God and the "F" WordAugust 27, 2005
There are days when I feel like I am holding back the dam. And I said “dam”, not damn. Here’s the scoop.
At least four times in the past month, members of our church community have told me they don’t think it is wrong to drop the “F” Bomb (ie. to use the “F” word). In fact, some reading this are probably laughing because I don’t use the word. In some circles I have used it for clarification of what I was writing, but that was only twice that I remember, and it may not happen again.
At the same time, I am reading about more and more Postmodern Christians who are saying that profanity should not only be allowed, but even encouraged. They say that profanity is hardly offensive to God since God judges the attitudes of the heart. They say that God is offended by words which demean others, put them down, display sarcasm, express racism, or lay abuse on someone. They agree that Bono should be allowed (without censorship) to use the “F” word if he is not referring to the sex act. Actually, I feel the opposite on that issue. More about that at the end of this entry.
Let me deal with the five major arguments used about saying or writing “F*&%” in public discourse. I am not asking you to agree with me, but to understand where I’m coming from. I have never wanted to be a “holier-than-thou” Christian or a sanctimonious snit. But I think there are good reasons to avoid using this word.
Argument #1: It is a word which has lost its sexual meaning, and therefore it no longer carries its original force. This argument points out that it is more often used as an adjective, (as in “That is f***ing beautiful), or a transitive verb (“as in “My life is really f***ed”), or an exclamation (as in “Oh F***), and any number of compound noun combinations than used in its original verb context. But the reality is that no adult in America would have any trouble identifying what the original usage of the word is. This argument does hold water for words like “bugger” (which originally meant homosexual anal intercourse), but which now can mean anything from a kid who lights your cat’s tail on fire to what you have done to your fuel injectors by using cheap gas. The word “f***” means sexual intercourse, that beautiful act that God created. No matter how it is morphed to mean other things, its true emotional force comes from its origin.
Argument #2: A word cannot be obscene, only an idea. This is the argument that suggests our words are poor reflections of our inner man. This argument rightly points out that some people can sound so pious and good and yet their hearts are far from that standard. The Bible agrees with that assessment when it says, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me”. But this is not the whole picture. What comes out of the mouth is an indication of where the heart is. The Bible says, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”. A word which is obscene will not come from a heart which is pure. It cannot. Can foul water come out of a clean stream? But of course, this begs the third argument….
Argument #3: How can the word “f***” be obscene or profane when it refers to something which God created? In essence, I agree with part of this argument. The sex act is a beautiful thing as it was created by God. God created pleasure and sex, and combined the two together. He didn’t have to give us so many pleasure sensors in our erogenous zones, but then the mandate to “Be fruitful and multiply” may have been somewhat harder to achieve if He hadn’t. That is not to suggest that sex is primarily for reproduction. I don’t believe it is. It is the most sublime expression of Covenant love between a husband and wife. What makes “f***” profane (or any other word which is used primarily to describe sex) is that it makes something sacred into something ordinary. That is what profane means: To take something sacred and use it for common purposes. We profane worship by making it a means to make money. We profane the Scriptures by using them as slogans on golf balls. We profane the sex act by referring to our thumb smashed by a hammer as “all f***ed up”. As to whether the word “f***” is obscene, this is a harder idea. The Supreme Court in the 1970s was correct when they said that obscenity is hard to define and should be set by the parameters of individual communities. One community might allow nude bathing and another may not. That is up to community standards. Therefore, there may come a day when the word “f***” may not be considered obscene in some parts of our culture.
Argument #4: If the person using “f***” is not in any way referring to the sex act in their minds, how can this be profane? My question is, why then is the word used? It is used because it has such intensity and boldness. There are several famous comedians today who would have absolutely no routines if they didn’t use the word “f***”. Why do they choose this word instead of “banana” (and no, that was not a Freudian reference)? It is because bananas do not get people to sit up and take notice. The shock value of “f***” consists entirely in its connotations and points of reference. As a marriage counselor, I often teach that the two most emotional issues in relationships are money and sex. These two cause more fights than any other. If we want to really hurt a person, it is very common for people to say “F*** you!” They don’t say “Walk you!” or “Pick you” or “Stack you” even though each of these is a common Anglo-saxon verb. Therefore, intrinsic in most uses of “f***” is the sexual connotations or at least the emotional flavor of the same.
Argument #5: There is nothing wrong with using “f***” to refer to sexual intercourse, since this does not reduce it to something else”. This argument I agree with to a certain extent. The only stipulation I would have is that the person who refers to sexual intercourse using “f***” should understand the community standards of the people they are with. I have friends who regularly refer to sex this way, and they know that even though I don’t use the word, I am not entirely uncomfortable with their use of the word. But if they used it around some other friends of ours, it would put unwarranted barriers in their friendship. So it is best not to do it. In essence, I have much less trouble using “f***” to refer to sex than using it in profane ways.
There is a reason I walked out of the movie “Phone Booth”…and it wasn’t just because the acting was sub-standard. The language of that movie was all walked up.