Should Christians Cuss?

Growing up as a conservative Christian, I knew that one of the most important things a Christian can do is…to not say curse words.  After all, the Bible says:

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

and

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

and Jesus even said

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:10-11)

As if that weren’t enough, there was also the ever-looming fear of “not being a good witness,” which basically meant that if someone who was not a Christian saw a Christian doing something bad, the probability of them ever loving Jesus dramatically decreased.

And okay.  I can appreciate the dedication to detail that my conservative Christian upbringing inspired.  God knows I have taken that intense introspection and run with it.  (“God knows,” there’s another piece of the puzzle, to be dissected at the end of this post.)*  But I decidedly disagree with what I was taught as a kid.

A Brief Self-History 

When I was a teenager, I loved to cuss.  It felt so good to be so bad.  And undoubtedly, a big part of this linguistic phase was rebellion.  As I mentioned, cussing is pretty much the most obvious way to rebel against conservative Christendom.  But there was already some logic ticking away in my brain, and I couldn’t make things add up.

I remember one fight in particular.  I was in the car with my mom (the car was our favorite place to fight), and I was passionately explaining why cussing didn’t matter.  “They are just SYLLABLES, Mom!  Just sounds coming out of my mouth!  ‘GOOP.’ Whoa, did I just cuss??  Could be, if we suddenly decide as a society that ‘goop’ is a naughty word.  THIS IS DUMB.”

Soon thereafter, I kind of re-focused my life on Jesus (what we call “re-commitment” in the conservative world).  And along with learning to love myself, forgive others, and stop asking God to kill me, I gave up cussing.  It felt like a package deal at the time, like “cleaning up my life, better stop saying ‘shit’!”

But this was not to last, mostly because I met people who cussed and who loved Jesus desperately.  And I noticed that some very articulate and intelligent people cussed.  And I started to believe that cussing had a real purpose (aside from the simple joy of a good crunchy word in your mouth).

As a counselor, one of my absolute favorite things is to work with little old church ladies who open up about a lifetime of abuse and neglect.  Without fail, they have solid backbones and dry eyes as they assure me they know, “God is good.  Everything happens for a reason.”

My favorite thing in the world is to lean forward and say, “God IS good.  And I have no doubt that he has used these things for some kind of redemption, but that does not change the fact that life can be really shitty sometimes.”

These little old ladies blink a couple times at someone in a place of Christian authority using an inappropriate word…and then start giggling.  Most of them wind up saying, “You know, it IS shitty.”  And then the floodgates open, and some of them are able to cry, and all of them feel safe to talk about the things they thought might be off-limits.

So that’s my foundational reason for why it’s okay to cuss.  Curse words are necessary to express our deepest feelings, whether rage, disgust, disappointment, or ecstasy.  They’re not inherently bad, but I do think they’re powerful.  But wait, I haven’t explained why they’re not inherently bad.

What Does the Bible Teach?

Look back at those Bible verses.  Does it say anywhere that there is a particular list of words that are off-limits?  No.  Instead, the focus is on the power of words and the necessity to use them wisely.  I find this verse far more helpful in understanding what the Bible teaches about cursing:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

Last I checked, “fool” is not a curse word.  Yet Jesus says those who use it might be headed to hell.  Clearly he’s not referring to someone shaking their head and saying, “Wow, I was such a fool.”  I believe he’s referring to the aggressive, hateful way we sometimes speak to people.

Here’s where I say that there ARE some curse words I won’t use.  I don’t like “bitch” or “bastard” (unless used carefully for humor, but CAREFULLY) or especially their more aggressive cousins that I don’t even want to write here.

The reason I don’t like these particular curse words is because they are insulting.  They strip a person of their human dignity.  But so do “idiot” and “worthless” and “cry-baby.”  I FIRMLY believe that God cares desperately about the words that come out of our mouths. But I think his interest lies not in a particular set of words but in how we use any words to either build up or tear down the people that he lovingly created.

What Does It Mean to be a Good Witness?

Alright, so even if the Bible is (at least) ambivalent about curse words, what about that age-old fear of being a bad witness for God?

I mean, I kind of emotionally throw up at the WEIGHT of this responsibility that borders on self-importance.  When I think back on the skits I watched at youth group conferences of teenagers dying in car crashes, going to hell, and wailing at their Christian friends, “If only you had told me about Jesus!” I want to throw things across the room.  This is so dehumanizing (for them), paralyzing (for us) and limiting (for God).  Does it matter how we present ourselves to the world?  Of course.  But I don’t think there ever comes a time when our actions take a person’s responsibility for their own soul out of their hands and into mine.

And anyway!  What does being a good Christian witness even mean?  I was taught that it revolved around all the things I should NOT do: cuss, drink, show cleavage, listen to Top 40 hits, etc.  I was told that if I just stopped doing things that “the world” did, then people would notice something different about me and want to know the God that had changed my life.

Zero people did this.  On the other hand, I did have one very important person in my life flee from my self-righteousness and the God it supposedly defended.

If there is a Christian/world divide (and I become increasingly convinced that it’s not that easy), I think it lies along the things that we DO.  In the Bible, we are constantly told to “bear one another’s burdens,” “love one another,” “submit one to another,” “let your speech be always with grace,” and “be unified.”

When I take a step back and think, “What would really wow the general population?” I can’t help but imagine that a group of people who have managed to redistribute their money so that no one is in poverty, who take time to listen to each other’s problems, who do whatever they can to meet each other’s needs, who extend forgiveness and grace and mercy instead of hate, distrust, or judgement….I mean, WOW.  I would be bowled over by that kind of people!

Maybe there’s someone out there who thinks, “Everything bad in my life has something to do with cursing and drinking and immodesty.  I wish I could find a group of people who don’t do any of those things.”  That’s super possible, actually!  But I don’t think that’s the general need out there when it comes to people longing for something more than what the world offers.

In Summary, Because God Knows* I’m Not Good at Summarizing

I don’t think cursing is wrong.  I think words are useful, fun, and creative, and so long as you are not dehumanizing a person through insults, they’re pretty much fair game.  If you disagree, totally cool.  I will never force a person to say something they don’t want to say.  But as for me…I’m going to use curse words.  I mean, there are few positive memories so incandescent as when I successfully translated a sentence into Greek and shouted, “I’M SO FUCKING SMART!” with an ecstatic smile.

And I just don’t think that’s a sin.


* I was also taught that saying “God” in almost any way outside of a prayer was a sin (aka “taking the Lord’s name in vain”).  Because of this, I grew up thinking of creative ways to avoid saying “oh my God” like “oh my goodness” or, for a while, “oh my stars.”  But the older I’ve gotten, the more absurd this seems.  Isn’t this taking God OUT of our conversations?

After all, “oh my God” is expressing surprise and the desire that God will be with you through it.

“God knows” is…like, really great.  God does know.

“Thank God” is also exactly what we OUGHT to be saying, right?  Am I crazy?  Why do I feel crazy?

I recently discussed this with a Greek friend.  In Greece Christians have no problem saying, “Θεέ μου” (“my God”).  Instead, they avoid saying “Lucifer” or “Satan” because they think that’s a bad name to have in your mouth.  

THIS MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE TO ME.  Okay, done.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Should Christians Cuss?

  1. I think we place way too much emphasis on not using bad words and nowhere near enough emphasis on the meaning of the statement that has the words in it. To me, cursing is bad and a sin, but I define cursing as calling on God to cause harm to someone, not just using a word or two which is socially questionable. If I say “God damn it ” then I am calling on God to send whatever to eternal damnation, and that is a seriously wrong request. But if I hit my finger with a hammer and holler “Oh Shit” that is not cursing. I cannot imagine God being offended by that.
    To complicate matters a bit, imagine that I hit my finger, holler “Oh shit” and someone is standing nearby who is offended by this word. Now I have caused offense, which could be a sin, depending on circumstances. So I should watch my choice of words and be aware of their acceptance by my audience. If I am having a beer with some old sailor friends, we may use words which would offend my mother, but if she is not there to be offended, I have not sinned.
    A good expletive sometimes is a good catharsis. God surely understands.

    Like

    1. I agree, Tommy. I’ve been thinking a lot about how legalism is so appealing because it’s simple. Life is much easier when you can categorize everything into “Always Good” and “Always Bad” boxes. And spirituality is more appealing when you can think, “I avoided the ‘always bad’ box today, so God must be pleased with me!” It makes faith something we can control. But grace is much messier than that, and it demands a closer look at our motivations and the gray areas surrounding our actions. It’s harder, but more rewarding, and more freeing, I think!

      Like

  2. Very interesting post! I, like you, swore a lot in my younger teen years but always managed to do it in front of friends and not parents. Now, while I still find myself doing it in social situations or when I’m shocked or something, I’m trying to kick the habit not because I’m Christian (I am) but because it’s not attractive. For a while I wanted to be a teacher and working with kids a few times taught me that I need to work harder to control my words around them. But not only that, just throwing around swear words in any situation is just silly. I don’t want to be known for that.
    But more on the subject, I do remember my grade 8 teacher telling us that while all cuss words were bad, the worst of them all was “goddamnit” as it used God’s name in vain and it’s interesting that that’s the belief of Christians but that word seems to be more tolerated in movies and TV over the F word.

    Like

    1. I’ve heard the “unattractive” argument for cussing, and that is definitely a personal aesthetic decision! I also find some version of cussing (particularly endless streams of it) kind of draining or uncreative. But then there are other times that this absolutely cracks me up, so I don’t know!

      I think you’re definitely right about needing to be able to control your words. If you cannot stop cussing even in situations like teaching small children, then either don’t be a teacher or try to control your words. Same with gossiping or belittling or over-praising….hmm…I think it’s when we’re around children (and realize that we are shaping them) that we realize just how powerful our words are!

      Like

  3. First of all, let me say that you are one of my favorite people. I am proud of your dedication and service to God and to His children, and I love you, my granddaughter. Second, I am not one to be throwing stones and criticizing, as I have too many faults that I don’t care to mention. But I would like to comment and give an opinion.
    I agree with much of what you said in the blog, but as we have discussed before, I differ with your feelings about cursing. I believe that the most harmful things that we can do are with our tongue, our words. And I don’t limit this to cursing. I know in my own life that the things that I find it hard or impossible to forgive myself for are things that I have said that have hurt those that I love. I hope that this will not be one of those times!
    I believe that our Bible teaches us that we are not to do or say anything that offends “our weaker brother”, that when we do we are offending Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:9-14, and especially verse 12) As I have said, I am guilty of this and I regret it. But I try not to do it.
    And I must say that when we the read the words and the justification for them, from our lovely, loving granddaughter, it hurts us. Perhaps we are your “weaker brothers and sisters”!
    We love you, much!
    Grandpa (and Grandma}

    Like

    1. Grandpa,

      I hope it goes without saying (but I will say it anyway): I did not intend to hurt you, nor do I think you are the “weaker” Christian. But I stand by what I said. I do not think the Bible verse you mention means that we must never make our brothers and sisters uncomfortable…instead I believe it means that we must consider whether or not our actions will cause others to stumble in their faith. I doubt that my cursing will lead you to doubt in the salvation of Jesus, but if it does, let’s keep talking!

      Of course, I also believe that we should respect each other, which is why in our personal emails and conversations, I try not to use curse words! But this blog is a public space for people interested in getting inside of my mind, and if I tried to not offend everyone on the Internet, 1) this would not be my brainspace and 2) it wouldn’t be possible!

      If you are uncomfortable reading my blog, that is your right. I can keep you updated on my adventures in Greece via email!

      T

      Like

      1. I am afraid that I may have used my tongue when I should not have done so. I had no intention of hurting you, and I feel that I may have done that. I am sorry if I did. We want to keep up on your daily doings, so we will be reading the blogs. I do believe that the verses do apply to all of our actions, though. ‘Nuff said! Love you!

        Like

        1. You don’t have to change what you said! You are totally allowed to do whatever you want, and I think we are good at disagreeing. Don’t worry about it!

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s