Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the In Defense of Profanity post. After reading the comments, I have three thoughts — and then I’ll drop the subject, I swear — I mean, I promise — because there are lots of other interesting things to talk about.
First, in my book The Invisible Girls (which I’d invite you to read, especially if you weighed in against profanity, just so you can have a better context for my comments), I only quoted other people, like my atheist friend dying of cancer, who swore. I wasn’t swearing as the narrator; I was just quoting other people who did. If you say that Christian writers shouldn’t quote profanity in their books because profanity is a “sin,” according to some biblical interpretations, then by that logic, Christians also shouldn’t make movies or tell stories in which anyone steals, lies in court, has an affair or commits murder. Which means that movies like Les Mis, The Passion of the Christ or The Mission are all off limits. Do they depict and describe sin? Yes. However, not in spite of that but because of that, because they graphically depict wrongdoing, they also are able to graphically depict redemption, and in doing this, they remind us what God’s like.
Second, to the people who disagreed with my post, I definitely welcome other perspectives, but I do think your definition of what words count as “sin” is much too narrow. Your rule seems to say that if Christians don’t use four-letter words, they are not speaking profanely. I would argue that you’re living by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law — and Jesus came to remind us that it’s the spirit of the law that matters most to God. The Latin root of the word “profane” means “non-sacred.” I would argue that all of life is sacred — God permeates our world and our hearts continuously. So it’s not four-letter-words that are off limits, but speaking against what God says is sacred. What’s actually profane is misleading shareholders at a company meeting, or telling gay people that God hates them, or telling poverty-striken people to earn their keep on this planet and pick themselves up by their bootstraps — when they have no means by which to procure said boots.
Thirdly, four-letter words serve a purpose. They are a vehicle for intense emotion, when there aren’t sufficient words — or enough time — to express the sentiment. Even Mary Poppins acknowledged that. She and Burt taught the children Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and they defined it as, “A word to say when you don’t know what to say.” I don’t think we should swear at people, because that indicates anger or contempt or other sins of the heart. But what do you say when your 35-year-old friend has terminal cancer? Or hundreds of students drown on a ferry? Or a terrorist kills thousands of people by crashing a plane into a skyscraper? Even the Holy Spirit runs out of words and intercedes for us with “groans that words cannot express.”
So when tragedy strikes your life or the life of someone you know, and you can’t find words to articulate the pain, you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious if it makes you feel better. Others of us will sit with our dying friend and just say fuck.