Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Speaking Beyond Four-Letter Words

I mean, is it really necessary?

And when you do it, what might you really be saying?

Reading an article today by the evangelical pastor of a church in America's Midwest, I came across his use of the popular, vulgar euphemism for the excrement from non-castrated male cattle.

Granted, his terminology for the same noun was a lot shorter.

There are several people at my church who throw the-word-used-for-how-God-sends-people-to-Hell into many sentences of theirs that have nothing to do with Satan's home.  Oh, and they use the proper name for Satan's home profusely, as well.

A couple of other people I know from church drop F-bombs into their conversations like fighter pilots during wartime.  When I made a face after hearing one - likely more in surprise, rather than being offended - I was the one made to feel spiritually inferior for being prudish enough to consider such language inappropriate from Christ-followers.

Back when I lived in New York City, I remember marveling sadly about how many elementary-aged children on the street or in subway cars used the F-word in ordinary conversation.  It was a word whose meaning I assumed - or hoped - the children were completely unaware of.  At least, considering how much they used it, it seemed that way.  It was deployed in anger, in humor, and without any emotion at all.  Sometimes it was every other word, like they had some oral fixation for the way the word made their mouth feel when it was uttered.

In other words, it had pretty much lost is vulgar connotation.  It had become to them as benign a word as the word "like" with which dippy white suburban girls their age pepper their sentences.

Of course, those kids likely learned to use the F-word from their parents, who likely maintained for themselves some of its vulgarity as a means of titillating both themselves and their audience when they used it.  It's the same reason why television shows and movies use it a lot, which also is probably another venue where these kids learned how to use the word.  It seemed to me that New York City parents completely ignored movie ratings, as did cinemas, when kids who could barely read would crowd unattended into R-rated movies.

OK, so yes, I've attended R-rated movies in my life.  See - I'm not the prude you think me to be!

The point is that for those kids, the F-bomb wasn't an F-bomb any more.  It was an expression that had been gutted of its original meaning, although it was still used in a manner which betrayed some hope that the user was convincing their audience of some savvy disposition.  So, was what those kids heard when that word was used the vulgarity that I heard?

Maybe that's what's happening when evangelicals believe they can deploy terminology once considered rude or sinful in their post-Christian conversations.  Are they reasoning, "hey, everybody knows these words are just ways to make me look more macho, or street-wise, or hip and trendy"?  Are they words that mean practically nothing for the peer groups and spheres of influence in which they associate?

Maybe it's like what I wrote about yesterday, regarding whether or not the NFL's Washington Redskins using what used to be a derogatory term for Native Americans in its brand name is offensive in our day and time.  Nowadays, about the only time one hears the word "redskins" is in reference to the famous football team.  I explained my position by using the term "bloody," which in the United Kingdom, is considered a vulgarity when used outside the context of a bodily fluid.  Here in the United States, however, "bloody" doesn't really have the same negative or profane connotation.

Maybe this rationale can be extrapolated to our F-bombs, meaning they're really not bombs anymore, but firecrackers or sparklers?  And maybe referencing the waste from bulls in our conversations really is just city folk trying to make themselves sound like ranchers?

Then again, maybe all of the stuff I've gotten used to hearing within our evangelical subculture about vile talk has been a bunch of misinterpretations of Biblical teachings.  So I decided to take a quick look at some verses addressing this topic of unwholesome speech and vulgarity:
  • "The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse."  Proverbs 10:32
  • "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."  Ephesians 4:29
  • "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving."  Ephesians 5:4
  • "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth."  Colossians 3:8
  • "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness..."  2 Timothy 2:16
Hmm... OK, so... it doesn't look like I've been taking the whole idea of Christ followers guarding our speech out of proportion, compared to how God has told us to use our language.

So, maybe it's a heart thing?  Maybe if you use words that society is collectively transitioning from a stronger degree of vulgarity to a lesser degree, having a loving heart towards people who use this type of language means that we use it ourselves?

But then, how does Luke 6:45 fit in?

"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."

Or Romans 12:2? 

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Hmm... don't conform to the world, let God's renewal of our mind transform us, and do those things that are good?  That sounds kind of boring, doesn't it?  Not very cool, or progressive, either.  Man, that's so confining and legalistic, I need to spew the S-word!



Or, as some folks say here in Texas, "dadburnit."  After all, can't we convey so much when we put an edge onto our conversation with hard-core words?  Saying "shucks" or "drat" makes us sound like somebody on Leave It To Beaver.

So, you're not afraid of what people like me will think about your use of words that our society still considers to be vulgar?  And you'd prefer to use those words to help people who don't know Christ think you're worthy of their friendship?  Because, hey - what are a few four-letter words among friends?

Maybe it depends on Who you want to bond with.

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