I promised a friend that my next blog would be on this subject. This isn’t to say that I’ve gated myself from blogging otherwise; I just thought you would like to know. In fact, I haven’t really had the impetus to write about anything–personal, thoughtful, or otherwise.
But now I am ready to write about profanities–once again. I will introduce two ideas that I find to be very persuading, and then I will provide one counter-argument. I have no idea what I will conclude. This is total stream-of-consciousness-esque.
Idea 1) My friend suggested that, within Christian circles, we have become legalistic in banishing profane and “unwholesome talk” from our lips, that we have become shallow with legalism. What sorts of Pharisees have we become, demanding that our youthful ears nary receive bombs of the f- and s- variations? Are we basing our righteousness or practice of it on those terms? As my friend suggested, we ought to be questioning whether our language is “wholly glorifying to God” instead of questioning, “Can I use this word?” (See this link for part of our Twitter exchange) Consider and reference Romans 14:17 which reads, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…”.
It is certainly an interesting thought to entertain because it really does feel like our parents tell us not to say bad words because… they’re just bad. We’ve adopted the anti-Nike sentiment: Just Don’t Do It. What of the logic behind that command? Why don’t we do it? Where my friend would point you back to his question about wholly glorifying God, I might take this chance to segue into the cultural formation of expletives and profanities.
I don’t know much about the etymology of these words. There is internet-lore that FUCK stood for “Fornication Under King’s Consent” which I think is complete hogwash (or bullshit). Ass is an archaic name (used in a number of Bible translations) that identified the Equus africanus asinus, more commonly known as the ass–I mean, donkey. I don’t know man. These words have a history, and I think we’d be remiss in banishing these words without a stronger knowledge of their origins. Which leads to…
Idea 2) If we knew the etymology of these profanities, we would be better informed on how to use them. This is to say that my second idea is that these words have a proper use. Certainly, we’ve appropriated some of (if not all, I suppose) these words for more demeaning intentions, but I’m persuaded that we might be able to return them to their glory days. I imagine a day in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could have added a well placed “fucking” in any of his righteously upset speeches and texts because that’s what the word was supposed to do.
Plainly, my second idea might be imaged as such: In order to describe the size of an elephant, a child might claim that the elephant is “really big”, whereas I might claim that the elephant is “outrageous in stature”. In order to describe the defecation of a mammalian species, a child might name the feces “poopoo”, whereas I might call it “shit”. Thus, words are specific to the author’s desire and intentions, which is to suggest that these profanities had a more innocent origin than their current usage suggests.
Also related to my Idea 2 is that I once suggested to a friend that these words have power and are powerful tools for the rhetorician. I now understand his argument when he pointed out that profanities only have this power (in my estimation) because of their cultural taboo. His maxim: Remove the taboo, remove the power. This is yet a curious idea to pursue within my second idea. Suppose we return to a proper usage of expletives. Would they retain rhetorical power and emphasis, or would they become just like any other word?
Counter-Argument) Profanities simply have acquired socially negative connotations and it would be moot to desire change. As Christians, perhaps we are allowed to use them (much to the chagrin of my friend, we are still stuck in the mode of “Can I use this word?”), but they ultimately serve for a bad witness.
I don’t know how I feel about this counter-argument. I mean, to me, the argument boils down to “Be holy by not swearing.” And then that reverts back to my friend’s idea about shallow legalism. Additionally, I might take the liberty in assuming that God is in the business of redemption and reconciliation, and argue that as workers of God’s Kingdom part of our duty (however minuscule or “trivial”) is to redeem the meaning of these profanities (Idea 2). Yet, as formidable of an intellectual and theoretical foundation as I have set out here, I still feel weird saying profanities. Why is that?
I guess my stream-of-consciousness ends here. Our ultimate goal as Christians is to glorify God in whatever we do (1 Corinthians 10:23-33), and the rub isn’t necessarily in whether we can use expletives, but rather in how we use them.