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Cussing Grandma

When Christian authors make Grandma cuss.
| Aug 26, 2014 | 16 comments | Series:

Saving GrandmaBack in 1997 when I worked for a Christian bookstore, the owner expressed his disbelief at how a Christian could write a book filled with cussing. The book in question was Frank Schaeffer’s fictional book, Saving Grandma, the second in a trilogy. It also had a lot of sexual material as well. Confirmed by a review from Amazon:

Most of the humor this time comes from aspects that will make evangelicals raise their eyebrows: Grandma’s profuse swearing, the lampoons of fundamentalist seperatism, and sex, lots of it, sometimes quite explicit (par for the course for a mainstream literary novel–but really hot for an evangelical novel).

I checked the other 31 reviews on Amazon. While the sexual content bothered a few, and several mention the grandmother’s foul mouth, only 1 out of 32 reviews mentions it specifically in a negative way. I was a little surprised. As often as I hear Christians are anti-cussing, I would have expected more than one negative mark on the language issue.

But for my boss, he couldn’t get past how a Christian could write something like that. I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by others as well.

There is a tendency among Christians to associate the morals of the author with his characters, especially if those characters are the good guys.

But only on two sins: sex and cussing.

The protagonist can commit murder, and the reader would not jump to the conclusion that the author approves of murder. The hero can gossip, steal, covet, and readers don’t assume the author does those activities.

Why primarily those two? Why if a novel contains cussing do some then accuse the author of doing the same and doubt his Christianity?

Here’s my list of why I think people tend to take that view.

Vicarious Participation

People tend to read or write about a lot of those sins and walk away not feeling that they have participated in them. Reading about someone stealing doesn’t arouse desires in most of us to steal something. Not so with sex and cussing.

If reading cuss words makes a reader feel like they are cussing, then how much more the one who wrote those words.

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Mat 12:34b)

The characters are fictional. They only exist in the heart and mind of the author. If cuss words hit the page, it must come from the author’s heart.

Other sins are driving the plot in good books. Cussing either is or feels gratuitous.

Yes, there can be times when cussing could be plot related, if not directly, via characterization. But generally, most cussing could be removed and the plot wouldn’t change significantly, if at all.

If it feels gratuitous to the reader, they will perceive it as an author intrusion. They will assume it is there because the author wanted to revel in it rather than being necessary for the story or the character.

Can you think of more?

Sometimes, however, nothing else will work.

As most of you know, I don’t tend to swear much. When I do, it is more as satire than as a serious expletive. I’ve never been much of a cusser.

But in one novel I wrote, I came to a point where a character was frustrated, and I wanted to indicate that. On my first draft, I quoted him as saying, “Damn.” I moved on, figuring I’d evaluate and change it in a subsequent edit.

When I came back to it, I went through a list of alternate words, but none of them seemed to fit. Maybe I could show it without dialog, but the actions didn’t seem to suffice by themselves. It didn’t fit the character.

I considered the, “he cussed” telling option, but my dialog heavy writing style doesn’t lend to that method save for transitions between scenes. It would be jarring to jump to telling about the dialog when I didn’t do that elsewhere.

In the end, I left it as is. My book had a cuss word, mild though it might be for your average general-market reader. It wasn’t because I cuss much, or even that the character did much. But it was the only way it felt believable to the character and situation.

But will the reader perceive it that way? Will they think I run around all the time saying, “damn” because my character said it once? I’ll let you know if it ever gets a negative review on that account or not.

Where do you draw the line in your reading?

 

As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.

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Kat Vinson
Member

Mild words like the one you included wouldn’t make me bat an eye. But I dislike extreme words, even in secular fiction. If it fits the situation, and is used sparingly, I’ll cringe but allow it. But used too frequently or inappropriately and it will ruin the book for me. And it’s only in those situations were I might wonder about the author’s vocabulary. 😉

Leanna
Guest
Leanna

Arguing that cuss words don’t change the plot seems a little silly to me. Language and vocabulary are an integral part of storytelling. Case in point would be yesterday’s article on story weariness. The same plot can be enjoyed multiple times because of changes in how it is expressed.

Substitute some other word choice in for “cussing” like so:

But generally, most metaphors could be removed and the plot wouldn’t change significantly, if at all.

But generally, most French words could be removed and the plot wouldn’t change significantly, if at all.

I happen to love “ly” adverbs even though some people would say they’re gratuitous in nearly 😉 all cases. I also love pretentious and antiquated words and old hat cliches and made up other world jargon.

This isn’t an argument against avoiding cussing in writing (or everyday speech). It’s just an argument against the idea that cuss words are gratuitous.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

OK, I’ll throw in something to gum up the wheels of this well-oiled article. Frank Schaeffer is now calling himself an atheist. Granted, an atheist who believes in God, but if you read some of his articles (I haven’t read he latest book titled Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes In God), it’s pretty clear that he is far from believing in the Bible. Here’s a sample:

Jesus certainly was not a “Bible believer,” as we use that term in the post Billy Graham era of American fundamentalist religiosity that’s used as a trade-marked product to sell religion. Jesus didn’t take the Jewish scriptures at face value. In fundamentalist terms, Jesus was a rule-breaking relativist who wasn’t even “saved,” according to evangelical standards. Evangelicals insist that you have to believe very specific interpretations of the Bible to be saved. Jesus didn’t. He undercut the scriptures.

Never mind that Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law and that the Law and prophets testified of Him.

In the same article Schaeffer goes on to call the writers of the New Testament “bigots, opportunists and delusional fanatics.” Later he says, “As an ultimate f**k [word altered for posting here] you to rule-keeping scripture zealots everywhere, Jesus hung out with whores.”

Beyond exposing Schaeffer’s blasphemy, my point here is that his novel is not a good measure of what Christian bookstores (or possibly Christian houses—I don’t know who published the novel), are open to publishing. Undoubtedly Schaeffer rode his reputation as his father’s son, earning a contract for his novel.

Whereas the cursing and graphic sex don’t call into question Schaeffer’s faith in Jesus Christ, his other writing doesn’t leave much doubt that he doesn’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible. So is his novel an example of “Christian fiction”? I don’t see how it could be.

Becky

 

As an ultimate fuck you to rule-keeping scripture zealots everywhere, Jesus hung out with whores. – See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2014/07/jesus-was-not-a-bible-believer-let-alone-an-evangelical/#sthash.qR0ci6eW.dpufMy point here is that Schaeffer’s novel, replete with cursing and graphic sex, though accepted in Christian bookstores (and maybe published by a Christian house), undoubtedly rode on his reputation as his father’s son. It’s not an example of a Christian writing as a secularist would.
Jesus certainly was not a “Bible believer,” as we use that term in the post Billy Graham era of American fundamentalist religiosity that’s used as a trade-marked product to sell religion. Jesus didn’t take the Jewish scriptures at face value. In fundamentalist terms, Jesus was a rule-breaking relativist who wasn’t even “saved,” according to evangelical standards. Evangelicals insist that you have to believe very specific interpretations of the Bible to be saved. Jesus didn’t. He undercut the scriptures. – See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2014/07/jesus-was-not-a-bible-believer-let-alone-an-evangelical/#sthash.qR0ci6eW.dpuf
E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I concede this reminder also came to mind — Frank Schaeffer has long been veering toward a life based on an Anti (not that Christianity) rather than a glorious “pro” who is the very Person of Jesus Christ.

Paul Lee
Member

I don’t want to become Frank Schaeffer, if what people are saying about him is true. But I’ll never be able to understand “saved,” and I never stop struggling over that. And the concept of “Biblical Christianity” makes me grimace, because I can’t believe that one’s interpretation of the Bible determines one’s eternal destination or the legitimacy of one’s faith in Christ.

I never even cared about swearing or being edgy in order to rebel — still don’t. Just, the daily emptiness in the absence God seems worth swearing about. I’m soteriologically wrecked, and I’ve used up my quota of sinners’ prayers.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Bainespal, the very fact that you care about the question is an indication that you are the Father’s adopted son. As for the how of salvation — at some point we must admit that His word only tells some about that. The perfect answers to salvation’s mechanism — sotereology — is not a recitation of words but a Person. And somehow I take it He likes to keep His secrets about exactly how it works or even some abot why (if we could even understand it if He did tell us).

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Wow, that’s dismissive for no good reason. It’s hard to piece together what you believe in once you’ve had to peel off the scabs of years of doubt, disillusionment, and the extra helping of angst piled on by a culture that attacks your value as a person as soon as you no longer toe the line (ie, the Othering song and dance deftly performed by Miller).

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Huh, I wonder if I’ve read that somewhere. But you have to admit that he has a point in that modern-day Evangelical Christianity is, pretty much by necessity, different than the original stuff 2000 years ago. Christianity didn’t spring fully-formed from Jesus’s forehead, with the Apostle’s Creed in one hand and The Fundamentals in the other.

Jason Brown
Guest

When it comes to swearing, the only time it bothers me is in any Tarantino flick (couldn’t get past the first 5 minutes of Reservoir Dogs for the excessive swearing alone), yet I can rewatch Harry Brown with no problem (it has over 100 f-words and a little over 10 uses of c*** throughout), maybe it’s because it’s organic to the story of gang warfare whereas I feel there’s really no good story merit to Tarantino’s movies and still goes overboard.

Matthias M. Hoefler
Guest
Matthias M. Hoefler

I found something in the online content of Relevant that pertains to this discussion, though it comes at it from a different direction. The main point of the article was new to me – that some language in the translations and versions we have has been sanitized. Don’t know how much of that I buy into without doing more research, but it is interesting.

 

Spoiler: Graphic sexual language is in this article, so if that offends you, best not to follow this link:

 

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/what-bleep-does-bible-say-about-profanity