Tongue Tied

A couple months ago, Rand of A Form of Sound Words said:

"DARN it to HECK! I can’t believe Billy believes that load of CRAP. I mean JEEEZ, what is he thinking. I tried and tried to talk some sense into him, but OH MY GOSH, he’s stubborn."

"I apologize in advance to all the good and faithful Christians reading the above phrases and are offended. Your reaction is appropriate. I still felt it was important for me to post it as an example. You see, in the above four little phrases, we have a remarkable four blasphemies, and one gross word that any civil human would avoid using (non-Christian’s included)"

Four blasphemies? Where?

"blasphemy – To speak of (God or a sacred entity) in an irreverent, impious manner."

"Damn" (meaning to condemn to Hell) has lost the naughty edge it once had, but I can understand a particular scrupulous person’s desire to avoid using it inappropriately. At some point, its use as an interjection became popular. In an effort to curb one’s use of an objectionable word or phrase, finding safe substitutes is only natural. In fact, I’d say the practice is laudable.

Odds are you got into the habit of saying it because you heard lots of people around you saying it. Their habits rubbed off on you. Now that you’re watching your tongue, though, you find that the habit is hard to break. You have to fight instinct every time your stub a toe. If you manage to substitute "darn", "dang", "dag-nabbit", or even "d’oh", you should be pleased, not ashamed. Shoudl you always be content with mere substitutions? Of course not. Course language just makes you sound ill-bred and poorly educated, thus lacking a sufficiently diversified and sophisticated vocabulary. It also shows lack of constraint and slavery to one’s will, rather than submission to God’s.

"Hell" is not sacred. In fact, it’s anthetical to sacredness. It is not a blasphemous word in and of itself. However, if one speaks/writes of damning someone/something to Hell, that verges on blasphemy as damnation is God’s prerogative alone. In general, the word shouldn’t be used lightly, lest we forget what Hell is and its relation to salvation. However, I don’t think saying/writing it is nearly as bad as Rand makes it out to be. As with "damn", I see no harm in using a substitution.

Inappropriate use of the Name that is above all other names, Jesus Christ, is indeed blasphemy. I cringe when I hear anyone abuse it. I don’t just approve of, but also applaud substitutions in this case. Again, they;re not ideal, but they’re a lot better. Their use at least demonstrates recognition of wrong-doing and desire to change.

"God", when used similarly to Rand’s example, might be blasphemy. I’m not sure. I know I don’t like to hear the word used that way. However, because "God" is not a proper name, I do not believe its abuse is nearly as serious. Ancient Jews were so serious about not blaspheming the name of God, "YHVH" (often translated as Yahweh) that they always substituted the word "Adonai" (meaning Lord) when reading aloud from Scripture. That practice went a little too far, though, because superstitious belief (that speaking a name could give a person power over another) were associated with it.

One gross word? Ummm…perhaps it’s not the most intellectual thing to say, but I don’t think "crap" is really gross unless you describe its characteristics. As far as I’m concerned, the mention of feces in an interjectory context merely represents the messy and unpleasant situation the speaker/writer finds himself in.

This isn’t the first time I’ve pointed out this post. Why bring it up again? One of my regular reads, Joe Missionary, wrote about it and caught my interest.

"First off, words in and of themselves are devoid of filth. It is the culture which determines that a particular word is offensive. The word ‘bloody’ is more offensive to the English ear than it is to the American ear. In a similar way, consider the four-letter ‘s’ word meaning ‘excrement’. This word, which is offensive to my ear, is an ordinary word on this side of the world. When we spoke with a Christian about it (whom we heard utter it), she was surprised that it is considered foul language."

I agree that words do not have inherent meaning. All meanings are culturally defined. However, I would add that if one intends a word to be offensive, regardless of how it is taken by the hearer/reader, it is objectively offensive.

"If I bump my head and say, ‘Shparndoogie!’, is that just as bad as saying ‘Dang that hurt!’"

Nope. Such nonsense words merely express emotions that probably haven’t been processed suffiently to be expressed in coherent speech. That is, they are essentially precognitive. We are no more cursing than a baby is when it cries to express pain or hunger.

"Words change meaning. The word ‘gay’ is a perfect example. So what about these substitute curse words? Take the word ‘jeez’ – it is most likely derived from ‘Jesus’. However, it’s my opinion that most people who say ‘jeez’ – even Christians – are not thinking of Jesus or the name of Jesus when they say it. What about the word ‘piss’? I know, I said I wouldn’t say any more curse words, but I’m just quoting from the Bible: ‘…any that pisseth against the wall’ (1 Sam 25:22, KJV). In 1611, this word was an ordinary word. Today, it’s considered vulgar. Not only do words change meaning, but the perceptions of words change as well."

See above about intention. On the flip side of intention, a word that will likely cause the listener/reader to be offended is objectively offensive. However, it may not be subjectively offense. That is, you may not intend to offend. One is not likely to intend offense when reading from the KJV, for instance.

"Allow me to suggest a couple principles for us to follow:"

"1. ‘Be careful…that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak’ (1 Cor 8:9). I have felt the temptation to flaunt my freedom in particular areas; I assume this is a common temptation. I may be 100% convinced that ‘shparndoogie’ is not a curse word; but if I am aware that some consider it offensive, I shouldn’t use it around others."

2. ‘[S]et an example for the believers in speech…’ (1 Tim 4:12). As Rand says, let’s glorify God with the words that come out of our mouths. Or at least try."

My thoughts exactly. Don’t settle for suffient; aim for laudable.

Perhaps I’ll tackle the opposing viewpoints of Messy Christian and Jeff the Baptist in the next few days.