Wednesday, December 3, 2008


[Originally posted at "Down with Absolutes" on 12/03/2008]

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing posts and comments on DWA, especially when the debate is substantive and lively, I don’t even mind serving as the lightning rod, as it gives me the opportunity to sharpen my debating skills, do some research, think things through, shore up the foundations of my convictions, and even learn a thing or two.

In contrast, some posts at DWA can be more laced with “expletive non-deleted” verbiage than rational debate. They tempt me to consult the DSM-III to see if there is a clinically documented case of textual Tourette’s Syndrome. The following gems are just a sampling:

“Douchebag President Bush says the Iraq intelligence failure is his “biggest regret.” F---ing asshole.”

Jean-Claude Van Damme is f---ing creepy!

That crazy bitch Michele Bachmann is back!

“It’s official. Tito the Builder is a whackjob….And what’s with the f---ing glasses? What a douchenozzle.“

Now lest you think I am some sort of prude, I have no problem with the potty-mouth, per se. But it is no substitute for real debate. As I explained to Matthews after the “Tito the Builder” post,

I won’t hold the potty mouth against you, though it is not my preference or style. To each his own! I just prefer substantive debate over hurling epithets. When all I see is name calling and no real response to the questions raised, I can only suspect that a substantive answer is lacking….

Though I prefer to steer clear of “colorful language”, there are occasions, depending on the audience and the subject matter, where it might be appropriate. For instance, it can add a much needed exclamation point to a well deserved rebuke. And lest you still think I am playing “holier than thou”, some of the great leaders in ecclesiastical history were not above using language that would cause church ladies to blush. Martin Luther was known for his bathroom humor, particularly when discussing his digestive disorders, and most notably his problems with flatulence: “Who knows if I break wind in Wittenberg, they might smell it in Rome?” (Historians are not sure why he had that problem, but I suspect it started subsequent to the Diet of Worms.)

The Bible itself contains some shocking language, though you wouldn’t know it by the overly modest translations. For example:

  • 1 Samuel 25 tells the story of David and Abigail. David and his men had been protecting the sheep of Abigail’s husband Nabal, and they appropriately asked him for provisions as a “thank you” gift. Nabal instead decided to diss them and send them packing. In one of the Bible’s brutally honest portrayals of the heroes of the faith, warts and all, David was—shall we say?—pissed off. He and his men were still strapping on swords, getting ready to waste Nabal and company, when Abigail showed up laden with gifts and pleading with David to not pay attention to her stupid husband. Breathing a sigh of relief over what Abigail just stopped him from doing, he told her, “May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” Unfortunately the translation of the last sentence is a little too squeamish and would have been more accurately rendered: “… not one person belonging to Nabal who pisseth against the wall ….” His language apparently did not offend Abigail, because after Nabal eventually dropped dead, she agreed to marry David.

  • In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet graphically describes our pathetic attempts at self righteousness: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” The reference is to a used menstrual cloth.

  • In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul was beside himself in anger at the “Judaizers” who insisted that, in order to be saved, Gentile believers had to fully obey the law of Moses, including the rite of circumcision (ouch!). He had much better reason than David to be angry, because these people were undermining the very Gospel by suggesting that it was somehow possible to earn salvation. So in Galatians 5:12 he said, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

That’s some pretty strong language from someone who told the Ephesians to abstain from “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place.” The word he used for “foolish talk” is “μωρολογια “[MORO-logia]; which is basically to say: “Stop talking like morons!”

Which brings me back to “Down With Absolutes!” In the right context, colorful language is fine, particularly if it adds emphasis to the argument. But that assumes that there is a substantive argument to begin with. All too often, as in the examples cited at the beginning of this post, it is sorely lacking. Exclamation points are a wonderful thing, but they are only useful at the end of a sentence or partial sentence expressing an actual thought.

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