Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why I Use Filthy Language

I'm a Christian. Why would I use filthy language? Like many other Christian testimonies, that of my brother-in-law tells of how when he became a Christian his language immediately cleaned up. Yet I now use worse language than I used to. What's wrong with me?

First off it's my opinion that the Bible really has nothing to say directly about using curse words and similarly colorful adjectives. We are commanded not to use the Lord's name “in vain”, but this refers to breaking oaths in God's name. The Bible even contains sexual puns and frank sexual language, including degrading sexual references. (They show up in the original language and are often sanitized in English translations.)

So I can just say whatever I want when I want? Not exactly. Let me tell my story.

I became a Christian in junior high. I was already shy and a goodie-two-shoes type of guy. I didn't use bad language. Several times I reported my younger brother's language to my parents and got him in trouble. I tried to be a good Christian.

Flash forward to my adult life. I became engaged in some addictive behavior. It caused a lot of problems for me and my family. I went into therapy and attended groups for many years working to manage my addiction. There a funny thing happened.

One thing I learned was that I was repressing my emotions. I didn't think much about stuff that happened when I was young. I needed to get that stuff out. I also stored up stuff that happened to me daily. I controlled myself until I couldn't take it any more. Then I blew up, usually at my wife and children. This was bad (DUH!) and it soon became apparent that anger was as big an issue as my addiction. Probably bigger.

I also realized that I had another problem. Despite believing in God's grace I often acted like a legalist. I judge myself and other by what I did. I held others up to my standard, compared myself to them and rationalized why I was better. This behavior was ingrained in my personality and was reinforced by my religious life. Over time God impressed on me that this was my biggest problem. It's what Jesus hated about the Pharisees. It's almost (not quite, but ever so close) like God told me and keeps telling me that he could care less how I behave. What he wants is me to be honest with him and others. To love him and others.

I took to swearing for a couple of reasons. I needed to express my anger in healthy ways. Swearing is a tremendous way to express anger. I try to not swear at people. I try to be mad, to let my anger out, to let people know how I'm feeling without blasting them. Swearing helps all this.

The second reason I swear is to fight legalism. It's still easy for me to play my little Christian game. To pretend to myself and others that I'm good and godly and holy. Throwing in some swear words instantly negates that perception.

So it's good that I swear and I should just let rip whenever, right? Wrong. As healthy as it may be for me there are many times it may hurt people around me. Work is one place where it can cause problems. I also try to watch what I say around children. And, despite appearances, I really do try to not offend people needlessly. I may let some words go to purposely rattle people, but I try not to do it too often.

All of this sounds like I've got the whole thing totally under control. That would be wrong too. I often swear because I'm mad (damn it!) and just let go. I'm imperfect and often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I often need to apologize.

Finally I have sworn a couple of times during a sermon I was giving. I did it with careful consideration. George Patton was asked why he swore so much. He said it was so people would remember what he said. Often we Christians read and hear the same things over and over. Some are radical ideas that should shake us up but we've become immune. I've twice tried forms of swearing to make a point in a sermon stick. Did it work? People definitely remember that I swore. It's unclear if the point stuck or not.

That's where I am on swearing. It's helpful to me, but I try to watch it (I'm actually now trying to cut back a bit, to give my anger to God and let it go more easily.) It's not OK to say anything at any time, but I often violate protocol to remind myself and other Christians to lighten up a bit. Most of all, I'm far from perfect and so is my language, but the closer I can get to honestly and love the better off I am.