Yesterday’s post about Acuff’s blog got me to thinking about about something a reader asked me well over a year ago. I must admit to not answering his very direct question and I promised I would address it via email. Call what follows my penance for not doing it sooner….
Quite some time ago, I was asked how I could claim to be a Christian when I use a fair amount of profanity in my posts. Now, I get the apparent contradictions between my beliefs and my somewhat flagrant use of profanity. I guess I avoided the question because I wasn’t really sure where to start. It’s a good question and one I’m not sure how to answer.
Here’s something I’ve never done in this arena before…ladies and gents, I give you Scripture.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Ephesians 4:29

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Ephesians 5:4

So…here’s my interpretation of these two (two scriptures I lifted from Acuff’s comments on SCL #31, by the way). “Unwholesome talk”…hmmm…that one is pretty broad. I could make some outlandish claims about how we could lump all kinds of things in there. Everything from gossip to trash talking on the sports field could qualify. Does it hit too close to home for me? Maybe…on the other hand, my Dad always said that if we don’t point out to the stupid amongst us that they are, in fact, stupid, we wouldn’t be doing them a service. One could argue that it would “benefit those who listen”.
Secondly, “obscenity”. Also a fairly ambiguous term, yes? Wasn’t it some Senator that said he didn’t know how to define pornography, but knew it when he saw it? As a cop, I see a lot of things that could be interpreted as obscene. I am not particularly offended by most things. Call it cynicism, realism, or simply life, but I think we as a culture are all too sensitive about the lion’s share of things this life has to offer.
My rationalization (a carefully chosen word, I assure you) for using the words I do? Sometimes, other words just don’t get the job done. In a job where you need people to do things when you tell them to do them, you tend to use the ones that will make that thing happen as expeditiously as possible. I am not a prude nor a cop who thinks that using profanity is “sinking to their level”. Yadda, yadda…held to a higher standard…blah, blah, blah. Listen, if the guy that wants to fight me and possibly send me to the hospital isn’t responding to “Sir, please have a seat”, you better believe I’m going to tell him to “sit the fuck down” if it’ll get me home to the Wife and Kids. Sometimes, the shock factor is enough to verbally slap someone across the face.
Honestly, I don’t find profanity all that profane. Which is an interesting conundrum because I can’t recall calling a woman a “bitch” because I find it offensive to women; however, I won’t hesitate to walk into the guy’s locker room and say, “What’s up, bitches?” (Thank you, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).
Is this all my attempt at justifying my love of the Mother of All Bad Words? It is distinctly possible. Would I be honest with myself and my writing of this blog if I didn’t use what was in my head? I don’t think so. That they are in my head in the first place is a completely different topic and not something you all need to concern yourselves with, I think. And no, I couldn’t resist the graphic to the right…
When all is said and done, I feel at ease knowing that the audience that I am aiming for and writing for is more like me than not. My job is often confrontational, uncomfortable, and…well…offensive. I don’t use profanity when I’m contacting the public (except the unusual case in which it may have the desired affect as stated above). I don’t swear around those I know are offended by it. I am not hurling vulgarities when I drop the Kid off at preschool. I’m not completely socially retarded, folks.
Am I creating excuses? Perhaps. Am I worried about my immortal soul behind it? Negative. Am I trying to curb my use of it? Maybe a little…but not so much that I compromise my integrity. Dig that rationalization!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

17 thoughts on “Profanity

  1. That was a fun explanation, and I bought it. 🙂

    I swear an awful lot myself (yes, even though I'm a cute little female), and like the awesome graphic says, profanity does make talking fun. (When, as you also address in this post, you are talking to and in front of the right audience, like your best friend and not your small child.)

    As for Christian values (I was brought up Protestant), I think dropping f-bombs on occasion is a helluva lot lower on the list of bad things to do than, say, committing any crimes, cheating on your significant other, being a lousy parent, lying, etc. etc. I care a lot more about whether people get those things right than whether they say "fuck" vs. "fiddlesticks".

    Go ahead, keep swearing!! 🙂

  2. I'm not sure about the philosophy of the linguistics of obscenities, but here's my opinion.

    I think it's a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

    It is obscene because we treat it as such.

    Take Bloody for instance. In some parts of the world, and to certain people, it's offensive.

    In America, I've never known it to be offensive, merely associated with different cultures (Australia/UK).

    The words hold the power to offend people, because of a cultural taboo.

    Not some inherent sin.

  3. To go back to the original question,"How can you call yourself a Christian and still sin?" Christians still sin – even Paul admitted to it in Romans 7. We stand forgiven because of the death of Christ and our acceptance of that sacrifice on our behalf.

    I have the mouth of a sailor. Not proud of it. What trips me up is the question, "Would you use that language in front of your Savior?" That makes me hang my head. Stay safe, MC.

  4. "Would you use that language in front of your Savior?" Yeah, actually I would. Remember this is the guy who hung out with tax collectors and thieves.

    Now, call me a hypocrite, but I take the bit about 'not taking God's name in vain' rather seriously and I don't say 'Oh my God' or 'Jesus Christ!'. But I'm okay with a mock-angry 'fuck you' to my husband when he's teasing me. (To which the usual response is 'yes please!')

    I don't know. It does seem to fly in the face of what Ephesians says, but I think I have a pretty good conscience, and it really doesn't twinge over this. So I'm going to worry about my immaturity and lack of work ethic first. (Although I really do need to stop swearing when things go wrong – someone's going to overhear that some day!)

  5. One day a big fat lady with no bra, and she really needed one, yelled at me for saying Fuck. I was taken back by this. She said I offended her, and yet clearly didn't care that she was offending me, small children, and wild animals with her dress, and lack of um proper support. . .anyway my point is that people will judge you by how you look and talk, and sometimes you need to be judged as someone who is not "holier than thou" and sometimes you need to relate to people. .sometimes you got to talk their lingo. I don't think a curse word in itself is a sin, rather what good or evil we do with our words.

  6. "Lethal Weapon" Exquisite use of profanity. Kinda vulgar? Yep. A sin? Only if your intent is to offend. IMHO.

  7. Sorry, but I don't see anything here but a lot of tap dancing and rationalization. I've been a cop for 31 years and have always managed to hold my salty tongue in front of civilians. I don't have a blog, but if I had one, I wouldn't use obscenity on it, just like I wouldn't swear in line at the bank or grocery store when I was in uniform but off duty. I expect the same of any officer under me. The way you talk in the locker room is not the way you speak in public, and that's what you're doing here: speaking in public. You're not putting your best foot forward. You can fool yourself with rationalization and scripture quotation, but you demean both yourself and your fellow officers when you use obscenities in a public space.

  8. I have to agree with Copter Cop. I am a high school teacher and I'm sure I could get the attention of my students by using profanity, but I use other means. I think swearing shows a lack of maturity. There are so many better ways to express yourself that don't demean yourself.

  9. Great post. Here's a mildly interesting tidbit:

    It wasn't a senator who said "I'll know it when I see it" but a Supreme Court justice, Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964).

    Here's the full quote:

    “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

    That gives the quote even more weight because even the most respected legal scholar couldn't define it.

  10. @Copter Cop,

    You say "I don't have a blog, but if I had one, I wouldn't use obscenity on it." Well, if you did have a blog, (and you should!) wouldn't you want to say all of those things you can't say in public as a cop? After all, that's the whole point of a blog. Its anonymous and cops (and others) can tell their salty stories without getting in trouble.

    Even if you don't use profanity, in a blog you'd still want to complain about citizens or supervisors or say whatever you can't say in uniform. I love hearing stories only other cops get to hear. I think its a very healthy outlet and many more officers should do it. If he wants to curse, I say fire away! I want to know the true writer, not some PR image of what some think a cop should be.

  11. Let me start by saying, I was reticent to post something along these lines, but after reading your comments, I'm glad I did.

    You've all had some very interesting takes on the topic! I appreciate all you've said.

    Copter…I can dig your point. I'd like to point out that in the post itself I called myself out on using rationalizations. I'd also like to remind you that I also mention not talking the way I do in the blog when contacting the public, so your argument there is moot. Insofar as the blog being "public", I disagree…to a point. You don't know who I am (I could work for your very department) and I didn't twist your arm to visit (although, you are always welcome to do so!). My point is that this started as a way to vent my frustrations in a soundproof room of sorts. Sure others can read it, but it's still an anonymous character's experiences. Much of what I write is laced with sarcasm specifically because I can't exercise that particular muscle in the field. So, I disagree with you with regard to "using obscenities in a public space" because I don't consider this forum public in its truest sense. I'm not saying that's accurate or right, just how I view it.

    Jake…get on Jeopardy. Like now. I'd also add I appreciate your final sentiment about not wanting a PR version of a cop. That has more to do with why/how I write than I know how to explain.

    Thanks again, all…I enjoyed reading your comments!

  12. Pamm44 and Motor Cop, I too am a Christian but am slightly offended in the explination that we are all sinners thus its okay to sin. NO!, it happens but isn't okay. Okay now I'm down off the soap box.

    I would like to comment on the two verses you quoated. I'll first say that I've been doing this job for 10 years now and for the first 8, if my partner heard me cuss he new to start running to help, that has changed a tad in the past 2 years as I just feels like the bad guys it it when you tell them to sit the F! down.

    Ephesians 4:29
    unwholesome or currupt talk is translated to "SAPROS" in the greek. Means not to use rotten, putrefied
    or of poor quality. And we are to speak "helpful" or good (agathos): useful, plesant or upright words.

    Heck I don't think I have to go any further in saying swearing probably isn't supported in these verses.

    Stay safe my brothers. Hope to be back out there soon. And Motor, I'm sad I haven't been linked yet!

  13. I too am a Christian motorcop. I am one of those deputies who does hold himself to a higher standard. I have experienced other deputies who have fallen short of their own moral or ethical expectations come to me for advice, and that was because of how I conduct myself. But, I assure you that I too occassionally have a mouth that would make a sailor blush from shame. Could I find better wording – yes. Do I ever inflict harm or intentional insults – absolutely not. But profanity does happen; so I try to at least make mine tactically useful or entertaining.

  14. Not a fan of it myself but then my rules are for me.
    I don't think swearing puts you on a Highway to Hell as I am sure we are judged on greater things other than our vocabulary. After all, you can still denigrate someone without using a single profanity. I'm sure that God above will judge us on our intentions rather than our language. As for using it in your line of work well so be it. As you said, whatever gets you home safe.

  15. IF there is an all-knowning, all-seeing, all-loving being out there, I have to belief that he would take less issue with my usuage of the word "fuck" than all the heinous things people do to each other in this world.

    Besides, I'm pretty sure today's "curse" words are quite different from those when the bible was penned.

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