What the *#$! Is Wrong With Cussing?
When I first starting coming to Xenos, my biggest point of conflict with the group was not the smoking. My problem did not lie with the group’s condoning of alcohol or the absence of singing. I already was a smoker and took the occasional nightcap. In my former church, I had sang enough worship choruses and hymns to successfully fill my mind with a loop tape of “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” until the day I die, so I wasn’t mourning their loss either.
My singular biggest problem with the Xenos fellowship was the cussing. I mentioned this to my wife on several occasions. I would allow, “They might be right in everything else they do,” but would then conclude, “But they cuss.” As if in that conclusion all the seeds planted and the fruit harvested was all swept away in one legalistic brush of my fundamental hand.
Her response was one of grace tempered with logic. “Well,” she began, “When someone comes around who has never heard of Christ or does not know how to love, we focus on the way they relate to people- not whether or not they cuss.” I would buckle to this. What rational person would not? However, I still secretly maintained my stoic attitude that “Christians shouldn’t cuss.”
Why the fuck did I think this way? Partly, I thought this way because I and my siblings were not raised around cussing. Mom and Dad were very strict on this point. I’m not sure it had much to do with any biblical source material. They merely felt that nice people don’t cuss, we are nice people, so we don’t cuss.
In church I think the attitude was basically the same: Christians are supposed to be nice people. Nice people don’t cuss. DON’T CUSS. Cussing was given all kinds of scary names to make it sound really terrible. It was called “foul language,” “obscenities,” “cursing,” and other pseudonyms which really miss the mark for any kind of meaningful description.
It really is a tragedy, though. The church looks at the alienation of people from Christ and, instead of thinking “I’m fucking reaching these people if it kills me,” only thinks “This isn’t nice.” Instead of looking at the relational abuse so prevalent from person to person, it says “This stinks,” instead of “This is bullshit.” The church sounds like a dork.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to harsh language. He was of the people, by the people and for Christ. His attitude was such that he concluded, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ…” in Philippians 3:8. Do you know what the Greek transliteration of “garbage” is in this verse? It’s the word “skubalon,” which, roughly translated to English, means “shit.”
Cuss words, like all words, have the capacity to edify as well as the capacity to tear down. Cussing is a both-and, not an either-or.
The biblical justification for teaching people not to cuss is, unfortunately, a lopsided attempt to remove grace from the equation and exert control and power over a free willed group of people! The fucked up thing is that it often is successful because a lot of Christians don’t take the time to examine for themselves exactly what the Bible says and why it says it. They’re satisfied with status quo (that exists in the church, too, people)!
All too frequently, the verse thrown at young Christians to get them out of that terrible, awful, no good cussing habit is Ephesians 5:4 which says “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes- these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.” I don’t see any mention of cussing in there. And even if you eliminate that one thing from your life, in order to be biblical, you must replace it with “thankfulness to God.” I know people who don’t cuss. Whoopty fucking doo. They aren’t thankful, grateful, joyful, or any other kind of “ful” toward God. Except maybe “resentful.”
Even in this classically mistreated verse from Ephesians 5, I think it’s important to look at the Greek to see exactly what kind of idea the writer was trying to get across. Maybe some Bibles do include cussing in that short list of things not to talk about. Let’s see:
The three Greek transliterated words used in this passage from Ephesians are aisxrothv, mwrologiða and eutrapeliða. Literally translated, they mean filthy obscenity, foolish talking and ribaldry (sexually suggestive or grotesque) respectively. Now I’m no professor of language but it seems to me that even though cussing can be used to accomplish all these things- cussing can be obscene! Cussing can be used to talk foolishly! Cussing can be used to graphically describe sexuality! It just doesn’t automatically follow that all use of cussing is these things!
Some fundamental Christian out there might be preparing to gnash their teeth and sit amongst the ashes while draped in sackcloth. Don’t bother. I’m sitting in the ashes already- and I don’t even own a sackcloth! Before you prepare to dismantle my argument, let me just say that I am not arguing that everyone should cuss! I’m not arguing that cussing is always appropriate! In this blog I did not set out to address the rules of modern decorum- merely to show that, biblically speaking, you cannot say a Christian should never, ever, ever cuss.
Just think about things a little more critically- you might be surprised. Is your church giving you rules to have rules? A lot of churches do this. The battle cry of the institutional church seems to be “We need more rules!”
Well I, for one, am very fucking tired of that bullshit. Now grab your hymnals and turn to page 359, where we’ll sing “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cuss.”