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$#@£₣! My Christian Fiction Doesn’t Say, Part 1

Here I hope to represent and discuss both sides of the Fictitious Cussing debate, pros and cons, rebuttals for and against. Why? Because I’m still sorting through it all myself. And last year I thought a little differently than I do today.

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?

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Amy Rose Davis
Guest

I’m glad you brought this up. I’m a Christian swearer. 🙂 I only have a couple of things to say…

First, they’re just words. The meanings are the ones we ascribe them. When Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers,” isn’t that contextually the same as saying they’re, essentially, “sons of…..” Well, you know. But “brood of vipers” doesn’t offend us, because in our cultural context, it doesn’t mean much. It’s the same with the word “bloody” in the UK. It doesn’t have nearly the same weight in the US, so we think it’s funny and repeat it when actually, it’s pretty rude.

All that said… I’m not saying I’m Jesus and I can swear whenever I want. But what I *can* extrapolate is that if Jesus swore, and we know Jesus never sinned, then swearing in itself is not a sin. As you say, it’s indicative of the heart behind the word.

Second, in world-building, I kind of feel like making up swear words is silly. Here’s my thinking… We ascribe meanings to the words, and if we make up words and then ascribe a meaning within the context of the world and everyone knows that’s what it means, how is that any different than just using the “real” word? I’d rather save myself the time and energy of making up something new. Plus, because of the meaning of the “real” word, it will probably have more impact in the narrative than the made up word. I’m aiming for impact in my narrative.

But, I will say… As I say with anything writing-related… If it doesn’t add something to a character, a setting, or a plot, it shouldn’t be in the piece in the first place. One of my villain characters never curses. It’s not consistent with her character. She has other means of abusing people. But another villain swears up a storm. It’s consistent with his character. He’s a brutal Tony Soprano type. And same with my “good guys.” One drops a few f-bombs, another never says more than a single d-word, and that’s out of extreme frustration, and then she feels bad about it. It has to be consistent with the character, the plot, and the setting.

Anyway, just my 2 cents… Good discussion. 🙂

Brian
Guest
Brian

I come from the “against” crowd, which is probably an unpopular point of view, but I’m not ashamed of it. To me, writing Christian fiction for a secular audience isn’t impossible. You can write a book with a great message, compelling storyline, and a real characters and not have to resort to an “R” rating for the book to sell. To me, it’s no different than saying your pastor can drop the “F” bomb a few times during his Sunday morning sermon to stay relevant to the audience. It just doesn’t work.

If the debate was “Can a Christian fiction novel have an explicit sex scene?” I think it would be an obvious “No!”. Why? Because it can cause the reader to stumble and it leads the mind in a path it doesn’t need to go. There are secular authors I never read because they have far too much profanity in their books. It robs the story because they become crutch words. I read one John Sanford novel (that’s all it took) and his main character used the f word as every description of everything. It was an f’n nice day, or f’n ugly woman, and so on. It was just a stupid distraction of a lazy writer.

Christian fiction should, in essence, be different. If a writer feels the need to throw profanity in their work then go for it…just don’t market it as Christian fiction, go with mainstream fiction instead. John Grisham wrote “The Testament”, which had a blatantly Christian character in it and profanity was used by other characters throughout. The message was there, but he didn’t try to market it as a Christian fiction novel. Dean Koontz wrote “The Face” which had Christian undertones to parts of it (especially the ending), yet the book was proudly displayed as a mainstream thriller, not a Christian novel.

Just as the old classic black and white movies could tell a complete and compelling story without the need for profanity and sex, we should be able to tell strong stories without the need to resort to profanity. The worst thing we could do is pollute the “Christian fiction” label with stuff that ultimately makes the meaning of it worthless. To me, it would be a bigger accomplishment to be a Christian writer who sells a lot of edgy books to the secular market, than to be a Christian writer who demands their stuff be labeled Christian fiction with words you’d be ashamed to have your kids catch you saying.

It’s all just my opinion, but that’s my two cents worth.

Kaci Hill
Member

There are secular authors I never read because they have far too much profanity in their books. It robs the story because they become crutch words.

Ditto.

Just as the old classic black and white movies could tell a complete and compelling story without the need for profanity and sex, we should be able to tell strong stories without the need to resort to profanity. The worst thing we could do is pollute the “Christian fiction” label with stuff that ultimately makes the meaning of it worthless. To me, it would be a bigger accomplishment to be a Christian writer who sells a lot of edgy books to the secular market, than to be a Christian writer who demands their stuff be labeled Christian fiction with words you’d be ashamed to have your kids catch you saying.

Now that was well said.

Kaci Hill
Member

I’m just gonna nitpick. Because I’m Kaci, and I can.

1. I think both the “Christian fiction is lame without swear words” and the “Well, the Bible has swear words” (or the counter “Philippians 4” passage against) arguments are weak. The first is akin to a bad your mama joke. The second assumes that the Bible condones and even encourages everything we read in it (there’s a very detailed section of Judges about a priest and his concubine that’s horrific on all levels that I doubt Jesus condones). The Philippians 4 passage is oft ripped out of context and misapplied (and I can’t remember where the ‘unwholesome talk’ passage comes from).

But I’m the context nazi who can’t stand a noticeably poor argument from any position.

2. I had this amazing epiphany when I started treating books and music the same way I do movies. It’s corrected a thousand problems in my own view of the art world. It just has.

3. The biggest problem with defending any questionable behavior in fiction is that it’s very hard to do so without appearing to condone the behavior. (I don’t think you are. But it’s difficult to separate the two.)

4. Just to throw it out there, I quit the “no-cussing in fiction” bandwagon several years ago. I just dropped it. (Music, I struggle with, because I can’t sing the lyrics if they swear. Personally.) But I’m not comfortable, myself, writing certain things, even if I don’t personally swear, think, or behave a certain way.

5. I don’t think it’s good for either side to blast the other – especially on a very tertiary issue, specifically because it’s simply sin. Meat, in the end, is still meat.

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

I’m in the against crowd…I think. At least, I am against swearing in my own writings. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:11. I think any words I use in my stories are, at the root, coming from me, so I don’t believe in using any words that wouldn’t come out of my mouth, or that I wouldn’t read aloud to my children. However, I’m not against *reading* a book with some profanity in it, unless it is excessive or becomes a temptation (because I know from experience that although I might not say profane things or use inappropriate words, if I read them too often those words/phrases start showing up in my thoughts, which is just as bad!).

I agree with Brian that we should be able to craft strong books without using swear words. I do occasionally use the “he swore” substitute, and – I admit it! – I stand guilty of “inventing” swear words for science-fiction and fantasy. 🙂 But if I invent a “swear word” for a fictitious language I’ve constructed, or a futuristic age, it’s not to add “edge” to the story, but rather to show that a certain character does not control his/her tongue the same way another character does. (They don’t typically have a meaning, either; it’s just made clear in the book that this is not a polite word.) It’s to provide understanding of the character, not because I feel the need to add “flavor” to the story.

I typically write science-fiction and fantasy, though, set in other worlds and other universes, so swearing does not become an issue of making the story “honest” or “realistic”. I’d be interested to hear from someone who writes thrillers, or books otherwise set nowadays in our society, with characters who would probably swear in real life. How do they approach (or avoid) the issue?

Patrick
Guest

Do the murders in Christian novels tempt Christian’s to murder? How is it we can write out sinful actions, but not words of a certain category that may or may not be sinful in themselves? If a Christian is too weak to have any exposure to the real world, where on Earth are they living? They sure aren’t helping in the downtown soup kitchen, or working their 9 to 5 rubbing elbows with Joe American. Jesus hung-out-with prostitutes, tax-collectors (think IRS), lepers (could that be AID’s today?). What good are you doing in the Kingdom living in a little sheltered “Christian” world where you never have contact with anyone who doesn’t know Jesus? Maybe if you were an Alcoholic before you were saved, I can understand avoiding the bars. But if not, why are we not IN the bars as missionaries? Or any of the other places in our culture where the lost try to fill their emptiness with things that just leave them emptier? Why are Christians so WEAK in their faith that they still daily struggle with temptations to do or think evil so that they can’t even handle minor exposure to the real world that we live in?

My Grandmother was a saint that cussed like a sailor. She expressed her frustrations with swear words just as naturally as she breathed. She never cussed at anyone directly, never called anyone a foul name, but many currently banned words were part of her upbringing and common vocabulary. Did she sin? I have no doubt of her pure heart. Did she tempt others to sin? … I remember being a little kid with my first deck of cards, and I wanted to shuffle them like the grown-ups did, so I went around the house shuffling and shuffling those cards trying to get it right. One of my uncles was a constant joker, and that day he thought it would be funny to take my cards away and see what I’d do. “Give me those ____ cards!”, I said to him. Next thing I knew I was in time-out wondering what I did wrong. A short while later Uncle returns and asks, “where did you learn that word?” “I learned it from Grandma.”- I was no longer in trouble that day, but I learned it’s not okay for a kid to talk like Grandma.

Who created these words? What is the meaning? What does it mean to the person using it? What is it that they are expressing? Why do they express it that way? Where did they learn to use that word? Great questions to be asking in this discussion. I personally don’t use “foul language” myself because I know what the words actually mean, I know they can offend some others, and generally I have no need in my life to speak those things- I know their are words that more accurately convey my intentions or emotions without striking anyone as offensive. But what if I wanted to write about the life of my real life Grandmother to a Christian audience? She’s a saint in my mind, but for some-reason I need to clean her up before presenting her to the world? And why should I have my antagonist in my fiction have spotless saintly language? The clean mouthed drug dealer, gangster, soldier, psychotic, womanizer… there are some people we expect to speak a certain way- and when they don’t we want to know why they are different. I was a soldier who was different because of Jesus in my life. Why are the non-Christian villains in the Christian story books different than the villains in the real world? By the way, our American soldiers are generally the good-guys in my opinion- but I was one of them and know they talk a lot like my Grandmother.

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

Loved the depiction of your grandmother. I would love to see a not-cleaned-up version of her in fiction :).

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Patrick, I appreciate you sharing your views, and I have no point of debate with your opinion.

I do want to mention two things. One, I do think some of us who read and hear cussing, then go and do likewise are “weak brothers.” Too often people read Scripture and think the one who refrains from a “questionable” activity is strong. I know from my own heart that I am not. Perhaps we are made weaker by being insulated from the world. I, however, grew up going to public schools and today, as the high schoolers walk past my apartment, probably hear things that would curl your military friends’ toes. 😆 It’s not a lack of exposure, but an awareness of my heart that makes me want to stay away from entertainment that might cause me to stumble. (And along that line, I agree with Stephen that the anger we exhibit is as much the issue as what comes out of our mouths.)

As a weaker sister, should I feel guilty for not cussing or for not wanting to read cussing? I don’t think so.

But here’s the other point. I see over and over an appeal to Jesus and who He hung with as a guide for our fiction. We need to remain faithful to what the biblical text says here.

The “sinners” the Pharisees accused Jesus of hanging with were people following Him. Apart from a few exceptions (Matthew and some might possibly consider Zaccheus in this camp) He was not seeking them out, they had sought Him out.

I suspect if Jesus was here today, He would do just what He did then — go to church and start teaching and healing, then move on to the next place. And as crowds gathered, he’d head out to the desert or borrow someone’s yacht to get a little breathing space. And if a prostitute sat down beside Him in the mall, He wouldn’t hesitate to talk to her, but He wouldn’t be visiting the brothels.

I think we force an anti-religion view of Jesus that just isn’t there. He was, in fact, a keeper of the Sabbath, and every other Jewish Law. He observed Passover and was considered a rabbi. He was invited to be the teacher when He went into many a synagogue. He knew Scripture by heart and prayed often.

What He stood against was man’s tradition that was considered more sacred that God’s Law and men pretending to be religious when they were not.

OK, sorry for getting off the topic. Carry on. 😀

Becky

Patrick
Guest

Apparently in my first paragraph I spoke too strongly about weak brothers, and my own opinion of how Christians should interact with the word. Thank you, Becky and Stephen for your feedback on that… But the point I really intended to make was in the next two paragraphs after that.

From the story of my grandma I get this response from Rachel, “Loved the depiction of your grandmother. I would love to see a not-cleaned-up version of her in fiction” This is the same Rachel that in her own posts seems to have made the strongest arguments Against using “cusswords”. Why? I believe there is just something fascinating about real people and their natural use of language. How can this sweet Christian woman use that language in such a way that the people who knew her best rarely noticed when or how often she did it? But when one of her common words comes out of the mouth of her grandson- a completely different reaction. Being the first time I used it I admit it surely didn’t sound natural- and the way I said it didn’t have any sweet sugar coating.

Sure I can use better language- I’ve got a masters degree and have read and written more than most of the people I interact with in life. I know what the words mean, and in my own speech I will not say things I do not mean. But when my Grandma spoke? She grew up in a family that used those words carelessly. I’m not sure she did know what they meant. I know when she used them no one felt threatened or offended. They were just knee jerk automatic phrases that expressed emotion for her.

The same goes for many of the soldiers I’ve known. That is part of their natural language. They are not highly educated, they do not work with words for a living, and this particular group could usually care less if they offended someone with their language. They don’t intend to, but so what if they did? I’m not saying that foul language should permeate our texts, I’d never add a cuss word just because I think the world would like it better or it would sell better. I couldn’t write (or read) a whole story in which the POV Character, or the Narration used excessive cussing. But how do real people talk? If we understood our characters and created them authentically- many of them should speak differently than the artist who created them. They need to have their own voice- their own natural way of speaking- and we should understand what the words mean to them (even though we know better) and how and why they use them (even though we wouldn’t use them ourselves). How valid is a military story that no one speaks like a soldier? And you can’t just make up your own soldier speak- you should know how they speak- and it’s not the cussing that stands out. What stands out with soldiers is their efficiency in speech- to deliver the most meaning and information with the shortest amount of verbalization. If that means a cuss word to them- so be it. But more often you have to know their language to translate what they are saying because the bulk of soldier talk is in acronyms.

Can we deliver all of our characters in a nice clean sanitary package? Sure. Will our characters really live on the page? Oh yeah- we can let their actions speak for them- writing sinful actions isn’t as bad as using poor grammar. Will they be genuine believable characters? Or will they all poses the education and speech patterns of the author- because to speak in ways that are not natural to us would feel forced?

Can we not put ourselves in the heads of our characters? Suspend our own knowledge and convictions to consider the other perspectives? No word that I write is sinful to me. How are words sinful? I don’t get it. I can’t listen to gangster rap because of the sinful message that is delivered through the words- because of words being used in ways that disgust me- used for shock and glamorizing a sinful lifestyle. The words themselves are not sinful, but the ways they are strung together out of a sinful heart can be. But if a character in a story can be transformed from sin because of the saving power of Jesus, or the characters who do actions I would not do and say things I would not say are there as informational and educational about sin and how we should react or respond to it. We should want to inform about why we handle things the way we do to counter-act the teaching of the world. We can’t ignore what we don’t like in the world and expect our audience not to notice or become curious about it. And we will change no ones mind about the things we don’t address. We must be direct and honest about what is- why it is- and how and why we are different.

Sorry about the rambling- my point: If characters don’t speak like their real-world counterparts are they real enough? I’m not saying they need cussing to be grittier, or to be relevant, or to invoke negative feelings, or any other intentionally tactical reason for including it other-than just to have real live characters- people we’ve met and know exist whether we like the way they talk or not- and have those people included in what would hopefully be a story of Christian redemption with good education about Truth along the way. I’m not saying make-up cussing preachers- or that cussing is good and everyone should do it- No! But it’s only bad in how it is used, and less is generally better for the mind. But when our uneducated characters speak like linguists, and our readers have experienced people in that role and how they really speak- what does that do in their mind? Have we helped them connect with this character? Protected them from something? I’m not sure that we have.

Heather
Guest

I admit, I’ll read secular fiction or watch movies that have cuss-words (some of my favorite movies contain an unfortunate amount of cussing). But when I read Christian fiction, I want real-world stuff in a “safe” way. People may not think it’s possible, but I do. It just takes a little more creativeness than blurting out a word or showing a scene.

Take Thr3e, for instance. 😉 Dekker could have shown Slater cussing up a storm, and he would have essentially told us, “Hey, watch out for this guy. He’s bad.”

Instead, Dekker shows Slater callously blowing up a doghouse, planting a bomb in a library, and all sorts of other horrible things. That gets down my gut and makes me squirm, because he’s showing us that this guy is sick and depraved.

Which is stronger?

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

I don’t like to use cusswords in my writing for the same reason I don’t use them in real life (aside from the reason, admittedly present, that I wouldn’t want people to think badly of me): I think they show a lack of respect for language.

As a Christian and a writer, I believe that words are immensely powerful and immensely important.

My whole culture, for example, might think it’s fine to toss around “God” as an expletive, but I know what that word denotes, and I won’t do it.

Ditto “hell” and “damn.” People might say them all the time, lightly and without meaning anything, but those words have very strong meaning and I don’t use them except when I am actually talking about hell and damnation. I don’t want my characters using them either, because in my mind, if I did my writing would contribute to the already-rampant cultural problem of not understanding and respecting what words mean.

The f-word: takes something God designed to be holy and desecrates it. I won’t use it either. (I can show characters desecrating that holy thing, as people do, but again, I don’t want to contribute to our culture’s language problem by creating one more mouth that misuses it.)

The merely rude words I don’t have as big an issue with; most people know what they mean and use them appropriately. Then again, I don’t think they do much to brighten our culture, so I’m not especially enamoured with contributing to that, either.

Jeremy McNabb
Guest

I feel like we have the freedom to use them, but if we’re writing from within our own Christian lives, and we happen to be people who don’t use swear words on a regular basis, we have to force them to make an appearance in our writing. Forced writing is almost always bad writing.

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

Oh, and I should just clarify one thing. I don’t market myself as a Christian author. People who read my work should fully expect secular work. There are some biblical images and such in my work, and I’m not shy about saying I’m a follower of Christ (albeit an incredibly imperfect one), but it’s not Christian fiction. It just isn’t.

If it’s marketed as Christian work, then I do think there should be a certain expectation of clean-ish language, among other things. But I didn’t set out to write Christian fiction. If I do at some point, I will hold myself to a higher expectation as far as content.

And yes, I do think you can tell a compelling story without swearing, sex, violence, all kinds of things. But to be honest about the stories in my head, I use some of that stuff. I’m just careful to warn people up front that they aren’t getting Christian fiction.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Sounds like most people here have the same personal beliefs against swearing in their own writing or reading, so as to avoid causing temptation to themselves or to others.

Perhaps the worst thing believers could do on this is accuse the other side of not being Christians — or compromisers or legalists — without knowing the person or being willing to listen to his/her point of view. Here’s hoping, whatever view you hold, we can do that!

I can sympathize, though, with the view that says Christians are already bound to hear the same kinds of words in the real world; to restrict them from our reading seems as futile a task as hyphenating the words in movie reviews. That’s why I hope in part 2 to explore the issue of personal Christian convictions on something that may not always be sin, for every single believer, and more specifically the question:

Should Christian publishers have been, all along, banning Bad Words? Or should a publisher leave that choice to readers to decide — letting the books whose authors feel good cause to use them fall, and then adjust accordingly?

Some thoughts about Brian‘s comment:

You can write a book with a great message, compelling storyline, and a real characters and not have to resort to an “R” rating for the book to sell.

Agreed, and I wonder if Christians should be addressing the root cause of their poor fiction — weak views of God and the Gospel, and the horror of sin in God’s sight — and thus see if we can repair the problem there first, rather than what could be mere cosmetic improvements of Injecting Bad Language. (As I said in a previous comment, and will repeat next week, films like The Dark Knight don’t need excessive language to show how horrible evil is, and why is must be stopped.)

To me, it’s no different than saying your pastor can drop the “F” bomb a few times during his Sunday morning sermon to stay relevant to the audience. It just doesn’t work.

Here’s where I disagree, because it is different. Scripture lays out many guidelines for church overseers/elders/pastors that aren’t laid out for other believers with different callings. A pastor should have the husband of one wife, for example, and have his family in mostly good shape (1 Timothy 3); whereas another believer may not have these things. And what applies during an organized gathering of believers in a church setting may not apply to other situations. For example, Paul made it clear that eating meat sacrificed to idols was not intrinsically evil, but if another believer comes over for dinner who doesn’t believe that way, don’t serve such meats, and so love them.

Some other thoughts about Patrick‘s comment:

Do the murders in Christian novels tempt Christian’s to murder? How is it we can write out sinful actions, but not words of a certain category that may or may not be sinful in themselves?

That’s my question as well: do instances of swearing, unlike sex scenes that are almost sure to be fodder for a reader’s own lust, personally tempt readers?

If a Christian is too weak to have any exposure to the real world, where on Earth are they living? They sure aren’t helping in the downtown soup kitchen, or working their 9 to 5 rubbing elbows with Joe American.

I’m not sure this is a fair comparison. Many Christians manage to mix it up quite fine with those who don’t know Christ, and yet have convictions to prevent temptations to their own sin. For example, a single Christian man would not find it wise to go out and pick up scantily clad female prostitutes, to transport them to a soup kitchen. The same is true of Christians who might be fine with viewing a PG-13 film like The Dark Knight (like myself), but try to avoid using that kind of language personally (for which the film would not be guilty, only myself).

Jesus hung-out-with prostitutes, tax-collectors (think IRS), lepers (could that be AID’s today?). What good are you doing in the Kingdom living in a little sheltered “Christian” world where you never have contact with anyone who doesn’t know Jesus?

Again, not sure this is a fair comparison. Many non-“sheltered” Christians are doing much good for their world, for Christ and the Gospel, in vocations that involve coming up close and personal to the world’s filth. But they also have strong beliefs against using those words (which, currently, I agree with) or hearing them said (which I don’t).

My guess is that even Christians who feel freedom to let one fly have some boundaries. Here I might clarify that I still believe any instance of saying God’s Name, apart from talking about Him directly, or a prayer or cry to Him for help, is violating the fourth commandment. In response to a Christian who uses His Name in a cavalier way, though, I wouldn’t just say “that’s wrong” or “you’re not a Christian” but instead, “Do you think using Christ’s or God’s Name in that way glorifies Him, after what He’s done for you?”

Swearing with God’s Name seems to me to be far worse than saying “Hell” or “damn,” and even the worse vulgarities. But as Rachel said, there is something to be said for the language aspect: do we really want to promote using even these words — an actual place, and God’s actual deed to send someone there — casually?

But again, that’s all about personal use. It doesn’t exactly parallel whether a Christian writer could practice the freedom to quote a character swearing, even if it’s shown to be a sin. We’re able to show other sins and their consequences, seen as bad according to the Christian worldview, and not tempt some readers; so why not this particular sin? Moreover, should our publishers act as if saying “hell” or “damn” is worse than other portrayals of bad stuff that might escape notice, such as taking God’s Name in vain — whether by actually saying His Name in bad ways or profaning His Gospel with man-centered stories — or including emotional “pornography” in romances?

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, sorry fro getting off topic from time to time, but writers often use the “meat offered to idols” passage as a way of establishing a principle to deal with “gray areas.” I recently realized that in Paul’s day meat offered to idols was not gray at all. It was on the “No” list. When Paul reported to the church elders about his work with Gentiles, there was a big discussion. This is what James concluded: “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” Act 15:19-20 (emphasis mine).

So the apostles and elders and whole church agreed. They wrote a letter for Paul to take to this new group of Gentile Christians: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” Act 15:28-29 (emphasis again mine).

So what was that whole discussion in I Corinthians about meat offered to idols? I think it was Paul’s rational why this very black and white instruction was given. After all, he was there during the discussion when they were hashing out their standards. He would have known. And of course so would the Holy Spirit. 😉

Becky

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

Stephen, I wouldn’t censor any Christian for using “bad” language in their writing, especially not if they’d given it some thought and felt they were doing a right thing (I might judge their decision a poor one, but I wouldn’t consider them less Christian because of it). In fact, I read a (Christian! from a Christian publisher!) book the other day that used lots of language I wouldn’t, and I thought it was beautiful and profound.

Here’s a thought, though, on the rightness or wrongness of using these words in our fiction: when we depict someone fornicating, no one is actually doing it. When we depict someone murdering, no one is actually murdering. But WE are actually using the words we are using when we write.

And hence contributing to our culture’s lack of respect and understanding of what language means.

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

“When we depict someone fornicating, no one is actually doing it. When we depict someone murdering, no one is actually murdering. But WE are actually using the words we are using when we write.”

Oh, so well put, Rachel! Good distinction.

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

Thanks :). To clarify–I don’t think all cussing is sin, so I’m not accusing all Christian writers who use cuss words of sin. I DO think we need to respect language. If writers don’t, who will?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

[W]hen we depict someone fornicating, no one is actually doing it. When we depict someone murdering, no one is actually murdering. But WE are actually using the words we are using when we write.

Rachel, that’s something I hadn’t thought about. It seems the flip side, for written media, of a great quote from Captain Jean-Luc Piper about visual media, about what Questionable Material he believes is best to avoid in films, and why:

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching.

Conversely, a writer could “show” someone without clothes in a novel, without being as suggestive or sin-inducing. Yet I would submit it’s detailed fornication or even physical-intimacy-within-marriage scenes that still push the limits too far. Like sensuous nudity shown in a film, its inevitable result is to induce sin in someone else. Yet “quoting” a swear word seems not to feed as inevitably a reader’s personal temptation.

Yet that, perhaps, is another column or series …

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

Stephen, I had that quote in mind, but I couldn’t remember who said it. ‘Tis wise.

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

I’ve never heard that quote before – it’s a good one.

R. J. Anderson
Member

when we depict someone fornicating, no one is actually doing it. When we depict someone murdering, no one is actually murdering

Yet if we depict those things in such a way that the reader enters into sympathy with fornication or murder, then we are causing them to commit fornication or murder in their hearts. So I don’t think that analogy holds.

For myself, I find that in certain books and movies there may be instances of swearing which seem natural and not gratuitous, and which my mind barely registers as a result. (Especially in a movie where all the characters have heavy accents, as in MICHAEL COLLINS where the swear word of choice came out rhyming with “spook”.) In most cases, unless the language is really extreme, it’s the overall message or theme of the book that tends to stick with me in the end, not the number of swear words the author used in the course of writing it.

However, I do admit to being surprised and somewhat bewildered when a couple of years ago I picked up a book by a Christian author (secularly published) which included both curse words and blasphemies. Of course, this was the story of a non-Christian family and one could hardly expect them to talk like Good Churchgoing Folk, but I found it troubling and even painful to read knowing this had come from the pen of a Christian author. It really made me think about whether I could or should use curse words in order to be “real” with my writing, and I came to the conclusion that in most cases I really couldn’t do it with a clear conscience. Perhaps the author of that book could, and that’s between them and the Lord, but personally I couldn’t.

I agree that some of the attempts by Christian authors to replace swearing with euphemisms often fall embarrassingly flat, though. There has to be another way.

Rachel Starr Thomson
Member

Yet if we depict those things in such a way that the reader enters into sympathy with fornication or murder, then we are causing them to commit fornication or murder in their hearts. So I don’t think that analogy holds.

Where I would see a difference is that I can write about those things in such a way that readers do NOT sympathize with them–hopefully, I can write about them in such a way that sin looks as ugly and disgusting as it is. Whereas I cannot misuse language without misusing language.

Does that make more sense?

I agree that it’s the overall message or theme that sticks most, which is part of what Stephen is getting at when he says we need to deal more with underlying issues (where does sin come from? what is God’s role in our lives? what in the world is the gospel, anyway?) first.

Thanks for the response! I haven’t had a chance to read your books yet, but I’ve heard a LOT of good and am looking forward to them when I can!

R. J. Anderson
Member

Ah, yes, Rachel, now I see your point more clearly. Thanks for the explanation. (And the nice words about wanting to read my books!)

Timothy Stone
Member

I would correct some here. They seem to think that whilst swearing can corrupt people, then other areas can not. That is as wrong as can be. In this statement to follow, I will reveal some facets to my less than stellar sinful weaknesses of the flesh. I am not the only one. Please do not judge me to be horrible, or not a Christian, as I do seek help on a daily basis for these sins and evils.

I am someone who if I see a woman fighting another woman or man, I can find myself having to fight to not think something bad on a subconscious level. If I see a woman, hurt, or a woman hurt a man, or ANYTHING having to do with a woman, I have to fight. I KNOW that I am not the only one who has these struggles.

Hearing fuck, damn, shit, pissed, or anything else is NOT AS BAD as anything that can cause someone to objectify women. I still read most fiction, but some, I have not for this reason. However, that is MY problem, not the authors.

My whole point is that, as Stephen, Mike Duran, and others might point out, the messages, both theological and otherwise of a given work are much more dangerous to someone’s life and spirit (i.e., moral conduct and fellowship with Christ) than the words a character uses.

An even tamer example than lust, but one that can become gravely serious if taken to extremes. What if a book shows a capable female fighting a male? So a male may decide that he can hit a woman since they can defend themselves. That’s worse than swearing, and it IS learned behavior.

I know my thoughts are scattered and I apologize for this. That’s my piece as far as I can think to say it. God bless.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Timothy, above all, your comment shows we are different. And I get that. When we talk about reading about someone killing another character, we say we the readers are not tempted to do the same. But I don’t agree with that entirely either. I’ve read stories and seen movies that have made me root for a vengeance-seeking character to succeed. Does that not train my heart to justify vengeance?

But someone else might simply dismiss the scene as make-believe and walk away unaffected. Or perhaps, he’s walking away unaware he’s affected.

In other words, all things in fiction can have an effect because words have power.

But here’s the point I think we need to keep in mind. When we’re talking about Christian fiction, we need to tailor our writing to the standards of the publisher … in the same way that the cartoonist in Stephen’s example must tailor his to the standards of his publisher and the same way TV screenwriters need to tailor theirs to what is acceptable in that media.

Unless we’re going to self publish, we really aren’t free agents. So partly this discussion frustrates me because it seems like a lot of needless verbiage deciding things we have no control over. And if someone has a strong personal stand about writing a certain way, then I think that should guide him where he should seek publication. If he feels he can’t write realistic characters without swearing, then by all means he should forgo submitting to publishing houses that do not allow such. I don’t see why this continues to be a major issue with some writers.

Becky

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Galadriel
Guest

I have not considered this issue much–mainly because the characters I write tend to kill people when they get mad–not swear. But it was interesting to see all the different perspectives on it.