POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Cuss. Cuss! Cuss?

There is quite a bit of discussion going on relating to John Piper's recent use of the language "God kicks your ass" at the Passion 07 conference.  Below are some comments I threw in the mix over at Challies.com regarding Piper's choice of words and Dr. Wayne Grudem's subsequent exhortation. 

Good discussion. I think what is missing is a real discussion of philosophy of language. Now, I am a realist so I believe that all of our linguistic symbols and signifiers have a referent. In other words, reality is not created and constructed by our words. All languages refer to things which are real in the created space/time order or metaphysical realities as is the case of language referring to God, souls, abstract ideas (sets of numbers etc.) Additionally we may logically rearrange ideas with our language as when we "refer" to pink unicorns.

The reason we can call something feces, poo-poo, etc. is that it refers to something. Additionally our language that God "kicks our ____" (choose your word) also speaks to an actual state of affairs that obtains. Now, when discussing profanities and obscenities Mr. Swindle makes a very important distinction above between the two so I will not repeat it here. (Here it is noted  that a profanity is speaking of something holy in a way that belittles, blasphemes...profanes.  Obscenities are that which is vulgar or offensive)  Yet, with the case of obscenities, one must discuss the usage of language within a cultural/linguistic group. Dr. Grudem has done this in stating the following:

A number of different words can denote the same thing but have different connotations, some of them recognized as "unclean" or "offensive" by the culture.

The problem here arises because we must ask "which culture" - There is no easily arrived at shared norm in English speaking culture today to which we can refer. If one follows what is allowable by censors on television, then ass is certainly not an obscenity at all. It perhaps was 50 years ago, but it in no way is "offensive, vulgar, etc." in the mainstream today. If however one means to "the Chrisitan community" we are again mired to differentiate acceptible language within certain subcultural groupings of Christians. Should Piper's language be considered obscene if his audience found no offense in it whatsoever? Or if someone actually took offense to it somewhere on the internet, or in the car listening to it on CD? In regards to language I believe we must realize that though reality is not constructed by language, things such as obscenities are quite communally oriented. Many words which would cause shame, derision in some parts of the body of Christ are completely benign and venacular to the culture at large. Words like "suck" "pissed off" are quite normal on the street. Many Christian converts, those who did not grow up in a certain sub culture, would have been right at home with Piper's remarks; perhaps discipleship will lead them to saying things other than "Kick your ___" or even dropping the whole "kicking" metaphor altogether. But I think what was communicated was more truthful, honest, and biblically faithful to some of Dr. Piper's hearers than just about anything I could substitute. Perhaps many who are not regularly engaged with real, worldly, non Christian speakers are outraged by someone saying "that sucks" - but believe me, in our "culture" this sort of language would not come close to meeting a dictionary definition of obscenity as: "Something or an utterance that is disgusting to the senses abhorrent to morality or virtue."

Reality, including truth and morality is fixed. I am not advocating for any sort of relativism at all. All the verses Dr. Grudem cited refer to real states of affairs before God which we must yield and obey. Yet they refer to orientations of the heart and affections and then expressions of these with words and actions. It is precisely here where it requires wisdom and discernment. To know what is corrupting talk and what is edifying in our community. Does it move one towards idolatry, self worship, the degradation of others, hatred of neighbor, profaning that which is holy, does it titilate, tear down, provoke unrighteous anger, mock, etc, etc. These are the questions we must ask for these things happen in our souls and in our communities. Does a Christian, who is looking at the death of his infant child and says "this present age sucks" committ a heinous sin? Or has he said something real and true about life outside of the garden in the language he finds as home. The language which we use to describe our inner states as well as the states of the world does shift. So my bottom line is this. I think such conversations about "corrupting talk and crude joking" will always happen within the body of Christ. Some calling for Piper's head because he said ass, others saying he didn't do a thing wrong. In the spirit of loving our brothers, our neighbors, we should not seek to offend one another, push the edges simply to ruffle others, etc. This is immature and sophomoric. Yet neither should we claim the definitive high ground above others whose language is a bit rougher than the small tribe in which we make our home. They might just be communicating gospel truth to others. Love covers a multitude of sins and helps us on in this conversation so please don't cuss me out nor smugly dismiss the discussion.