Sunday, May 15, 2005

Hooray for virtue!

Those of you that don't know me, don't really know me. What with all this fides and cogitatio being tempered by and realized week by week in actio, I might just seem like I'm a real Christian hero. Strong of faith, strong of mind, yea, strong of will.

Well, blogs can be deceiving and many things are poorly titled. Truth is, I'm basically a moral coward. My convictions are strong and clear, make no mistake, but when it comes to me "getting in someone's face" about them, I wilt. Not always. But I'm sad to say generally I've a wilting, lilting will. How often do I actually object when someone tells an offensive joke? How often to I take issue with a basic moral or theological falsehood being spewed at the dinner table? How often does my will, illumined by faith and braced by reason, actually intervene to change -- to redeem and sanctify -- the world around me? Scandalously infrequent.

But there is hope.

Tonight at the gym, they played the usual barrage of heavy rap and techno. I'm all about fat beats and catchy refrains. I'm all about hip hop too (preferably old school, though). But I'm not all about musical porn. "Gimme dat ---!" And. So. Forth. The rub for me is that when the Taiwanese at my gym, who make up easily +90% of the membership population, hear ho-thug porn rap, they actually just hear fat beats and fast English. But I hear every nauseating phrase. I finally put my foot down after finishing a set of pull-ups punctuated by the fork word and its brain-numbing ilk[1]. I hurried down the escalators to the front desk and explained how I, we foreigners in fact, don’t really like to hear “this kind of music.” I then provided a few of the choicer words to show what I mean. They understood my problem as an English speaker and quickly changed the song.

Thumbs up: I actually willed my convictions into being – and charitably!

Thumbs down: I couched my complaint in the anonymity of “we foreigners”, thus deflecting some of my prudishness onto others.

It is true I have spoken with other foreigners, and it is true they have agreed the music can be too much sometimes. But does that matter? It may strengthen my case in a legal sense, but, from a moral standpoint, the case stands on the testimony of one: my conscience informed by faith. I could, and perhaps should, have insisted the music be changed for my sake alone. I didn’t do that. Remember? I’m a coward.

But there is hope.

[1] To be clear, while the primary reason I struggle to have a clean mouth is because the Scriptures flatly command it (cf. ), there two other reasons perhaps more accessible for the non-Christian. First, cussing makes you dumb. Or, if it doesn't positively make you dumb, it allows you to idle in verbal and conversational neutral. Meanwhile, we can hope, the rest of the people around you are driving ahead, thinking more quietly of something intelligent to say without any effing crutches, or other mindless shite like that. Cussing is the verbal equivalent of slapping a person you disagree with, only the person cussing slaps is the idea trying to be expressed. Given the choice to say something is "absolutely delicious" or "damn effing good", I know my lazier side will always opt for the latter.

As for the counter-argument that, sometimes, in certain situations, with certain special people, let's be honest, you can only say exactly what you want to say with a nice, old, raw cuss word. Obviously there *is* another way to say what you want without cussing, otherwise we'd have no idea what you meant by cussing. If we know how to use cuss words properly, we must by definition properly know how to avoid using.

Presumably, though, cussing allows us to say things more therapeutically, or more authentically, by allowing us to get tings off our chest in a way normal speech doesn't. You can walk (and talk) fifty feet to the gate, or you can just jump the fence (in one throaty bark) -- which is more tempting? Cuss words are the words which the healthy primal scream is meant to crystallize into -- or vice versa. But imagine how strange it would be for someone just to *do* what cussing supposedly does for us: shouting, barking, roaring. "I am so -- rwarrrgh! -- upset with him! Does that -- nreeeengh! -- have any -- aghooooo! -- idea how hard I worked on this -- aaaaaghhh!" So much for gift of language.

Now, to be fair, this counter-claim does have a lot of visceral appeal to it. As much visceral draw as punching someone to quiet them. Something just feels right about spitting out some poetic vitriol; just like it sometimes just feels dealing out some bare-knuckled justice.

Instead of trying to articulate a calm, comprehensive reply to a dilemma, the cusser simply lurches into a knee-jerk response about "all this crazy shite." Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying cussing actually prevents you from saying things articulately or convincingly. I've heard some awe-inspiring, limpid, unambiguous litanies of filth in my time. But it always takes more effort on my part to take some seriously who can't even bother to complete a sentence without a flurry of cuss words patching their thought together, like scotch tape used to tie your shoes in a rush. Cussing is the Velcro of the verbal world; and no one ever taught children rhymes about velcroing their shoes; and certainly no one sees the elegance of a bow in the fluffy laziness of Velcro.

A second, more important reason I try to avoid cussing is because I understand the mouth and the soul live on a two-way street. If I habitually say “idiot” to my brother, he will, quite dynamically and quite quickly, become an idiot to me. If I and my neighbor greet each other every morning with a cheery (but not saccharine) salute, we will almost certainly feel a closer connection at the heart level. At home, as far as I have seen, we rarely talk to our family and friends just to get or give information. Rather, talking in and of itself, forms bonds. Or destroys them. Who of us doesn’t know how words – even a single word – can poison the heart? And who wouldn’t admit the obvious, that the heart spills out the mouth? Cussing allows me to auto-pilot on to rash, harsh reactions, and thus allows my heart to disengage or, worse, harden and sharpen. Cussing is, ultimately, the weaker way; it is inevitably the shallower, colder way too.

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