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#!?@%$! Watch Your Language!

If you've followed this blog for very long, you know that I read a lot of books. A lot!

I don't have time to waste reading books that don't interest me or don't motivate me in some way. I certainly don't read books that I find offensive.

I've learned over the years to give most books a chance to convince me to continue reading, but once they fail me in some way, I set them aside and move on. I long ago learned to let go of the "need" to finish every book I start. Too many better books; too little time!

One thing that is an immediate turn-off to me is any book that uses gratuitous profanity, vulgarity, or obscenities. Because I read a lot of books dealing with military history, I run across a lot of authors who employ some occasional objectionable elements that I find offensive. Some of that I can tolerate because I know the nature of the people being written about. But in a few instances some authors for some unexplainable reason feel compelled to beat the readers over the head with the profanity. Like seasonings, a little can go a long way.

I recently ran across one such author (who shall remain unnamed because I refuse to further publicize his work) of a highly recommended book that I picked up in my local library. Granted, it was on a military topic, so I expected to encounter an occasional instance of profanity. The author, however, went far beyond what was necessary to get across his point, making me feel verbally assaulted by the flurry of offensive terms he aimed at me. The saddest thing, however, is that the author apparently is a professing Christian, a graduate of not one but two renowned Christian universities. I expected better, so my degree of disappointment was compounded as I encountered a plethora of foul language, far more than necessary. I returned the book to the library unfinished.

I don't use such language myself and don't allow its use in my home, so why should I allow authors to assault my mind with it in the books I read?

That experience set me to thinking about the issue of authors'--specifically Christian authors'--use of such offensive language. Researching the problem revealed that not only Christian writers but also nonbelieving writers struggle with this issue. They clearly recognize that it is a a problem.

Perhaps the most often cited argument against such usage is that it seems to indicate to readers--whether accurately or not--that such authors lack sufficient vocabularies to express themselves without using profanity, obscenity, and vulgarity. It indicates lazy thinking at best and wrong thinking at worst. They carry any "shock factor" too far and fall into the trap of gratuitous use of such language. The focus becomes their choice of words rather than the central message they allegedly are trying to communicate. They remind me of some of my beginning writing students who got carried away with their attempt to show excitement, using multiple exclamation points, not realizing that one was enough to get the point across.

Other reasons mentioned for not using such offensive language in one's writing include issues related to its hindrance to the marketability of the work. Even many secular publishers are aware of the problems it creates for potential readers--and, consequently, sales--and restrict the amount of it they allow. Most Christian publishers ban it altogether.

Another source tried to justify its use by citing that we as a society have "progressed" beyond such "Victorian" moral strictures, so almost anything goes anymore. That is not progress but regression. And it reveals the root of the problem: too many people no longer have any absolute moral standard to control their basest sinful inclinations.

There is an absolute standard for the language we use in both speaking and writing. It's the Bible, God's Word. In it, we're instructed, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:29). The emphasis is to be on building up others. Foul language debases others. Our words are to be graceful words. Foul language is anything but full of grace.

The psalmist David prayed as much: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer" (Psa. 19:14).

That verse gets to the crux of the issue. What is in the heart of man comes out the mouth--and onto the printed page--"for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things" (Matt. 12:34-35).

Moreover, nowhere in Scripture does one find a person quoted spewing profanity or obscenities. The closest one comes to that is the euphemistic "cursed," not the explicit offensive words. And that euphemism alone is sufficient to get the point across.

For example, consider what Scripture records of Peter, after his repeatedly being identified by others as a follower of Christ during Christ's trial before His crucifixion. In vehemently denying the charge, Scripture says, "Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man" (Matt. 26:74). We don't need to know the specific curse words; we know he was vehement in his denial and that he cursed. That takes the emphasis off the words used and focuses on the critical point: he denied Christ.

If the Holy Spirit through the human penmen of holy writ refused to use profanity, why should we insist on using it?

James 3:9-10 states, in reference to our language, "Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be."

Fellow Christian writers, we can do better than adopt the language of a God-despising, sinful world! It takes work, but it's worth the effort.

If you don't like the standard, don't rail at me; tell it to God. It's His standard, after all. And it should be ours.

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1 Comment

Joy Neal Kidney
Joy Neal Kidney
Jan 20, 2023

I've also become a book abandoner, especially if it's fiction. The author had a choice. If he's quoting someone, revealing character, well, there are choices there as well.

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