Friday, November 11, 2005

Swearing and the Christian

(So the challenge was to write about the evening in the grand style of a certain Ms, which if you read her blog, you'll know who was meant, a conflation of Milne, Woolf, Kerouac and girly pink ribbons but city girl and mod and more besides, you understand, "to get in touch with [my] feminine side".

"But two of those authors are male! And, I won't sound feminine, I'll sound effeminate, as in an All Blacks in a pink tutu," said I, but.


The evening started badly. For it was the birthday dinner of the sweetest girl, but my eyes were small and yellow and aching with red spidery veins, and I was late late late what with last minute rush jobs and authorities to placate and missing signatories. "We'll save food for you" and they did, the lovelies, they did. Through the noren curtains of the restaurant named for the legendary heaven of Okinawan folk, Real Japanese waiters bowed from the waist. One, a floppy-haired boy with the widest shy goofy grin. The tatami setup. A little hut with a sliding door and rice paper with inscrutable Japanese words pasted on the walls. And the food, O, the food. Words cannot describe the slices of heaven that Mother Superior piled onto my plate and urged me to eat. Noodles like gossamer threads of silk, roast pork pre-marinated perhaps with Awamori saké evaporated on the tongue. And. The smooth-to-the-point-of-insubstantiality bean curd pannacotta-ed in sweet peanut sauce which on first teaspoon was "interesting" then very shortly was "I heart very much".

I would have liked some Awamori saké in a little cup. For health and long life and the Okinawan French paradox. But the air was pregnant with the promise of free flowing Hoegaarden and Stella Artois in their forehead marking huge glasses.

But first.

A call was placed. And soon, The Marmalade Pantry. Past sultry transgenders tottering on 7 inchers, in slinky dresses, in the arms of happy white-haired Caucasians, fulfilling their long dark-haired stereotypes, to brown leather and mirrors and stainless steel, and heaven in a warm sticky date toffee pudding and chocolate pecan brownie and cold vanilla bean ice-cream. Creamy and chewy. Tingly warm and numbing cold. And at the end, another sticky toffee pudding waiting for the boy who was recording. But the boy was in the cab queue and we ate it to save it from ruin and ignobility. For dessert truly goes into another stomach.

Then it was Alley Bar. For its birthday. And multicoloured sparkles, shimmering confetti and belly dancers, smiling, bold and shiny, and unsmiling Middle Eastern men dispensing sheesha. First there were none. Then there was a word with the proprietor. Then there was for 15 smacaroos of blood sweat and toil. There, strawberry treats awaited the birthday girl. Strawberry wisps and strawberry margarita and strawberry waiting in strawberry pulp and strawberry daiquiri and Shirley Temple. And the night sky was scented pink for her.

And we laughed and ate and drank and talked. Then laughed and ate and drank and talked more. An unshy boy talked about shy boys and about temptations to internet pornography and we heard about the sweetest couple getting together. "My greatest nightmare would be to swear in a loud voice in church." "Great. I've just lived out your greatest nightmare." And so also cussing and swearing and their various degrees. And unmentionables and unrepeatables and chickens pronounced cheeekuns (foul or fowl language?) and baskets pronounced baskits and freak pronounced normally. And the Bible.

Somewhere, the sound of pink music. But there was none.

And we trailed strawberry haze, under the stars, home with us.

[Aiieeee! (like Jocasta with the hairpins. The anguish but not the overt undertone.) Normal non-feminine effeminate style transmission resumes from here])

Now, where in the Bible does it say that cussing and swearing are not allowed?* Not swearing-an-oath type of swearing (like Matthew 23; Hebrews 3:18, 6:13, 6:16; James 5:12) or swear-that-something-will-happen type of swearing (like Jeremiah 12:16 where God swears by himself!), or swear-allegiance type of swearing (eg. Isaiah 19:18, 45:23) but to use the sort of emotionally powerful language that is difficult to define but is generally acknowledged as profane.

*Hosea 4:2 speaks of swearing without qualification but nowhere else in the Bible is the use of profanities known by this term.

Interestingly, the use of these so-called profanities is a universal phenomena known to all of humankind in every race and culture. In fact, it appears to be a fundamental tool of human communication.

[Warning! If you are shocked by the thought of Christians discussing swear words, cuss words, profane words, vulgar words without their asterisk-figleaves, read no further!]

When do people swear?
Timothy Jay, in his study "Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech", suggests that on the neurological level, swearing can be non-propositional or propositional. Non-propositional swearing is an automatic response to emotion. (1) That emotion could be positive or negative. It could be pain, surprise, happiness, frustration or some other emotion, coming from the right hemisphere of the brain. And (2) swearing could be directed at someone who has caused this emotion as an insult or offense or it could be a mere expression of that emotion to no one in particular.

For example, shouting "Fuck!" could be abusive and aggressive, directed in anger at the driver of the car that has just cut into your lane, or it could be an expression of expreme happiness at discovering, while watching telly alone in your living room, that you have just won the million-dollar lottery.

Propositional swearing is done creatively and often for highly strategic purposes such as dirty joke telling or steamy pillow-talk.

Propositional swearing has also been very useful in politics. Vladimir Putin, for example, has been known to employ the vulgar Russian slang of mat to distinguish himself from the facelessness of other Russian leaders and to express the strength of his propositions. This has apparently made him rather popular with the ordinary Russians.

Jay suggests that these 2 types of swearing
are the result of the neurological control in our brain functioning as two interlocking neural systems of control processes: the cerebral cortex regulates both speech production and comprehension, whereas the subcortical system is responsible for the control of emotional reactions.

(This is confirmed by the fact that people suffering from neurological disorders, such as the Tourette Syndrome or aphasia, cannot speak but can swear articulately and will do so to express emotions. So although brain-damaged people may lose their ability to construct creative, syntactically governed propositional statements such as swearing in the witness box, they can swear profusely nonetheless when driven by a strong emotion. This is due to the lateralisation of the brain so in the case of left-hemisphere brain damage, speakers can swear but only automatically as an emotional reaction coming from the right hemisphere. They would not be able to repeat the very same swearing if required to do so.)

Then there are others, psycholinguists and old Maledicta, that attempt academic studies of swear words.

Swear Words
Swear words are generally sexual (eg. fuck, bugger, cock, dick, prick, bollocks, cunt, fanny, wanker, suck, arsehole) or scatological (eg. shit, crap, piss) in nature.

Of course, what is deemed to be a swear word varies between cultures and generations even if the language remains constant. "Bugger", for instance, is not a swear word in North America, but it is in England. "Suck" was once a reference to fellatio but saying "the food sucks" nowadays scarcely turns a hair.

Swearing and Christians
Sex and daily bodily functions should not be something Christians are ashamed about. They are how God designed us to reproduce and function. The Bible writers are not embarrassed to speak joyfully and positively of the relations between husband and wife and negatively with condemnation on men with prostitutes and homosexuals of both sexes. They are also not embarrassed to report (twice, mind, in 2 Kings 18:27 and Isaiah 36:12) the scatological insults of the field commander of the Assyrian or the fact that dung had to be disposed of (1 Kings 14:10).

So the words denoting sex, sexual organs and daily bodily functions should not be make for filthy (hehheh) language in and of themselves, for they describe things that are God-given and God-ordained when used according the purposes for which they were designed.

It is the mindset and emotion behind the swear words that is condemned:
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8 ESV)
Obscene talk or filthy language (NIV) or abusive speech (NASB) seems to flow out of the same uncontrolled disregard for neighbour as anger, wrath, malice and slander. It is a non-propositional negative emotion directed and intended to offend and insult another person.

Old Nature and Old Fate
That, says Paul, is the earthly nature and was how you treated your neighbour when you lived in sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). And on account of those things, the wrath of God was upon you and was coming to judge and condemn you (3:6).

New Fate and New Nature
But in trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ who is your life appears again on the Last Day, then you also will appear with him in glory (3:3-4).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (3:1-2).

How can you go back to wallowing in those filthy sinful ways in which you were living and for which you were condemned?

Put to death therefore sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth (3:5,8).

As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (3:12-14).

It is not the swear words per se that are wrong. It is the profession of belief and faith and trust in another reality that is hidden from the world but not living as if that were indeed reality. It is not being renewed in heart and mind and indeed the whole being, in the knowledge of the image of the Creator. It is not putting on this new self but keeping on the old self that incurred the wrath of the Creator in the first place, and in turn the broken relationship with neighbour and so the anger, wrath and malice towards them expressed in the swear words (or in other perceived-to-be-harmless phrases like "Ministry of Sound!" or "Powderpuff Girls!"). It is a false faith that does not evidence any resultant change in the individual.

Which means the abovementioned so-called swear words could conceivably (heh) be used without harm when used not as a result of anger, wrath or malice towards another but as a perfectly legitimate expression of positive emotion. And Phillip Jensen of St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney or Chris Chia of Adam Road Presbyterian Centre could perhaps give talks and sermons on "Love, Fucking and Marriage". For "fucking" just means "sex". And Christians should be quite free to do these things without issues of conscience. But, there are the weaker brothers and sisters. And in our freedom, we must not stumble them.



At November 12, 2005 11:44 am , Blogger kelvin said...

Doesn't require a King?
If not it is just sexual intercourse, right?
BTW, "fuck" is a slang (still?), not yet a proper word.

At November 14, 2005 9:41 am , Anonymous hamster said...

... I simply can't fathom the title "Love, Fucking and Marriage". Notwithstanding the idea that the F word (I'm not comfy myself using it - too many bad memories associated with it) is actually less than sex in a marriage - it's usually denoted for those lust-filled sex-crazed sessions.

Not that marriages shouldn't have those now and then.

Could you discuss the cultural factor as well? Where the cussers and the non-cussers are differentiated into good or bad? Where testimony for Christ and God also should be considered - not so much to stumble as to bring glory to His name? Not sure where that would fit in :P

At November 14, 2005 12:23 pm , Anonymous Powder Puff said...

kelvin-the whole comment-and hamster-the last para: whaaaat????

At November 15, 2005 9:23 am , Anonymous hamster said...

Sorry ah. Let me clarify.

In American or Australian circles for example, swearing is the in thing. Just as for Hokkien Bengs. It's almost like swearing is part of the language, thus it's not likely to stumble those around them. It's "nothing" to swear anymore.

I was also considering about testimony - the Christian who swears - does it bring across any good or bad testmimony? I bring this up because Shadow only looked at it from the stumbling point... Not sure if this would actually fall under different living based on current cultural concepts (swearing to be "in" for eg). Agree that swearing doesn't necessarily mean you're less godly.

Not commenting on Kelvin's point. :P

At November 15, 2005 10:57 am , Anonymous ~wb said...

What do you mean about a King?

Fuck is a word in the dictionary if that is how you define a proper word. It just means sexual intercourse and

it has no connotation of lust-filled sex-crazed sex.

It's not just Bengs. A lot of Hokkien vocab has roots in sexual or scatological words.

How is bad testimony different from stumbling?

At November 15, 2005 1:45 pm , Anonymous hamster said...

Bad testimony = non-Christians as well. 1 Peter 2:12. Stumbling is more for Christians. 1 Cor 8:9-12.

Actually I agree with the article. Just that I was wondering if other points could be added.

Plus, fucking is actually in the Oxford dictionary. And plus fucking carries the connotation that I pointed out - simply because of popular use. Put it this way - if anyone assumes the connotation, then it has that connotation, w.r.t. stumbling others.

At November 15, 2005 4:10 pm , Blogger Wilson Tan said...

An excellent read! Thanks for the insight. i must say it shocked me to see the sermon title as it is, but i guess words are what humans make them out to be, our perception of it. Words are mere tools of communication. Thanks!

At November 16, 2005 12:25 pm , Blogger kelvin said...

"Fornication Under Consent of the King"

Yes, fuck is in the dictionary, but it is identified as a slang (i.e., street word)

At November 16, 2005 1:17 pm , Anonymous das bifstik said...

It is difficult to argue about the semantics of the word "fuck", because the correlation between word and meaning would differ (1) from dictionary meanings and (2) between different groups, their internal cultures and language use.

One group might be shocked and their blood pressure will rise dangerously at a whispered sound of the word. Another group might be so used to including it in every other sentence that it is a completely neutral word to them.

Therefore it is difficult to ascribe any objective meaning to the word itself and so whether it is helpful or not, or godly or not to use such a word.

What is in view is the emotion and intention behind the usage of the word. If it is to curse another and wish him ill or a product of unrestrained or uncontrolled anger, clearly there is an issue.

But if it is used as a exclamation of surprise or joy then the whether we put a toe in the waters depends on our love for our neighbour and their different perceptions of the word.

If their hair will stand on end at the very mention of the word, then don't use it even as an expression of happiness because they might be stumbled or it might be a bad testimony.

If their speech is peppered with it, not in the spirit of rebelliousness but because they genuinely perceive its semantic value to be neutral, then it wouldn't make a difference.

At November 16, 2005 4:13 pm , Anonymous nic the buck tooth rabbit who says fuck said...

fuckoffworld mix v.11112005

halo theme – bungie studios
sadness (violent mix) – enigma vs nine inch nails
world in my eyes – depeche mode
not an addict – k’s choice
don’t save us from the flames – m83
skin up pin up – 808 state vs mansun
nativity in black – primus vs ozzy osbourne
bittersweet dirt off your shoulder – jay z vs the verve

see u at cafe cosmo this fri =)

share your music with everyone for 15 mins


At November 17, 2005 2:08 am , Blogger kelvin said...

Where is Cafe Cosmo?

At November 17, 2005 8:48 am , Anonymous nic the buck tooth bunny who says fuck said...

cafe cosmo is a place along amoy street in singapore

At November 17, 2005 2:24 pm , Blogger kelvin said...

oh, ok.


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