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Colorful Language in Christian Genre

 

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 It’s not uncommon on today’s bookshelf to find Christian literature that contains colorful language as well as detailed descriptions of sexual content.

The distinction between Christian genre and secular fiction has blurred in recent times. While many struggle with how far to go with their writing this is a good time to examine what is appropriate from a biblical perspective.

Cursing and unacceptable language: 

Are all forms of taboo language equal in their potential to offend? Almost everyone would agree that there are differences. The following is a list that attempts to delineate some of the differences:

  • Cursing-or using words that are not acceptable in all circles:
  • This use is the most difficult to pin down. Many Christian writers believe that generic cuss words contain no meaning, and using them makes dialogue more authentic. They argue that arbitrary cussing does not give offense, that the use of certain words should be classified as local dialect, and if not meant to offend a particular person or group the use of such words should not offend any person or group. An argument against this statement is that if using a particular word does offend some readers, then the offense was deliberate regardless of the author’s stated intent.
  • Cursing an individual, name calling:
  • Using words with the sole intention of hurting another individual as stated in Mat. 5:22 is condemned by Christ. Jesus did refer to the Pharisees as vipers but He did this on His authority, and with His complete understanding, which differs greatly from our own. Is name calling necessary in dialogue to show the flawed nature of a character? We must first ask, does it add more to the story than it removes? As in scripture, all things should be weighed by the whole of the book. Is name calling the only way to show that particular side of the character, can you show that side by the use of a different name or technique, and will that particular label be a distraction to your intended audience?
  • Calling a curse down on someone (“Go to_____!”):
  • This form of speech is forbidden in James 3:9-the reason being that humans are made in God’s image. It is also not part of our roles as created beings to call down a curse on a fellow creature. We are expected to value the created image of our fellow man. David didn’t respect Saul but he did value what the King represented in God’s universe. We can ask if it’s acceptable as a writer to use a curse to illustrate the sinfulness, struggles, etc, of a particular character? There were all kinds of curses in the bible: many from God, and some from the unsaved. Wishing a curse on someone to affect harm has more facets than simply calling someone a name. The act is a profound demonstration of evil intent. Is this what you mean to show?
  • Profanity, cursing God, using God’s name in vein:
  • The mature Christian writer pays attention to more than the words he or she chooses to use. Having characters swear at each other is just one way to show the ugliness of sin. We form our characters with flaws, but the intention must be to expose the flaws for the benefit of the reader. Here’s where the difference lies: we must be careful to expose rather than flaunt a characters sinful nature. Any sin committed, in truth, is destructive rather than profitable to an individual. Does this show in our fiction? This is the greater responsibility.
  • The bible often demonstrates more than it says. While there are many despicable characters in scripture there is a great absence of casual cuss words. The question of why is the thousand-pound grizzly outside our bedroom window. The simple answer is that cursing adds nothing of value to a story. If this form of language, these words, were a valuable tool for communication the Great Creator Himself would have used them long ago.
  • In the end we have few, if any, prohibitions about what can be written in a fictional story. The biblical prescriptions for words and language refer to the way we relate to one another through speech rather than through a made-up story. It’s debatable that principles for speech outlined in the bible should apply to written fiction, but it’s wise to realize that most Christians don’t want to douse themselves in impropriety. We all know that the things we read and think about will eventually make their way into our speech.
  • Cursing God is the most profane form of communication. Taking the Lords name in vein is placed in the same group of offenses as, “Do not commit murder.” The bible also follows with a warning, or promise from God for those who use His name inappropriately. This plot of ground is a minefield. His name is hallowed ground, and improper use includes any casual reference to His name.

2 Comments

  1. November 15, 2014    

    This was a thorough discussion of the topic. It really comes down to what each individual author / reader deems appropriate and what their own ‘line’ is. I’ve read Christian books that contained what I would consider over the top swearing and it really wasn’t necessary, in my view. (Although I did read them anyway and enjoyed the story…) However, I’ve also seen criticism from readers that object to what I would consider very mild cussing. Everyone’s tolerance level is different.

    • Richard L Allen Richard L Allen
      November 18, 2014    

      Thanks Tracy. It’s certainly true that everyone has different standards.

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