Part 1 in the After the Influence Series*.
“Snap!,” cried Patrick, as his castle of blocks collapsed.
“Did he just say ‘snap,’?” asked I.
“Yeaaah….why?” replied his older sister. She was seven and Patrick was just about to turn five. And I was babysitting.
I laughed to myself since I had heard a few years earlier that one way to break a swearing habit, is to simply find nicer words to replace them. So the D-word becomes Darn. And the S-word becomes…well, Snap. In fact, I had known an acquaintance who seemed to be constantly (and annoyingly) saying Snap! for this very reason.
As a babysitter, it sounded funny to me since I could not imagine Patrick being alive long enough to develop a problem with swearing, much less needing a fix. I guessed his folks had taught him “Snap!” to start with, in hopes that he’d not have to learn it later as a replacement.
But it got me thinking about words. (I love words, by the way.) And I reflected how in seasons of personal growth, it is often common to remove impolite words from one’s vocabulary, and substitute for better choices. We do it ourselves; and we also counsel our spouses and children likewise. It is probably that way in every culture, among every language. Normal.
Anyway, I was at work about five years later and heard a co-worker in a moment of disappointment, say, “Cheese and Rice.” The guy sitting next to her glanced over and snickered. He had a moment to process her comment and realized what she had done. She too had used a replacement phrase—“Cheese and Rice”—instead of saying “Jesus Christ.” (See how they kind of rhyme?) Her choice of words was innocuous on the surface, being used instead of the similarly sounding alternative which could be perceived as impolite or unprofessional. Maybe she was also trying to break a habit.
When I was growing up, I didn’t think much of the religious references that some people use as exclamations:
My God – Oh My God – Jesus Christ – Jesus Holy Christ – Mary Mother of God, etc.
However, when I become a Christian believer, I started using certain terms—“God” and “Jesus” particularly—only in reference to prayer. This holy exercise seemed a far cry from some dumb jerk actor making a crass, derogatory reference to the God I now love, serve and worship. So, it ticked me off at first, and I found myself sensitive to it. Soon after my conversion, I recall turning off a video and saying out loud: “Why the heck do you have to blaspheme the Lord?” It called to mind the commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain.
Then a few years later, I saw a cartoon that was apparently supposed to take place in the Middle East. One character, instead of saying, “By God,” as an exclamation, said, “By Allah.” And that got me thinking. I wondered, Why don’t the stupid movie writers have their characters defile and defame Allah? It’s like they have a thing against the God of the Bible. And yet, if secular society were to altogether stop using the Lord’s name in vain, and instead make reference other deities, what might that imply? Would I really prefer that? That notion really got me pondering.
Now getting back to that day at work, when I heard “Cheese and Rice,” I wasn’t initially sure what to think. Should I be offended? But then, how could I be? I just ignored it, despite knowing it was kind of sort of a reference to Jesus Christ. It confused me for a moment; but on the inside, it elicited no particular response. Therefore, I assumed that it neither caused any specific offense to the Holy Spirit.
But then one day in the weeks following, after my philosophical gears had time to process, I had a halting thought: If I were going to try to help someone to stop using profanity, I would encourage them to swap the bad word, with a good word. Just like my friend used “Snap.” We all know the bad words, but what are some good words, I wondered? Well, think about it…the best words we have are religious words. “God” and “Jesus,” for example, being penultimate.
And then it hit me. What if the fact that when non-Christian movie writers take the Lord’s name in vain, it is not just a display of their darkly sinful demeanor? Maybe it is rather a sociological long-term result of a Christian-discipled culture.
At one time in the past, this nation was mostly Judeo-Christian. In fact, it was less than 75 years ago when children were taught to pray to God/Jesus in public schools. The Bible was revered and held in honor throughout society (in general). And what if there were Christians long before who taught people to say, “Oh my God,” instead of some other unpalatable curse word or phrase? If that be true, then maybe some felt that using “Jesus Christ” instead of something else, was just like saying “Snap;” it was a much better choice, and maybe much less offensive to everyone. Therefore, and curiously, what if it was the Christians who originally advocated for the use of such terms in society? I could only attribute such a circumstance to be due to a different time in history.
Out of the mouth of babes, you have ordained praise.
With that in mind, now when an unrepentant sinner says, “Jesus Christ,” I am not sure whether to wince, or to chuckle to myself. Funnily, they could be construed in one sense to be calling on the Savior of the world, despite their best intentions. And “Oh my God,” could easily be interpreted as the most basic form of prayer. In using such phrases, the modern-day non-Christian utterer might be trying to curse God or to slur his name, but the fact that he or she is using religious terminology could be a testimony to the reality that at one time this nation was discipled.
Just to belabor the point, think about it: If a person was truly hateful toward God, they would make sure never to let a religious reference drip from their tongue. No one wants to talk about that which they truly despise. I mean, when a Christian wants to swear, do they say, “Oh Satan!”? Uh…no.
And doing a little historical research, in societies gone by which have banned everything but atheism, they have generally scrubbed religion from all speech; if only to prevent the power of suggestion.
Now, if my suspicion is true, all of this is quite amusing to me since nowadays Christians generally consider “God” and “Jesus” to be swear words…at least when used in film and on television; and/or as a replacement for curse words. This is understandable. And yet, at least the actors are making a reference to religion (although usually disrespectfully)…but maybe our Christian ancestors might have felt at one time that this was a better option than some verbal alternative.
Even so, now it is no longer palatable for Christians to hear references to Christianity spoken thus by the pagans. And so, Christianity continues to have some suggestions: “God,” becomes, “Gosh,” or “Gosh darn.” And “Jesus,” becomes, “Geez.” Or better yet, it is preferred to just drop “Jesus,” or “Geez” altogether.
So, in modern times, I guess Christians don’t mind if non-Christians use non-religious profanity, as long as they don’t verbalize religious terminology in derogatorily the same way. Maybe we no longer have a true religious solution for swearing. And so, the best we can offer is Snap.
Another aspect, as it relates to swearing, could be quite ironic if my theory is true. See many Christians have by and large seemed to have long stopped influencing the non-Christians; in fact, just the reverse is common. For example, I can’t tell you how many people who call themselves Christians—people I know—who use every profane word in the book…at least in their private lives. (Sadly, even some pastors.) So while the Christians may have at one time in the past helped non-Christians to give up swearing; nowadays it is the non-Christians who are helping the Christians to embrace it.
Again, it is a different time, and this is a different nation. And maybe it is also due to the fact that the number of True Christians has plummeted as a percentage of the general population.
Well, what can I say to all that?
*After the Influence is a Series that explores ways that culture has been influenced by Christianity.
© 2019, Alignment Life