This column may seem schizophrenic — likeunto a theme of one the most Google-able Christian novel titles of the past decade, Ted Dekker’s Thr3e, in which an evil serial killer is shown able to threaten women, blow up a city bus, and abduct the main character’s mother, but never, ever, not once, say any word worse then puke.
Meanwhile, if you’re on the other side, schizophrenic may to you describe a Christian who cusses in streaks of all the colors of the rainbow, or even occasionally — such as author/pastor Mark Driscoll — to make a point. To you, they’re claiming Christ, but saying un-Christlike words.
Here I hope to represent and discuss both sides of the Fictitious Cussing debate. Why? Because I’m still sorting through it all myself. And last year I thought a little differently than I do today.
So let’s bring up talking points, for and against, and of course continue in the comments …
Against: ‘Cussing is not Christian’
I bring this up first because honestly, so far, I keep hearing this implied or said directly, and it is not a Biblical argument. What if some word uses aren’t sin? Either way, Christians do sin.
If Paul wrote to the Corinthian church as brothers who weren’t acting like it (1 Corinthians), and publicly called down the apostle Peter for being cliquish with legalistic leaders (Galatians 2), then surely a real Christian may struggle with anger-induced swearing.
Other Christians may have thought things through and concluded it’s okay for them to use some words, in certain contexts, without this being sin. People may disagree with, say, Driscoll for his vocabulary, but to slander him as a non-Christian or false teacher is not Biblical and does not honor truth. I’d like to hear better arguments against Fictitious Cussing than that.
And remember, the topic is not whether I should be allowed to commit actual swearing myself, but whether Christian novelists should have the freedom to decide on their own: to “quote” what a character said, fictitious cussing, regardless of whether it’s a sin or shown as sin.
Furthermore, at issue here are not only verses such as Ephesians 5:4 (in which Paul discourages “foolish talk” and “crude joking”) but passages such as Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Colossians 2:16-22. All of those remind us that some things that cause sin for some Christians are not themselves evil, but matters of conscience. And any arguments against Fictitious Cussing must offer gracious reasoning based on the whole counsel of Scripture, not merely proof-texts.
For: ‘Christian fiction is lame because of no-swearing rules’
I haven’t heard this argument made so directly, but some may think Mike Duran made it back here. That’s not how I had read what he said (though I’m open to correction). Instead Mike seems to make the points that Christian fiction is lame for many reasons, among them the ban against saying Bad Words. And who here wouldn’t agree with him, at least the first part?
Yet my take (so far) would be different: picking on the Bad Words Ban seems a minor issue. With so much Christian fiction catering to readers who follow not so much Christ but a uniquely American-evangelical Churchianity, the real problem is far deeper: it’s a lack of understanding the Gospel. And springing from that: failure to comprehend where sin comes from, not Stuff but our own hearts, and failure to see that Christ has redeemed us to make us strong in Him.
I think once more writers, editors, publishers and especially readers begin to believe these Biblical truths and see the joy in exploring them through fiction, the bad fruits will fade away.
For/against: ‘Why not use substitutes?’
“He swore.” I don’t mind a Christian novel that phrases an action like that. Bad characters swear. Sometimes good characters swear. If a novelist’s worldview presents this as wrong, even if much less wrong than other horrors a character may commit (murder, etc.) why not include this? If anything, the real revealed sin is a character’s anger anyway — just as my real sin, if I let out a four-letter one, comes first from the heart, then escapes my mouth (Matthew 12: 33-34).
But “he swore,” “she swore,” “he swore over and over,” etc., can sound silly after a while. And the argument does seem to hold: should all writers be restricted by the personal beliefs of a few?
“Make up new cusswords.” That works, if you’re in a fantasy or sci-fi setting. But what about a contemporary fantasy or alternate-Earth novel? What about a thriller set in our world? This may take care of the problem in an imagined universe, but not in this one.
“What the $*!&?” Frank Peretti got away with this in some of his early novels. A similar method (often employed by Christian film reviewers) involves the ingenious substitution of hyphens for the Bad Word, or even only some of its Bad Letters. I say “ingenious” sarcastically because it’s silly. Who are we trying to kid? I know exactly how to translate my own comic-strip-style substitution up there, or at least have narrowed the Secret Letters to two common cusswords.
I can understand the base logic. But which Christians who are actually tempted to imitate that language would be “protected” by showing part of the word, letting the mind fill in the rest?
Figure A: “Death Cop 9 contains 14 F-words, 9 instances apiece of h— and d—, 6.5 S-words, one interrupted g—–n and several scatological terms and crude slang referencing anatomy.”
I know every single word the Discerning Movie Reviewer means. So why the hyphens? If writing “what the —-” is acceptable, why not just spell it out? Who are we pretending to protect?
In cases like this, it’s really become a great game: we are all pretending to protect an Invisible Sensitive Choir out there somewhere, who indeed don’t want to see films with that kind of sinful content. But if that’s true, aren’t the bad-word-hyphenators naïvely conceding their critics’ point? — that some Christians can indeed hear those words in order to know what Bad Stuff is out there, while themselves resisting the temptation to do the same un-Godly stuff?
Next week: why do we or don’t we need Fictitious Cussing? And what about conscience issues?