As a Christian, I am not supposed to cuss. (or is that curse… strong language?) I’m not arguing with this point. One sin leads to another, and even if uttered out of frustration or momentary pain, one sin leads to another… blah, blah, blah. Avoid profanity. I think it is good theology or hermeneutics, or hygiene… whatever. As an English major and teacher, cussing is often the lack of ability to find the right word… to articulate a precise thought… to find exactly what you want to say and communicate it clearly using the right words.
There is another school of thought dating back at least a few decades… maybe longer… that says that you can cuss, that it makes you hip and relevant and not legalistic… It is a statement. Shock. A cold water wake up and pay attention call. And sometimes in the lexicon of a writer, there is an authenticity and a grittiness to the profane.
I don’t have a big problem with strong language. Maybe I do if it is directed at another person, but in general I understand that there are moments of frustration, of pain, even anger, where no other words fit. And when faced with situations in life that are obscene, resorting to profanity seems mild and possibly appropriate. Curse words are powerful and often concise… they reduce complex situations, emotional mixes, and other people or their actions down to biological functions and body parts. And sometimes reduction is the only option.
I was faced with one of life’s obscene situations… a parent (me) losing a child (my son Ethan.) And profanity seemed appropriate and felt at least a little cathartic. It still does… because deep down there is a part of me that is angry… violently so… and as inappropriate as strong language is, violence is significantly worse with significant fall out and ramifications.
In my head I am probably cussing more than I admit to. And if it slips out… it isn’t just to shock someone… it is just rattling around so much, that it is a ready, convenient and easy response. And that is an issue. There are some consequences to curse words in certain situations. If it becomes easy, it becomes habit…
But I think the strongest argument against using profanity is this idea that language is a social contract… and that profanity, either directed at a person, or just as an interjection is a reduction that is at the heart, contempt. That even at its core, it is devaluing, dehumanizing- an assault on the dignity of the reader or hearer. The single most persuasive argument I am finding against the use of profanity is this- that if you avoid profanity you are affirming the dignity of every person, often even the least deserving. And by doing so you affirm the sacredness of creation and existence.