I’ve finished with The Origins of Totalitarianism now – I’m busy tearing through On Violence, which comes in at a measly 87 pages. After that, Pseudo-Dionysus is winging his way down, so we’ll be into that pretty soon. For now, there’s a couple of filler topics I’d like to think about. The first one is to do with this article:
Basically some Christian band said ‘Fuck’ in a song and everybody lost their freaking minds, because apparently Christianity is stuck in 1950. I think my instinctive position is pretty clear: I’m very pro-swearing, and I’ve got no time for Christians who kick up a fuss about it. We should talk about it though, because there are some interesting issues involved.
The first thing to note is that I’m not talking about the specific context of the situation. We can argue about the fact that these guys used to be worship leaders in a church and people look to them as role models for the community, blah blah blah – I feel like that gets so tied up in the specifics that it actually loses the scope of the wider question. I’m not interested in whether or not these guys should swear – the more important question is whether there’s any situation in which swearing is appropriate.
Let’s take a step sideways and talk about Psalm 22. Basically it starts off with the speaker asking why they’ve been abandoned by God – and over the course of the Psalm they figure out “Oh, he hasn’t actually abandoned me, he’s actually right there and everything’s fine”:
“For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.”
That’s verse 24. It’s past-tense – God has listened, so it’s not happening now or an ongoing process – it’s complete. The speaker has been heard, and everything’s fine. We can call it a psalm of reassurance, in that sense – it starts off with the speaker feeling wildly insecure to the point of bad theology (they’re asking why God has abandoned them and betrayed His own nature), and ends up with the speaker praising God’s faithfulness: “He has done it!” However, even though there’s that transition, there’s a point where we have to respect the authenticity of the initial feelings. It’s not just David feeling a bit grumpy – we have to recognise that he’s authentically and genuinely saying that he feels like God’s abandoned him. It’s a profound statement, and we have to respect the integrity of what he’s saying before we can appreciate the force of the psalm.
Aesthetics aside, it’s also reassuring for us as regular people – because yeah, David felt utterly hopeless sometimes, and he wrote psalms where he said “I feel utterly fucking hopeless right now”. It’s important to have that in the Bible, because it legitimises our experience when we feel the same thing. If it wasn’t in there, you would get people telling you that despair somehow reveals your (sinful) lack of faith in God – those fuckers still exist even when it is in there!
So with this supposedly objectionable song, the message from the community seems to be “We appreciate what you’re saying, but don’t like how you’re saying it.” I have to wonder how they would have reacted to David’s song – after all, he’s asking why God abandoned him! Which is worse – swearing, or suggesting that God has betrayed His nature? Surely the latter is far more serious and disrespectful – although perhaps one might argue that feeling abandoned is okay, while swearing is not. One’s a totally human fear, and the other’s just offensive and rude. There’s a couple of interesting ways to respond to that argument. One is to point out that offensive things are often offensive for a reason. If you call somebody fat, you’re implying that their body is a lesser form, and that this negatively reflects on their identity. That’s a pretty hefty thing to do to somebody. Given that logic, I’m not sure what the underlying offensiveness of swear words is. It might initially seem that they’re taboo just for the sake of being taboo.
We won’t worry too much about that first argument though – I haven’t properly investigated swearing, so I don’t want to stake too much on a shaky argument. What I can relate is my own personal experience. For me, swearing is partly about expressing anger, or pain. It’s something you can see in the song lyrics, too – I mean, it’s a song about the death of his fucking child. In that sense, swearing isn’t about being offensive, it’s about screaming. It’s about fear and pain and anger and bitterness, and loneliness and confusion and frustration, and the utter incomprehensibility of the world. It’s like vocalised suffering. To me, that’s what swearing is – raging impotent anguish – and it seems like an entirely appropriate response to reality. We don’t live on a happy planet.
Of course, people (read: Christians (read: assholes)) often respond to such a bald statement of despair with one of two lines. The first one is “There’s no point letting yourself get upset about it”, which is emotionally dishonest and intellectually lazy. The second one is “But we have hope in Jesus”, to which the correct response is the Book of Job. When Job asks God why all these terrible things are happening, God refuses to give a straight answer. Instead, He says “Bitch, I am God” (my paraphrase). There’s no clear resolution or explanation here – there’s only uncertainty, present pain, and the tormented dream of future understanding.
As something of a post-script, I listened to the song in the article above, and found out they’ve actually only linked in the censored version. Originally, this is the lyric:
Will I waste inside the silence?
Where the fear is fucking violent?
In the censored version, it goes:
Where the fear is vicious violent?
And it’s a shame, because that’s objectively just a better lyric. Shit, I’m more annoyed by the mediocre song-writing than the f-bomb.