Monday, January 28, 2013

Hammers and Nails

I sometimes wonder if bloggers deliberately mess with me. While in the middle of writing a new book on what it means to live together as Christians, I had the idea to do a blog on cussing and abusive language. However, as it wouldn't fit into the book and I'm trying to hurry up the production of the book and don't want to half-assedly release a blogpost, I was hesitant.

And then I come down with a cold yesterday and I'm just, Eff this shit!

But then Stuff Christian Culture Likes shows me this blog on cussing. Now, I'm aware of Frank Viola, the author. I'll say one thing: he's got no qualms about directly emailing through Google +, but yet he's still good at marketing his stuff. I'm admittedly jealous of that. Outside of that, I don't really know him. He doesn't show up in my Facebook or blogger radar much at all. But I wonder about his philosophizing if it at all looks like this - even if it is off-the-cuff and one-bit, as he asserts.

Words are powerful. But that's because language and communication are powerful. And communication is powerful because they help us to establish, define, redefine, venture, end, begin, categorize, and understand relationships. Words have power and are powerful - but not on their own. The words have little power in themselves: how and why and in what context we use them is what matters.

Not the words themselves.

The author asserts that cuss words are seen by the culture (which culture? Idk.) as gross and perhaps even sinful because such words were looked down upon in the schools and some other places.

Yes. This falls under the Rubric of Appropriateness. As I tell my five year old, there are places and times to play, and then there are places and times not to play. Playing isn't wrong. Heck, talking about our sex lives isn't wrong. But there are times and places where it is highly inappropriate to do such.

Evangelicals sometimes have a hard time with this, especially those of us raised in a legalistic system, which is what Evangelicalism largely is. We think that language is either good or bad. And that messes up our appreciation for and appropriate responses to language. Which is too bad. Because it also messes up our understanding of abusive language and healing language.

But first with the symptoms of legalism in potty-mouth words:

Frank laments that Christians do all the same things that the worldly do. I know this argument well. That is why many of us Evangelicals weren't allowed to dance or play face cards or play pool or listen to rock and/or roll, or go to movies - because it would "wreck your witness." "Wrecking our witness" is what we do when the "world" looks at Christians to see what makes us different and then notes on its checklist that we do all of the same things it does and therefore dismisses us with a, "Why would I want to become a Christian? They do all the same things we do. They're even gay sometimes. Yuck."

That scenario is comically outlandish and preposterous. But that didn't stop Frank Viola from using it here. And then jumping up with a list the likes of which I have not seen since Josh McDowell further complicated my already-overwhelming teen years. One point needs to be transplanted here in full:

Do your spiritual instincts tell you that profanity/vulgarity is wrong? Before you answer that, determine if your conscience is operating or if it’s seared in that area. (A person’s conscience becomes seared when they keep ignoring it when it nudges them about something that’s not in line with the Holy Spirit.) One way to determine this is to ask if it ever bothered you in the past.

Sometimes it's hard for one to devise between "spiritual instincts" and what would be socialized shame. This is one of those moments. And Viola's movement here is actually quite harmful. In short, he then replies that if your conscience isn't bothered by swear words, it may be broken.

You see, these questions aren't honest. And neither is this game.

Which is kind of upsetting. I thought Frank trusted his readers with some modicum of intelligence.

To wit, Frank relies on the Apostle Paul's oft-quoted lines on wholesome speech.

Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

How he gets "cuss words" out of "corrupting communication" beats me. Do certain words corrupt? Are we this childish? Hell, children don't respond like this. What does corrupt children?

Abusive language.

Abusive language towards others, towards themselves, is language that de-humanizes a person or group of people. If someone acts in a repulsive or ignorant way and we call him or her some form of "retarded" to signify that, we are not merely mocking the person we have made that comment to, but those whom the comment originated and is associated with. We equate having cognitive disabilities with acting insociably, inhospitably, even monstrously*.

In nearly every instance, hinting that someone is dumb is far more harmful than saying "Fuck yeah!"

I don't see why Christians don't understand this. Let's close out with a third example:

In saying that marriage should not extended to same-sex couples, conservative Christians are basically telling homosexuals, "Fuck you, shitty assholes!" Yeah. It's like that.

Healing language sometimes sounds like, "Here," "Welcome," "We accept you," "We travel together," "I'm sorry," "Is there a way I can help," and, yes, "I'm sorry for the shitty words that came out of that person's mouth. They were wrong and I'm ashamed."

* This goes more so for those of us on the Left side of the political fence. Just. Please. Stop. It. It's not funny to compare Rush Limbaugh with my dear aunt. She is not malicious and purposefully ignorant - nor is she making hundreds of millions off of some purposeful ignorance.

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