If You're A Christian, Your Writing Has To Be 100% "Clean" All The Time // Cussing Edition7:00 AM
We're gonna boldly go today, guys, to places I've only sort of gone before. With really long titles.
|this title is slightly less long, go me.|
I'm not the only Christian writer out there by far. I'm not the only Christian teen writer out there. Now, my books don't necessarily fit in the genre of "Christian Fiction", but I'm not alone in that, either. (Maybe someday I'll write another post about why I'm not a fan of the Christian Fiction genre, but plenty of people have done that in smart ways already.) There's a lot of debate and/or talk about what Christian writers should write and how they should write it. If you're in this circle you probably know that by now.
So let's talk about swearing for a second.
|yeah, yeah, i know..|
You see -- I swear in my writing sometimes. And I feel perfectly comfortable with that. This is such an hot issue, and I've read so so so many times that Christians shouldn't swear in their books for a variety of reasons, so I wanted to take a post to explain why I'm okay with that as a Christian writer, and why I believe that a book can reflect Christ and still contain content that's not necessarily "clean". So I'm going to write a response to a specific article (this one right here) not because I'm picking a fight with them personally, but because it was the first one I could find and it has five specific points that I'm going to address briefly. (Hopefully this post doesn't get too long. I have lots of Opinions.)
I'll give you a second to read that article (it's short, don't worry) before I start talking over it.
|i have never seen this movie??? i seriously need to fix that sometime.|
1. It's lazy.
"You don't need swearing for shock value." "You don't need swearing to make your story more edgy/gritty/dark/whatever." "You don't need your character to swear to show how bad they are." "It's lazy storytelling."
Yes. And also no.
There are occasions where swearing is excessive or unnecessary. It can be lazy storytelling. But there's a thousand other ways to be lazy and boring and sensational when it comes to writing, and cursing isn't one of the major ones. For me personally, the decision to let my characters curse did not come lightly, and I didn't just throw it in there. I'm going to use Pariah as an example -- the characters curse. Full disclosure. They say things I wouldn't say. But they say them for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:
They're in a different time period, and these words are historically accurate. They're rough, imperfect characters who are not me. They're in a situation that's beyond stressful, beyond horrible, and sometimes people with that kind of pressure just aren't squeaky clean (and I don't blame them).
(Also, you know what? Screw the idea that using a curse word to add some shock to a moment is always a bad thing to do. Words are powerful. Certain words are really powerful. The right word at the right time can say volumes about a character's emotional/mental/spiritual state and add to the mood. And I'm not going to apologize for that.)
2. It's still you saying the words.
"Don't blame this on your characters! You're still the one writing those words, thinking them, and using them. Isn't that just as bad as saying them yourself?"
This is a big one. You know what? You are absolutely responsible for your words. All of them. The things you say, and the things you write. And you need to be careful with that responsibility and that power, yes. But why is swearing the one sin you use this argument on? (whoops, dangling preposition there. #sorrynotsorry)
You know what the Bible also says is a sin? Anger. Having a temper that's out of control. Threatening people. Lashing out at people. Murder. Selfishness. Lust. Pride. Greed. Why is using a specific word any worse of a sin than calling someone an idiot in a moment of anger? (spoiler alert: it's really not.) I can guarantee you that every Christian writer out there has written their character saying or expressing or doing something that's considered a sin in that way. No one would point out that I shouldn't have my characters yelling at each other, saying unkind things, not keeping their temper under check. Our world is broken and writing, by necessity, relies on flaws and bad things to keep it moving. A story that contained no sin at all, with perfect people, would be a miserable kind of story to read.
Am I responsible for/doing everything I write in my stories? Pariah centers around a murder mystery. Am I responsible for the murders, since I wrote my character doing it? Am I responsible for every time Sachi yells at someone and struggles with her temper? Am I responsible for the lies, the betrayal? Are you going to hold me responsible for everything? You know what? My characters are not me. They just aren't. And if you're going to hold me responsible for the words they say, you have to hold me responsible for everything, and no one has done that yet.
3. The realism issue
"You don't really need cussing to be realistic. That's not an excuse. And if you really wrote in a realistic way, they would be swearing constantly!" (this one could take up a whole blog post in itself.)
I'm going to say it: Swearing makes my stories more realistic. I know the arguments against this. I know. I've seen this a thousand times. Do I need to rely on profanity to make my point? I don't. But you know what? It adds something I can't get anywhere else. The world is messy. People are messy. Pariah, my own story, is a messy story about messy imperfect people. They come from the London streets, from rough society. They are not me. They are not my values. The entire story is full of ideas and things and situations that I do not condone or do myself. Swearing included. I believe that if I'm going to write a story that's gritty, that's raw, that's an honest look at this kind of person (which I feel I should) it's simply wrong of me to censor out the specific things I don't like. That's not how life works. I cannot hold my characters to the same standards as me specifically. That's not fair. I would never force someone who is uncomfortable with swearing to read a book that contained words they didn't like. That's their call. But I have put a good deal of thought and prayer into this, and I personally don't believe in flinching away from specific aspects of darkness and humanity as if they're any worse than the other things I've chosen to portray.
It's also worth mentioning again that language is incredibly fluid. Specific words we find offensive now were either normal or didn't really exist in past times. Culture and what we see as offensive are always changing. In fact, the Bible never gives us a specific list of words not to use; when it talks about guarding our speech, it's always in the sense of being loving, of watching our language for the sake of not tearing people down or cursing them. I don't use certain words because their meanings are just vulgar and I don't need them. But words like "hell" and "damn" were, for example, completely commonplace in regular conversation in the 1800s. In certain places certain words just slip into conversation. Banning certain specific words is a shallow argument in the end.
4. Tolkien didn't include swearing.
This is, in fact, one of the main 5 points in the article, and he pretty much leaves it at that. "Tolkien didn't swear in his books, so you can write a great book without bad words, so THERE. Take THAT."
You can write a good book without using swear words. Using swear words does not make your book any less of a good book. I won't spend a long time on this particular argument because there's not a whole lot of logic and/or substance there and I've spent long enough on other parts of it as it is. Swearing or any other kind of darkness does not take away from the meaning of a story if, in fact, the story is written with intention and points back to the truth and the themes are solid. You don't have to read it, but you can't deny the fact that books like Brave New World and 1984, with all their more mature content, contain important, deep, insightful themes.
(And while we're on the topic of Tolkien -- do you know what he included in some of his works? Pretty explicit incest. Murder of best friends. A number of other things. C.S. Lewis used swear words in some of his adult fiction, because it was acceptable and normal at that time and because it made sense for the characters in that context. Les Miserable is a spiritual book with powerful themes and a raw look at God and redemption; the fact that it contains sex and prostitution and theft does not take away from its value.)
5. Who is going to read it?
"How would you feel reading this out loud?" "What if your little sister reads it?" "What if you're hurting other Christians with the language you use?" "What does that say about you and Christianity if you use that language?"
(1. There are swear words in Pariah. I would read these words out loud if I read my story out loud. I put them in the story for a reason, I believe they are there for a reason, and I do not personally feel uncomfortable including that.
(2. Pariah is a YA novel. It's a novel featuring teenagers, in a rough section of London, in rough circumstances, solving murders. It deals with abuse and death and mental illness. And you know what? It's not for my little siblings. I wouldn't let my youngest siblings read it, because it's not written for them. I wouldn't read some of Tolkien's books to little kids, either, because of other content and also the emotional maturity required to really understand appreciate the stories. I'm fully comfortable writing things I wouldn't want my little siblings to read. Again, a book doesn't need to be clean for all ages to have value -- there are certain sections of the Bible you don't read to little kids, either, because they're just rough that way. And that's okay.
(3. This is gonna be brutally honest: I don't have an obligation to write a story that every Christian agrees with, or likes, or appreciates. I don't have an obligation to write a book that pleases everyone and makes everything comfortable. No author has to cater to that. If language is a stumbling point for you, if it deeply and truly makes you uncomfortable, I don't mind if you set down my book and choose another. As for representing myself to non-Christians, that is important to me, and I certainly don't want my books to be the same as all other secular books or to glorify the world. But it's my hope that people are smart enough to see beyond a few culturally "offensive" words and see to the light I point to, the themes, the overcoming.
I have put a great deal of thought and prayer into the language I use in my stories. I want every word to be important, to point to the grander theme. The world is a broken place, you guys, full of broken people. I chose to write about a specific piece of brokenness, and after consulting my Bible and others smarter than me, I've come to a point where I am comfortable with the language I've used. My comfort level is not the same as that of other Christians'. And that is okay. But let's erase the idea that writing about specific things, using specific words is un-Christian, is a direct reflection on you, and keeps your story from being "Christian". Let's look beyond the nitpicky specific words and focus on telling stories with overall truth and spiritual intent, and respect each other's comfort levels and boundaries.
You probably already know what the discussion question here would be, and I'm sure I'm going to hear opinions anyway (which is great) so just go ahead and throw those thoughts at me, yeah? Love you.