has an interesting post up about offensive language
. He writes about recent offense that has been taken by the usage of certain words and then delves into the history of what offends. He proposes that in premodern times people were offended by words that were "excommunicatory in nature - offensive words were religious terms that threatened punishment and damnation." In modern times it was "words that cause most offense affront our personal and private sensibilities. These offensive words are normally associated with private body parts, bodily functions of a toilet nature, and sexual relations." In our postmodern times "it is exclusionary language that causes most offence. Marginalizing people due to their race, gender, disability or status is about the most offensive thing you can say." He then mentions the bible passages that refer to offensive language including "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." Eph 4:29.
Call me a stereotypical postmodern, but I understand the pre- and postmodern views on offensive language, but just can't justify the modern. Biblically if the point is not to use the Lord's name in vain (which referred to making flippant curses or oaths) or not to tear anyone down, the modern sensibility just doesn't fit. In fact the modern approach does just the opposite - instead of building people up, modern bans of "offensive language" exist to exclude and ridicule. Most of the language that is offensive under the modern sensibilities (bodily and sexual references) is called vulgar. While we have come to perceive of "vulgar" as anything bad, dirty, and lower, it was originally just a term of derision used for the lower classes. So anything associated with the poor, uneducated masses (including their language) was considered vulgar and inappropriate for civilized folk.
So usage of terms that implied that one didn't subscribe to classism, racism and the like became taboo. Proper people don't use the germanic/anglo language of the poor (shit, fuck) they use the latinate language of the rich and powerful (excrement, fornicate). Over time the taboo took on mythic dimensions. Certain words came to hold almost magical powers. Say a certain word (incant this spell) and you have sinned (cursed yourself to hell). I doubt that most Christians actually stop to think about what sort of theology they are promoting when they insist that just saying "fuck" is a sin.
The fact that for most Christians it's okay to use language of hate and derision (making fun of homosexuals, women, and other religions), but its sinful to say certain "vulgar" words displays a seriously messed up theology in my opinion. We are told to build others up with our language and encouraging language of hate while forbidding the language of the poor achieves the exact opposite. So label me as just being postmodern, but I see the more constructive (and biblical) option to be to avoid language that excludes, tears down, and ridicules. So I really don't care if someone drops the "f-bomb" but I won't abide "you throw like a girl."
So it has nothing to do with wanting to be hip and cool or selling out to the culture if I choose to use a word that for a certain period of English history was considered taboo. It has more to do with actually considering my theology of sin, understanding the call to love my neighbor, and living accordingly. But that just pushes the walls of the box a little too far for most people...
Labels: Church, Culture, Emerging Church, Reflections