On Bullshit (and Other Theological Words)

You may have noticed a crass word in my previous post (since it was titled “Relativism Ain’t Shit“). You may believe that pastors ought not to use curse words. I disagree–in fact, pastors are some of the people best qualified to use curse words. How in the fuck to do we name sin if we can’t say shit like “fuck wealth disparity“?

I’m being a little gratuitous here. Look. Language is the building block of our world. No word is an inherent sin, or wrong, it’s only the way a word is used and put into context that makes it wrong. There is a right and proper time for inappropriate words–mostly, to name an inappropriate action; to express the depth of hurt caused by that action. For example: “Did you hear Monsanto sued a farmer for $85,000 for patent infringement? That’s fucked up.”

I believe in the theological task of calling bullshit. And in using all the words necessary to do so in order to make the message clear. I can imagine Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Malachi using such words as they critiqued the oppressive systems of their societies. If you’d like to think more about this concept, Harry G. Frankfort has a lovely book called On Bullshit, which I was required to read in seminary.

One of the most useful books I read in seminary.

One of the most useful books I read in seminary.

One of the teenagers discovered–and frequently reminds me–there is a song on my ipod called “Fuck.” And I remind her that if she listened to it, she would know why it’s there. It’s a poem, written by Kim Addonizio, and it begins:
“There are people who will tell you that using the word ‘fuck’
in a poem indicates a serious lack of taste. Or imagination. Or both.”
But she continues:
“sometimes, there’s only one word that means
what you need it to mean. The way there’s only one
person when you first fall in love. Or one infant’s cry
that calls forth the burning milk. One name
that you pray to when prayer is what’s left to you.”

What I say to the teenagers is, I don’t care if you curse, as long as you do it in an appropriate context. If you call someone a “bitch” or a “faggot”, we’re gonna sit down and have a talk about Jesus. But if you stub your toe, by all means, let it go. And if you see a homeless person in November with no socks and no gloves, fuck injustice. Cry for that pain. Name wrong things for what they are.

Words are the tools we have. Use them well.

One thought on “On Bullshit (and Other Theological Words)

  1. Pingback: What the Church Needs: Calling Bullshit and Imagining the Impossible | gathering the stones

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