Sunday, April 10, 2011

Damned Nonsense

This story starts with me deciding it was a good idea to take an extra elective class in my senior year.

The class is group psych, and one of the assignments is a term paper on group observation. We are required to observe (but not participate in) two or more meetings of a group and write a paper on what we've learned about group dynamics.

I chose a Sunday School, partly out of laziness (to be perfectly honest), and partly because Sunday School classes are usually organized very specifically. I won't go into more detail about group structure, because no one who is not interested in group psych will care, and everyone who is interested in group psych can figure out what i'm talking about.

I have not attended Sunday School since i've been at college, because my church doesn't have a college/young adult class. And i have not missed it at all. I don't feel a need for that kind of structure in my spiritual life. Maybe it's a bad thing that i don't miss it or feel that need, but whatever.

Anyway, i have been attending the College Student class at a local church, and i hate it. While it makes a certain amount of sense to organize people by age/life stage, not all college students are at the same level of spiritual development, and that makes it difficult to organize a class that will be equally beneficial to all. In this class, the teachers ask questions as if they are interested in a discussion, but really they want to guide the students to the conclusions that they have already decided are the correct ones.

Today's lesson was about profanity. Now, i'll be honest: i have no problem with swearing. In fact, i really really really enjoy it. I am also a Christian, and was raised not to swear, though i later made my own decision about that. So i had a lot to say on this topic, but as an observer of group dynamics, i am not supposed to involve myself too much with the class. So i'm participating here instead.

As an English major, i think that it is important to use the correct word. Saying "large" when you really mean "tall" is not only incorrect but misleading. Words have immense power when used correctly. When used incorrectly, their power is diluted. I think if you mean "darn", you should say "darn". I think if you mean "damn", you should say "damn".

James 5:12 says, "But above all, my bretheren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgement. (NKJV) Setting aside the word "swear" (which clearly means "like in a court of law" and not "profanity"), this verse simply means to say what you mean. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And if you mean "damn", you should say "damn". Not "darn". Say exactly what you mean.

Everyone was pretty much on board with this idea, until the teacher's wife said that we have to remember not to cause others to stumble. For some people, curse words are really offensive, and they might misunderstand our meaning, so we should not say something if we might be misunderstood.


Antoine Arnauld said, "It is far better to cause trouble and shock the community than to abandon truth."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. " (emphasis mine)

And Henry Drummond (a character in Inherit the Wind), said, “I’m sorry if I offend you. But I don’t swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we’ve got. Besides, there are damned few words that everybody understands.”

C. S. Lewis once said "damned nonsense" on the radio. He got a letter about it, complaining about frivolous swearing. Lewis explained that "I mean exactly what I say: nonsense that is damned is under God's curse, and will (apart from God's grace) lead those who believe it to eternal death." (I told this story in class. The teacher said, "Well, you can't argue with a linguist. Which C. S. Lewis was." He wasn't. But he was still right.)

I'd rather be misunderstood than dishonest. I'd rather be offensive than silent. I'd rather turn the air blue with cursing than say anything other than what i really mean.

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