Friday, December 18, 2009
“I’m pissed off, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Was that one strong enough? How about – “I’m mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Any better? Maybe better to be more simplistic, something on the order of just plain old – “damn it”. Have I communicated my frustration effectively yet? Do you get it that I am mad? And being a follower of our Creator God, does my choice of language seem contradictory to you? Most Christians I know think that cussing, or swear words, are evil and in fact a sin. I say they are wrong, here’s why …
Ironically, my thinking on this topic has been heavily influenced by two figures, George Carlin and Jesus Christ. Find that hard to believe? But they seem to agree on this topic. George points out that when you examine our language, our speaking, and our communication in a deeper thoughtful manner – you realize that all we have is words. Some words are spoken to generate an emotional response, some are considered slang or having multiple meanings, some are considered guttural in nature and are used mostly for shock value. It is the last category that tends to comprise what we now call swear words, cursing, or like they say it down south – cussing.
But any modern curse word you can think of is really only a word. No different than any other word, except in its commonly held definition and purpose. A highly derogatory word for a woman’s genitalia for example, is often used to describe a particularly objectionable woman herself. Also used, is a technical reference to the female of the canine species or perhaps references to general sexual promiscuity. You see, I have just called to mind three words in your head without actually spelling them out for you. But everyone knows what I am talking about. It is the application of these three words that conjures up the “shock value” of the speech itself. And thus, three words with only slightly relevant associations, become swear words in the English vernacular.
George Carlin nearly pioneered this thinking in his now infamous bit entitled “Seven words you cannot say on television”. I love that one. What’s more I used to play his CD of it, in my car on family vacations with my young teenagers in the car. Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. George merely makes the point that our language is a product of our thinking, and our association of words is largely dictated to us. We rarely think independently from the masses, and therefore we deserve what we get, be it in politics, language or society in general. My intention was not to teach my children “how” to swear effectively – they would learn that really well in school. My intention was to teach them something much deeper – how we speak is an indication of how we think, and what we value.
This is where Jesus continues the lesson. In His day, swearing had a bit different meaning than ours. Swearing or vowing in His day, was language used to commit oneself to a binding agreement or contract between two people. If you swore to provide 2 cows to your neighbor by the 25th of the month, on the head of your first born daughter – then you better fulfill the contract, or your daughter’s head would literally be cut off. It was no light matter. The words were strictly and literally enforced. Christ pointed out the fallacy of this thinking by advising we “simply let our yes be yes and our no mean no”. He further pointed out that we “control” nothing. “Leopards cannot change their spots.” “We cannot add one day to our lives by simply wanting it”. In effect we can’t control anything, so it is pointless to swear before God, or before each other as to the validity of our commitments.
But Christ had more to witness on the topic. James and John a couple of His first picks for disciples were known throughout their home geography as “sons of thunder”. The literal meaning of this meant – they swore like sailors – conjure up an image of a Marine with Terets. And these 2 were the first representatives of the meek, mild, savior. Peter went off half-cocked all the time, and had no formal education; you can only imagine the choice of words these “fishermen” were used to saying prior to really knowing Jesus. Yet there is no written reprimand of Christ to correct the language of any of His disciples in the entire New Testament. And in my reading, I have not found the use of curse words in what they said.
Christ too got angry more than once, when he saw how His temple was being treated by the folks who were supposed to be ministering to their fellow believers. The level of apostasy that turns true religion into a purely financial industry made Christ very angry. Enough for Him to take physical action and “cleanse” the temple by overturning the tables setup for money making, and scaring the money changers out of the place. But nowhere in scripture was there recorded a tirade of curse words during the process. Nor are the pictures of Christ using a horse whip accurate. For a brief moment, divinity simply flashed through His humanity, and when the money changers looked at Him their own sinfulness was revealed. This image was too intense for them, and they fled on their own from the revelation. The witness to this truth, is the fact that immediately after the “cleansing”, Christ ministered to the children and believers who had come to the temple. If you run screaming swear words, and cracking a horse whip, into a room of children they will be the first ones out the door (and you should prepare for a heavy lawsuit and criminal penalty).
More important to Christ than your ability to speak, or your choice of words, was the thoughts behind them. Using appropriate legal language to break the commitment to honor their parents, was deemed wrong by Christ in His time. Christ saw that commitment as binding for life. Every time local leaders tried to trick Christ with no-win questions, he would confound them by revealing their motives, and showing them what was really important. Using religion to justify murder was how our Savior was killed on this earth. Upright, believers, who professed a lifelong belief in the coming Messiah, refused to accept the truth when they heard it, and using proper language and horrific motives, crucified the very Messiah they should have worshipped.
And we have still REFUSED to learn this lesson in Christianity. Christian beliefs are SO often associated with hate speech. Christians carrying signs at protest to offer death to homosexuals. Christians who take it upon themselves to reason they should kill abortion doctors in order spare the “innocent”. Christians who devoutly support a death penalty in spite of evidence that many “innocents” have been wrongly executed, and even those who are guilty are offered hope through a plan of salvation by God. Christians, content to sit in judgment of others, while full of sin in their own lives. Complete hypocrites. Complete abomination – liars, whoremongers, adulterers and these are those who profess to serve our God. And you worry about cussing?
Shock jocks, use language to achieve the exact same result as those who swear. But they do it for money. Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern to name a few. Ironically, I hear less condemnation on Howard’s show than on Rush’s. But then I hear no hope on Howard or Rush. I am angry because I want the hate speech to stop where Christians are concerned. Angrier still because I know the hate speech comes from a heart diseased with the same condition. Words do reflect our motives, and our attitudes. When our minds are occupied by love, and by the transforming power of our Creator God, we do NOT condemn our brothers. Instead we see our own need of Christ, and simply love our brother unconditionally. His need of Christ and reform of his life, is exactly like our own. We are all THE SAME. We all desperately need Christ. We all radically need a change in our thinking and our motives, that will lead to a much better level of spoken words.
Christ focused on the motives of what we say, not on the particular words. He sought to correct problems where they originate, not just superficial symptoms of much larger problems that lay underneath. I can politely, in the sweetest of words, declare my absolute apathy for your life and your problems. More to the point, I can lie and fake a superficial interest in you as a person, and have no real underlying interest in you. In this, I reveal the absolute lack of God in me, and overabundance of evil. Better I tell you how fricking much I love you and mean it; than use extravagant words to convey no real emotion and leave you alone. I wish Christian’s would get pissed off, at hypocrisy in their own lives. I wish they would get a passion for love back in their hearts. I wish they would hate seeing their religion turned into a simple financial enterprise. If enough of us did, we would not have to worry about cussing, we would be too busy loving, and the whole world would change for the better …