent of the word and/or the person who spoke it. So…if faggot can mean homosexual and/or sticks…If ass can mean donkey, fool, or butt…If “baptize” can mean sprinkle, immerse, or just be a symbol…if love has only one definition, unless it’s dirty…If all that’s allowable…

What’s so bad about saying “the f-word?”

———-

“OFFENSIVE” WORD WARNING…THOSE WHO ARE OFFENDED, PLEASE CLICK AWAY NOW

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Wanna know the definition of the “f-word?” Here it is, right from the Webster people:

Main Entry: 1fuck
Pronunciation: \ˈfək\
Function: verb
Etymology: akin to Dutch fokken to breed (cattle), Swedish dialect fókka to copulate
Date: circa 1503

intransitive verb
1 copulate
2 mess

used with with transitive verb
1 to engage in coitus with —sometimes used interjectionally with an object (as a personal or reflexive pronoun) to express anger, contempt, or disgust
2 to deal with unfairly or harshly : cheat, screw

Anybody find any of that offensive? Me either. Hate to burst your copulating bubble mother-cheaters! Mess you for thinking it’s vulgar!

There are Bible-thumping, Alabama ministers who would not even blink at the way I’ve thus-far used the word in this post–after all, all I’ve done is quote the dictionary. I should point out, by the way, that the good people at the dictionary have left out that it can be a verb, noun, adjective, pronoun, adverb, exclamation, etc. etc. It’s actually probably the most versatile word in the English language…and yet it’s the one we’re the quickest to censor. Hmm…chew on that one for about a half an hour.

Why are we offended by words? If it isn’t because of their definition…it must be because of the REASON they’re said. There’s a difference between someone quoting the dictionary, and a guy who cut you off in traffic rolling down his window and shouting “F**K YOU!!!” At least, to me there is…the latter is mean to be hurtful. It’s MEANT to cause offense. The former is just an attempt to prove a point. That’s why I’m comfortable censoring the latter in my post. I don’t mean to cause offense, so I’ve removed the offensive tone. TONE has everything to do with the effect of language. So I say…let’s not censor words, let’s censor tones.

How about this…if George W. Bush (and no, I’m not going to call him any bad names this time) wants to refer to an irritating reporter as a “major league @$$hole” (which he did…on camera…), we’ll go ahead an censor it. He meant to be hurtful. If he comes out for a formal address and says, “We are going to bomb Iraq,” I think we should censor that, too…after all, what hurts more than a bunker-buster to the skull? (But, to be fair, I guess there aren’t a lot of people around who can answer that.) Seems to me that the war in Iraq has caused more bitter dissension between people in the world over the past six years than any use of the word “fuck” has caused in all the time we’ve been throwing it around. It’s also caused more death, I expect.

…however, if Kevin Smith writes the phrase “Who the fuck would pay to see that?” into a script (which he did in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”), I say we let that one go. Tell me…who does that hurt? Who does it imply hatred toward? Why is it offensive? Because of one word that means, in its primary definition, “copulate?” Can’t be that…can it???

Call me crazy, but I’m much more outraged by the ideas of murder, rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, terrorism, and Jimmy Buffett than I am by someone using the word “fuck” instead of “made love” or “oops.” But maybe that’s me.

So…as a Christian (that’s where this started, right?) I have absolutely no problem with “profane” words, because they’re just WORDS. I have a much bigger problem with profane actions…and I’ve based that on scriptural interpretation methods. Even if you want to throw the “taming of the tongue” stuff from the Bible at me, I say they are not specifically talking about “curse” words in that passage (though I can see where you could get that). I’m thinking they’re saying, “Don’t use your words to hurt people.” Go ahead…read it. Show me where it says, “don’t say fuck.” It doesn’t. Doesn’t even imply it, really. (I was going to deal with that text more thoroughly, but this is already long enough, so I’m going to assume you’ll do some of your own work.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would never use certain words in front of the congregation on Sunday morning. That’s not because I think they’re “profane,” but because I recognise that OTHERS think that, and I do not want to offend them…but if I’m hanging out with my band, or just sitting around the house, or even writing on my blog, I may choose to use some of those words because they don’t offend ME, and they don’t offend anyone I’m with (unless I’m using them in a hateful or hurtful way). …and if anyone IS offended, I can easily go to a different room, choose different words…or (GASP!) they can be the bigger person and either cope with it, or click away from the blog-entry. No need to be confrontational about it…

They’re just words.

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2 thoughts on “A Christian’s Perspective on "Cursing"”

  1. And the church said,…
    …”Amen!
    We’ve been talking about this at work quite a bit for two reasons:

    ~~George Carlin R.I.P.
    ~~Our clients are cursing at us quite a bit lately (don’t ask).

    I agree with you quite a bit here. But I have to say that it gets a little different when you have kids and you start worrying about them saying bad words. It’s not that your naive enough to believe they never will, but you want to keep it far into the future.

  2. You’ve got a very good point about kids. I certainly wouldn’t go around cursing in front of someone’s kid…partially just because of the stigma society has about cursing. Same vein as not cursing in front of those I know would be offended. And, of course, the last thing I want is for my niece’s first word to be “dirty.” I’m pretty sure my sister-in-law would not be happy! 🙂

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