Yesterday, because I needed to finish a knitting project, I spent more time in front of the television than I might ordinarily do. Fortunately, my clicking through the vast array of channels brought me to two really good movies: Apollo 13 and The King’s Speech. (We won’t say much about my discovery of Fat Guys in the Woods, though.)
The King’s Speech was on the Canadian Broadcasting Company. There is a certain charm about how the CBC warns its viewers at the end of every commercial break that the broadcast to follow contains “coarse language”. Not “strong” language, not “adult” language, nor as the BBC says, simply “language”. (Of course it contains “language”. If it doesn’t have “language”, it’s just a silent movie without subtitles.)
To say that the language is “coarse” means it may be less refined, perhaps reflective of what people might utter spontaneously, as opposed to what they might say if they are very carefully filtering everything that comes out of their mouth, especially if they are worried that someone might form a bad opinion of them.
This is not to criticize the filter between brain and mouth. A good filter is often necessary to keep relationships intact, but sometimes it gets clogged or it is temporarily out for cleaning. Occasionally, it’s a good thing to just let stuff come out unfiltered (in the appropriate setting). In The King’s Speech, Mr. Logue encouraged exactly that to assist George VI in the effort of gaining fluency in speech so that he could address a nation entering into war.
Of course, the King’s stream of fuckfuckfuckittyfuckshitbuggertohellfuckthefucker (which I’m sure is not the precise quote) was in the controlled environment of his speech therapist’s studio, and a private room in which George could practice before broadcasting the speech to the entire British Empire. So, I’m not suggesting that most Christians publicly intersperse a line of what the CBC calls “coarse language” into their ordinary daily discourse. On second thought, though, it might be helpful for many preachers to try it while practicing their sermons, because a lot of them could use some help in clarifying their ideas before they get to the pulpit.
This morning, looking at my Facebook feed, this essay came to my attention. The topic itself–that “preachers aren’t perfect” is a complete and total snore. It’s simply not news, at least not to anyone who has ever spent much time in the company of the ordained. And nobody expects them to be. (How much spiritual authority should be granted to the imperfect preachers is another topic for another essay.) And most of the “imperfections” Mr. Prather cites are trivial–hardly at the level of notorious sin that would disqualify someone from public ministry in (at least) most mainstream liberal Protestant denominations.
But the word that got me (and always burns my onions more than a little) is a four-letter one.
First of all, I seem never to hear it from anyone other than fairly conservative Southern-ish Christians, who are so fastidious as not to be able to utter the word “curse.”
But it’s not applied to curses. It usually covers the words contained in the cinematic George VI’s fuckfuckfuckittyfuckshitbuggertohellfuckthefucker (which again, I’m sure is not the precise quote). And none of those words are a “curse”.
They are what the CBC calls “coarse language”. They are perhaps what one might utter if one is over excited, emotionally agitated, upset, or otherwise in a situation where linguistic refinement might be hampered.
A curse cannot be uttered in a single word. A curse is a malediction, a wish for the harm or downfall of another human being as some kind of retribution for offense. And no matter how coarse the language s/he might use, very few Christians really curse another person.
They also aren’t the other thing they’re commonly called: “swear words”. Swearing is the taking of an oath or making a promise. Also something extremely rare to do with a single word. (Although an advertisement for digestive aids might be able to use one of those things commonly called “swear words” as a form of a promise.)
This is excessive fastidiousness in the interest of appearing “nice and Christian”.
In other words, Prisstianity.
And it is perhaps the most trivial thing to worry about if a Christian–even a preacher–occasionally lets the f-bomb drop. Or says $#!+ if that is really an accurate description of a thing or situation.
Yes, we should be looking to elevate, rather than debase, our discourse. But being Prisstians doesn’t do that any more than “coarse language”. And sometimes, the former is just dishonest.