Sunday, May 2, 2010

On Cussing (Part 4)

Now, since culture defines which words are apropos and which are not, how are such definitions fabricated? If a person is angry and uses a swear-word –substitute (remember the cousin in the Sunday dress), is it a sin? In either case, if a person is angry, does it matter what phonetically comes out of the mouth, or is it the anger behind the word? A person who emits a swear word cousin (the nicest, most culturally acceptable kind) or the most hideous, crass tirade possible is still in sin if the anger allows for it. Out of the heart comes the sin (Mark 7). “Be angry and sin not,” the Psalmist says. “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4). The phonetics are not the sin, the anger behind it is—nor is it a sin to be angry, the way it is handled is the sin—a fit of rage, for example—no matter what comes out of the mouth (Galatians 5:19-21). Still we do well to remember James 3, the whole chapter. “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” James admonishes us to tame our tongues, and in so doing, we will have control over our whole bodies. He tells us not to curse men, and bless God with the same tongue. James is getting at a different point than this essay is, but the principle is: keep your tongue in check, for it is the rudder of the body. Speaking comes from the mind and heart, and out of this comes bodily actions. Just because something enters your mind, it doesn’t mean you should say it! If we can control our tongues, we can train our minds and control our actions.

Now, most Christians label the use of a cuss word as sinful, but the use of one of the cousins is deemed acceptable. Where is the logic in this? You might say, “Well then let’s just use such and such and fill-in-the-blank and all other obscenities in our speech. Say, when describing the David and Bathsheba story.” You miss the point. Who are you to judge another person for what comes out of their mouth in this case? At the same time, the principle in Scripture is that we should honor those who are weak in the faith (Romans 14). So, if you find yourself surrounded by those who cannot handle the use of your lexical freedom, be cautious so as not to offend—per Romans 14. However, let’s consider the possibility that either side may have an issue of maturity. Being mature in the faith sometimes means exercising certain freedoms. Just because someone is opposed to using ‘earthy language’ does not in any way imply that that person is immature. They may, in fact, have made the decision not to use swear words anymore out of the maturing process of sanctification. And, those of the non-cussing persuasion should be more accepting of those who hold different beliefs—so be careful not to judge, fellow Christian. “Bear with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13). In addition, no one should use their freedom for evil or offense, either (1 Peter 2:16). Winning someone over will not always happen, and in some cases, one should submit to the mature believer who holds convictions against ‘strong language.’ If your brother is distressed because of what you eat [or say], you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating [or cussing] destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15). And, It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else [like cuss] that will cause your brother to fall,” (Romans 14:21). Lastly, the one using the argot in question should examine why he uses such jargon.

We should be careful not to offend, but we should also be able to instruct those of the counterbalance what the real issue is: a culturally mandated norm. And who is to say that the cultural standard may not change? For example, in Britain, if I say, “Where are my bloody keys?” An English gentleman may huff, puff and gruff at me. But if I say the same thing in the same situation with the same tone and manner here in the U.S.A., I may not offend a soul at all. On the other hand, there are indeed things in the world that are vile, lewd and crude. We should avoid these things per Galatians 5:19-21. Albeit, sometimes the use of certain words express the emotions or thoughts of the deliverer as no other word would do (like when you spill a bucket of cherries all over the ground—said with a smile of course, because it’s only a bucket of cherries). At the same time, reliance upon the vernacular and persistence in its use should be avoided—as should the judgment against those who choose to use it in certain contexts. Creativity demands an increased vocabulary and such should be pursued. As in most cases, love, wisdom, and balance are key in the use of that which we label “cuss words.” Which is worse, to say scheisse, or to invoke the dwelling place of the holy, infinite, Almighty God (“Oh, for heaven’s sake!”)?

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