Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Morality and Silence

Yo! Aimee over at To the Barricade! recently dropped a post on Christians and using curse words. You don’t have to read her post to understand my following response, but you should still check it out!

Flickr Credit: Issac Mao
There’s this story I read when I was a young teenager that has always stuck with me because of how much I hated it with a passion.

The point of this story is to discourage Christian teens from watching R-rated movies. So there are a couple of kids who want to see an R-rated movie, even though it goes against their dad’s normal rule. They ask their dad for permission, and he agrees to think about it. Later, he agrees with one condition: to see the movie, the teens had to eat some brownies he made. The catch? The dad put some dog poop in them. Even though the poop was “lovingly” mixed in so they wouldn’t taste bad and baked so it wouldn’t make anyone sick, if the teens wanted to see this movie with mature content, they had to eat some brownies with literal shit in them.

The kids did not go for it.

And, as a little happily-ever-after, whenever the kids bring up something the dad is opposed to, he offers to make another batch of those brownies.

**I got this story from Let’s Talk! by Danae Dobson. I do not recommend reading it.

Like I said, I hate this story, first because all parties involved are wimps. Kids, if you want something, then fight for it! Question authority, do research, build your own moral structure. Parents, don’t avoid tough or controversial conversations by threatening to make your kids eat shit if they bring it up. The point of your relationship is to foster maturity and self-sufficiency, not to enforce silence.

That’s what this story promotes. Silence.

What perhaps makes it worse is that it promotes silence for arbitrary reasons.

There are quite a few Christians who discourage cursing, especially in media that will represent who and what Christians are to others. They typically turn to verses such as these:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” –Ephesians 4:29, NIV
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:8, NIV

Now, curse words are definitely unwholesome talk, they might say. Even if there isn’t a list of words Christians shouldn’t use, we can understand that swearing is not pure and therefore always, always, always bad. The end.

…Really? Because, you know, I’ve been using the word ‘shit’ in this post and—not to toot my own horn—I think I’m going to be benefitting those who listen. I’ve been using that swear intentionally. I want you to know exactly how degrading that parent has been to his children, and ‘poo-poo’ just doesn’t cut it.

I get it, though. The best thoughts on swearing that I’ve ever heard have actually come from Sally Read on Arthur. When explaining to D.W. why saying the curse word she’s learned is bad, she says, “It’s like saying, ‘I want to hurt your feelings.’” And I get that. I get that as a Christian. We should not be seeking to deliberately hurt others with our words, because that is wrong.

Of course, if we’re going with that sentiment, why are we focusing on something as random as curse words?

Sure, someone might gasp when you drop an F-bomb when you spill grape juice on your new dress—but that’s easy enough to fix with an apology. There are other things people say that can cause a lasting hurt, and that never seem to be quite so unwelcome as all that.

“Well, in a skirt like that she was kind of asking for it.”
“I don’t see a problem—the police are just doing their job.”
“Who's the boy in your relationship?”  
But you don't look Latino. 
“You should be flattered to have a stalker.” 
 “He doesn't look disabled.” 
“I’m not racist, but—”
“Have you had surgery, y'know, down there?”  
But where are you really from? 
“You have so many things to be grateful for—why are you depressed?”  
“That’s so gay.”
We don't want you here. Go back to where you came from!
“All lives matter.”
“You should take catcalling as a compliment!”
But you act so white. 

And on and on and on.

Cuss words, like any words, can be used flexibly. Cuss words, like any words, can be used to make someone laugh. To make a point. To relieve stress after you have slammed your finger in a car door. To sound cool among your friends. To insult other people. To make interesting rhymes. To be silly. To be smart. To be different. To be the same.

It is entirely up to you in which situations you yourself will use curse words—maybe never. Maybe sometimes. Maybe frequently. And that’s up to you. But imagine if Christians made as big a deal about the above statements as they do about the language in a PG-13 movie. There are plenty of situations where you can be offensive without saying any swears. Where you can contribute to a tradition of causing harm to others in a way that hurts more in the long run. You can be hurtful even by—especially by—failing to speak out. Silence has a heavy cost.

And it’s not really fair to complain about the dog shit in the brownies when you seem to like the cat shit just fine.

Friendly reminder.


  1. I have to say, when I read your summary of that story I nearly laughed out loud. The sad thing is that I know of people who have basically the same view of anything they think is objectionable--very legalistic, and this whole idea that it's somehow better to ignore things that don't fit with their worldview instead of discussing them honestly. And I think that curses are just like any other words; context and intention really do matter. Great post!

    1. Yeah, that legalism is definitely contributing to a lot of unfortunate beliefs in the church right now. But yeah, context and intention. I like that. :)

  2. I read Aimee's post last week, and I totally agree with you. That story is disgusting; that instead of talking about why he didn't think his kids should watch an R-rated movie, that father told them to eat crap is so gross. I generally don't swear (although I've come a long way-when I was in 6th grade I wouldn't say crap or damn and honestly I'm glad I can say that now ), but I also try not to say hurtful things, which fall in the same category. Some of the phrases you mentioned are a lot worse. this post is really well written and important and you're pretty cool so thank you.

    1. XD Yeah, I can remember the days when I thought "stupid" was a curse word. But it's good that you do your best not to say hurtful things, and I'm glad that you're making those decisions for yourself. :)

      (And thanks, I AM pretty cool B) )

  3. I agree that the brownie story is horrid. A real conversation regarding the movie would have been far more beneficial for all parties involved.

    I personally refrain from cussing because once something enters my working vocabulary, I have a terrible time eliminating it. I would rather refrain altogether than be more prone to slip up in a situation where cussing is inappropriate.

    I primarily have a problem with cussing when it is a). used to excess b). used as way to be lazy with language, especially in professional environments c). used in front of children (because that's a conversation they should have with their parents or other people who are role models in their lives) or d). used to hurt people (because that's unacceptable, regardless of whether you're using the f bomb or not). Otherwise, it's a matter of conscience, in my opinion.

    I think this is a beneficial discussion to have. Thanks for the post!

    1. Yeah, that was digusting.

      *nods* And so long as that's your personal decision and you're using that self-knowledge wisely, that's good. Very responsible of you.

      And yeah, those are some good ground rules you have. Especially the in front of kids one, since that really is a personal thing, and very relevant in many scenarios. And, of course, hurting people is bad.

      Thanks for your thoughts, RM!

  4. I agree with you. It's true that you can hurt people without using swear words. Honestly, I wasn't mad at you for cursing in this post because why?

    I don't curse but sometimes I don't mind if people curse a bit. It depends.

    You see, that story was dumb. Really dumb. And the problem is that young people might read that story thinking that what the father did was right. HECK NO.

    Luke 11:11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?

    That quote might not make sense but what I'm trying to say is that why would a father offer poop (inside brownies) for his children to eat? If he really were a good father, he should have told them the reason why they shouldn't watch the movie. Or maybe he should have let them. Maybe they would've hated the movie and learned from their lesson.

    True, they were wimps. They could have just watched the movie and refused to eat the brownies. What would their dad do if they didn't eat them? FORCE feed them? Come on.

    The whole story is messed up, man.

    1. Yup, yup, yup.

      That is a pretty relevant quote to the story—the role models in our lives have an important responsibility to us and they shouldn't be giving us bad things when we need good things. And obviously, this was a pretty bad thing. But yeah. It's overall a general failure of human beings, in my opinion.


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