Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.
At one time, Christians seemed to all agree that saying swear words was a sin, especially uttering blasphemous phrases like God dammit or go to hell. These days, in many corners of the Christian ghetto, swearing is now accepted. Even preachers are known to show their coolness and hipster cred by using choice words, not only in their conversations with others, but also in their sermons.
I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the Baptist churches I attended, saying swear words was definitely considered a sin against the thrice-holy God. Most of the preachers of my youth would quote Exodus 20:7: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, as justification for their prohibitions against cursing. These preachers never did explain how saying “shit” was “taking God’s name in vain.” I later came to see that this commandment had little to do with saying certain words. According to 17th Century Presbyterian theologian and pastor Matthew Henry, taking God’s name in vain meant:
We take God’s name in vain, [1.] By hypocrisy, making a profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession. Those that name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity, as that name binds them to do, name it in vain; their worship is vain (Mat_15:7-9), their oblations are vain (Isa_1:11, Isa_1:13), their religion is vain, Jam_1:26. [2.] By covenant-breaking; if we make promises to God, binding our souls with those bonds to that which is good, and yet perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain (Mat_5:33), it is folly, and God has no pleasure in fools (Ecc_5:4), nor will he be mocked, Gal_6:7. [3.] By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, or due application of mind to it, but as a by-word, to no purpose at all, or to no good purpose. [4.] By false swearing, which, some think, is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment; so it was expounded by those of old time. Thou shalt not forswear thyself, Mat_5:33. One part of the religious regard the Jews were taught to pay to their God was to swear by his name, Deu_10:20. But they affronted him, instead of doing him honour, if they called him to be witness to a lie. [5.] By using the name of God lightly and carelessly, and without any regard to its awful significancy. The profanation of the forms of devotion is forbidden, as well as the profanation of the forms of swearing; as also the profanation of any of those things whereby God makes himself known, his word, or any of his institutions; when they are either turned into charms and spells, or into jest and sport, the name of God is taken in vain.
Sure, in point number five, Henry mentions swearing, but what about points one through four: being a hypocrite, breaking a vow, rashly making an oath, and lying? On Sunday, each of the churches I pastored gave parishioners and visitors an opportunity to come forward during the public invitation and get right with God, either by getting saved or confessing sin. I witnessed plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth as people covered the altar rail with their tears (and snot). Oh God, I’m so sorry I lusted after Sister Susie this week, please forgive me. Dear Jesus, please forgive me for looking at porn. I promise to never, never look at a naked woman who is not my wife again. Dear God, I know that YOU know that I really didn’t stop smoking like I told the preacher I did. I’m so sorry for lying. I plead the blood of Jesus over my life and I promise to never, ever smoke another Marlboro. And, in a matter of hours, days, or weeks, the penitent church members would return to their “sin,” thus requiring a new round of weeping and wailing. Their vows to not sin were, according to Matthew Henry, taking God’s name in vain.
Many of us who use curse words use them when we are angry or upset. Sometimes, we use swear words to ameliorate a serious pain that we are having. I’ve learned that, after hitting my finger with a hammer, saying “God dammit!” really loud tends to lessen the pain. According to research presented to the British Psychological Society, swearing is an emotional language, and using it can make a person feel better. Perhaps the use of 506 expletives in 179 minutes as actors did in the movie Wolf of Wall Street is a tad bit excessive, but I know firsthand that cursing can, and does, have a cathartic effect on a person. While certainly those who swear must be aware of proper social conventions, swearing at the referee on TV who just hosed your favorite football team can be emotionally satisfying, and I highly recommend it.
A dear friend of mine from back in the days when we both were part of the Trinity Baptist Church youth group, laughs every time she hears me utter a swear word. She often replies, “I never thought I’d see the day when Bruce Gerencser said a swear word.” From the time I was saved at the age of 15 until I left the ministry, I never uttered one swear word, outwardly anyhow. I thought plenty of swear words but never verbalized them. To do so would have branded me as a sinner and as a man who didn’t have his emotions under control.
Evangelicals are every bit as emotional and angry as their counterparts in the world. Knowing that telling someone to “fuck off” would bring them rebuke and shame, Evangelicals have developed what I call Christian swear words. Christian swear words are expressions such has:
- Gosh darn it
- Son of a gun
- Shucky darn
As you can easily see, these words are meant to be replacements for the real swear words. This way, angry or emotionally upset Evangelicals can express themselves without running afoul of God’s FCC.
Years ago, a preacher who considered himself totally sanctified (without sin), was known for using the phrase, taking it to the hilt. He and I were quite good friends, and one day when he repeated his favorite phrase, I told him, you know that taking it to the hilt can be used as a sexual reference for sticking the penis all the way into its base (hilt). He was indignant that I would dare to suggest such a thing. He later learned I was right and apologized (Do you suppose it ever dawned on him that he had sinned by using this phrase after he said he no longer was a sinner?)
Swear words are just that: words. Social conventions dictate their use. I am a card-carrying member of the Swearers Club. I make liberal use of curse words, especially when speaking to officials from afar on a televised sporting event. Even Polly, sweet, sweet Polly, my wife, has devolved to my level. While I am careful when using swear words in public or around those who are easily offended, I refuse to be bullied into submission by the word police. I rarely use swear words in my writing, but I do so on occasion. It’s up to the individual readers to decide if a well-placed malediction is offensive enough to stop them from reading.
Sometimes, when responding to the emails persnickety Evangelicals love to send me, I deliberately use swear words that I know will euphemistically cause urine to flow from their genitals. They will respond with outrage as did fundamentalist Baptist preacher Jeff Setzer during a “discussion” on the post, The Legacy of Jack Hyles. When Jeff first commented on the Jack Hyles post, he was polite and respectful. However, during his last round of comments he decided to get more aggressive — a common ploy used by Evangelical zealots. When I determined that Setzer hadn’t taken the time to actually read my story, I responded to him by writing, “I encourage you to take the time to read my writing. The answers you seek can be found there.” And here’s the dialog that followed:
Setzer, in response to Brian, a former IFB pastor’s son: You can be wrong too, right along with all of the molesters. And like the victims of physical abuse, you are a victim of spiritual and intellectual abuse…that which is many times more difficult to overcome than mere physical abuse. Since the physical realm regularly confirms the Bible to be true, as well as other realms of evidence, I KNOW the Bible is truth. There is NO doubt whatsoever.
Bruce: Ah, now there’s the Christian asshole that every Fundamentalist eventually morphs into. This is your last comment.
Setzer: Do you know what profanity is? How about what kindness means? Or intolerance? “Last comment”? Can you not reason and share where your supposed point of rejection was, or perhaps you have built a wall, making a skin of a reason based upon woefully fallible men who set up themselves as authoritative? I’ll look up the posts to which you refer, but I haven’t seen any logic on here yet but rather emotion. You’ve come to a conclusion out of emotion and not logic. I’d be glad to communicate further with you if you’re open to logic and evidence and not being outright dismissive. Thanks for being willing to dialogue.
Bruce: After your first comment you were taken to a page that had the comment rules. You have violated the commenting rules and this is why I will not approve any further comments by you. My asshole comment is in response to your last approved comment. If you don’t like being called an asshole, don’t act like one.
You can read the rest of the sphincter-muscle stimulating comments here.
I am of the opinion that if a person doesn’t want to be called an asshole then he shouldn’t act like one. Setzer, ever the clueless Fundamentalist, was more concerned over me using profanity than he was how his words were being perceived by myself and others. Instead of becoming outraged over a word, perhaps God’s anointed ones should pay attention to how their own words and behaviors reflect on the good news they purportedly want everyone to believe.
As Setzer surely would have known had he bothered to spend time reading my writing, I rarely use curse words, and in the comment section I reserve their use for when Fundamentalists — and it is ALWAYS Fundamentalists — are showing how little fruit is growing on their spiritual trees. You know, the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Sometimes, preachers I mention by name in one of my articles write asking me to remove their name from my post. They don’t like being called out by name. My thinking on this goes something like: if you didn’t want to be cast in a poor light you should have treated me better. After all, the Bible does say, you reap what you sow, right? One offended preacher was upset that I mentioned that he impregnated and married his first wife when she was 13. Here’s a man who travels the countryside telling others how to live, yet he had, and may still have, a thing for young girls (and pastors who are still having him come to their church to preach need to know this).
Well, I think I’ve run out of words to type on the computer screen. I’ll see if I can refrain from offending Fundamentalists with my salty language. Nah, fuck that . . .
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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