Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

What Did I Say or Write? WTF?!! (For Adults Only)

I have become used to being unfriended on Facebook or being cut off from communication on the internet by individuals frustrated with my self-imposed crusade to bring content to cyberspace exchanges — to accompany facts and information with well-argued positions and opinions, to explore the possibility that the social network can be a meaningful medium for the exchange of ideas. This crusade is not to hear my head rattle, but to get people to think; even people in my generation, who have been around for many, many years, often appear to believe or assert an opinion or assertion without having thought enough about why they have that opinion or assertion and/or appear to have no practice defending rationally that opinion or assertion. I cannot claim my methods are not abrasive; I have not been called the long list of names for nothing! (See “Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words We Don’t Know Can Also Hurt Us, or, Jesus Was a Liberalist” [Mar 2012]) You’ve got to have a thick skin if you are going to intelligently defend your positions; I expect nothing less from those with whom I correspond and from myself.

Some correspondents take a position or positions, yet do not defend them; they let others, usually “authorities” speak for them. Though I consider this a weak and disappointing response, it is better than no response at all. One of my life-long best friends to whom I wrote one of my “odes,” Bob B. Berry (See “Ode to Bob B. Berry” [May 2012]), no less a light than one of the M-4 (See “The M-4…And the ‘M’ Stands for…” [May 2012]), is one of these in his position against socialism, despite the fact when we were in Cisco High School he defended socialism in a speech in front of our class — I defended captalism as his counter. At the end of his e-mails (mostly funny stuff and lots of enertainment) he places anti-socialism quotes by Winston Churchill and Thomas Sowell [contemporary conservative and libertarian columnist], about which I give him hell every chance I get, trying to draw him out and use his own words in the defense of socialism. He has not taken the bait, I like to think not because he can’t defend his position, but because he doesn’t want to “get into it” again with me like we did in high school. I can’t fathom the possibility he is just parroting the words and positions of someone else.

I had another high school classmate back during the 2012 election respond to my critique of Mitt Romney (See “Mitt Romney — NOT the Man for President” [July 2012]) with just two words: “I DISAGREE!” And nothing else…..not a word about why he disagreed. I was metaphorically salivating, waiting to pounce upon whatever he would send in addition, but…..nothing….. In the words of the heavy metal group Metallica, “Sad But True!”

When my correspondents do respond, I am like a shark smelling blood in the water when I see weaknesses or unjustifiable positions in correspondents’ retorts to my positions. If those holding these shaky, weak positions are thin-skinned, or, if they simply do not have a defense of what they say, they get angry and cut me off, or, they simply stop communicating without saying or typing a word. Fair enough. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But recently I’ve had a correspondent, a long-time friend with whom I went through school at Cisco (as with Berry, only he a year ahead of Berry and me), and with whom I attended Texas A&M (ditto with Berry) who unfriended me and apparently cut off communcation, despite the fact he was doing pretty well defending what I consider gosh-awful conservative political and religious positions, including the Tea Party, abortion, and gun control. We were really getting into it. It reminded me of the great back-and-forth arguments I had while in undergraduate and graduate school at A&M — great exchanges in which your views, if they survived, came through altered, yet stronger. Not debating, but spirited give-and-take that allows only intellectual honesty to survive merciless skepticism.

And the reason, he claims, for the sudden cut-off? I used a word he considers profane and offensive. He cited the “f-word” (a form of it, actually, I speculate) he found on my website, and I think I know the place he means. I shall let the reader read the context of the word and decide for his/herself: It is found in the website post “And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’….And It Was Weird!” [April 2012]. It was actually contained in a paraphrase of a jolting joke-like definition of a true friend; it was more or less a quote, a quote I chose to cite accurately as I first heard or saw it. The definition is a perfect example of the use of profane or “cuss” words: for comical emphasis. Read the sentence containing the form of the “f-word” again; I submit that definition would not be near as funny nor as impactful if that word had been left out in its entirety, even if I had been “appropriate” and written only the “f” and put dashes or asterisks in for the remainder of the letters. The reader may not agree with my choice, but that was and remains mine, my citing everything from the proclivities of a writer to freedom of speech.

My offended friend (ex-friend?) judged he would not associate with someone who would apparently do something he would not do. That is the mark of a member of the conservative clergy; he is a retired minister. Even though he is pushing 70 years old, that also seems to me a mark of immaturity. It reminds me of those classmates who, judging the rest of us, disassociate themselves from our reunion get-togethers because we are drinking or otherwise carrying on in ways they think we should not. Not only is that immature, it seems to me to be prudish, puritanical, and Victorian. My offended friend probably heard as many “inappropriate,” “profane” words as did I over the years in school in Cisco and at A&M. And yet now he is judging people not on the soundness of their words but upon their usage of certain words. Actually, I don’t think he is that presumptuous or short-sighted; I think he is using my usage of certain words as an excuse to get away from the “heat of the kitchen.”

But for the purposes of this post, let us pretend he is that presumptuous and short-sighted. I understand his position concerning certain words, for over most of my life I never used nor approved the use of profanity. However, I NEVER disassociated myself from those that did use profanity; to have done so would have been to repudiate most of the people I knew and know! Those that used profanity were never evil because of certain words they used in their lexicon to me. I never tried to get them to “clean up” their speech and be like me. I suppose I was blessed in never being presumptuous and short-sighted about profanity.

Accordingly, whatever is my unfriended friend’s reason or reasons to unfriend me and cut off communication with me, I will NEVER do that to him. There is nothing he could say or write that would cause me to do what he has done to me.

So, how did I recently change my mind and begin to use parts of our English lexicon I have never used before? The basis for the change is the same list of characteristics that made me the world’s worst choice to be a spokesman for the creationists and intelligent designers (See “Creationism and Intelligent Design — On the Road to Extinction” [July 2012]). More specifically, regarding the issue of profanity, I was changed by my son’s college major and the insights of the late, great comedian George Carlin. My son Chad majored in speech communication at Texas A&M, and there he learned and passed on to me how words are used in our spoken and written communications — specifically how “cuss” words and profane words are used for emphasis and strong humor, as I used the “f-word” in my post dealt with above. I began to see how “potty” jokes and pornographic adult jokes are universal and universally funny. George Carlin came out with his list of “taboo” words, a copy of which Chad always had on his walls at university; in between George’s jokes during his performances on cable TV I learned that words are not “good” or “bad” in and of themselves; they are just words, sounds that come out of our voice mechanism. Moral quality is placed upon words by the meaning we may or may not give them. Good and evil brought to us by words are illusions; the good and evil are placed upon the words by our conditioned minds. In other words, a word is smutty only if I want it to be. I choose profanity to be useful words for which there is no substitution, for hilarious communication’s sake; my friend who unfriended me recently chooses them to be minions of evil and immorality.

My toleration for profane words has its limits. It is merely my taste, but I do not like comedians whose every other word, it seems, is a word considered inappropriate in church and school. The use of such words, for me, should be occasional — a “peppering” of them for effect, for emphasis, and for a good laugh or smile or two. As I speak or write, I find them useful — additional tools in my lexicon; they enable me to communicate more experiementally, to broaden my oral and written skills; they enable me reach out more than if I did not use them. But this is just my own view; whether others have this view or not is really a pretty mute point; all I want others to do is develop and defend their view on this issue and on any others they consider important enough to spend intellectual effort upon.

I do retain a reservation about profane words around young children. All children will learn these words soon enough through older siblings and/or friends at school; no need to reinforce their use by parental use in front of them. I think the age at which such words are discussed with young children is like the “sex talk” — the discussion should come earlier than most parents would prefer. The use of profanity must be introduced as a matter of choice for each young mind, like all the other issues they must face — give in to peer pressure, drinking, driving, and sex. Variation of when each child is ready for the “bad word” discussion is but another parental responsibility, as if parents don’t have enough already.

Because not everyone feels the same about the use of profanity, and because everyone has the right to feel however they feel, a sense of social appropriateness, regardless of age, is needed to minimize certain people “unfriending” other people, to maximize communication. The professional backgrounds of both my unfriended friend and me need a consensus of appropriate language. Therefore, he and I are alike in that in his profession of the ministry and in my profession of both public and private school teaching, profanity is considered inappropriate both from the pulpit and in the classroom. Though he and I are of the same generation (“baby boomers”) we disagree on the appropriateness of profanity in public communication. He is outraged that I would use certain words in the public domain of the internet on my website, and I am amazed the social revolutions of the ’60’s, through which the two of us lived, did not “take” with him enough for him to see that what is allowed publically in oral and written discourse has changed drastically since the days we were in West Ward Elementary School in Cisco. Back in the ’50’s “hell” or “pregnant” was not heard on radio or TV; today we have Monty Python movies and South Park movies, the latter featuring cartoon second graders cursing like sailors. He would probably be outraged that today most of the high school juniors and seniors I teach speak in “R-rated” casual communication, even in the context of school, an inappropriate setting for such language. Not only does his action seem prudish, puritanical, and Victorian, it seems myopically anachronistic.

Before being cut off, I typed to my unfriended minister friend he should brush up on some lexicon lessons about words and their intention. No better way to do that than use a context that should be “right in his wheelhouse” — the New Testament. He fails to see there are at least two ways to curse, or “cuss,” as we Americans like to say. In the Gospels, cursing is a judgement, such as Jesus cursing the barren fig tree (Mark 11: 12-14; Mark 11: 20-25; Matthew 21: 18-22). Jesus is not “cussin’ the tree out,” but, rather, pronouncing upon it a death sentence for not being fruitful. That has theological implications as it is, but it is unfortunately misleadingly labeled as a “curse” in association with this Gospel story; Jesus is not proclaiming an oath, swearing, or using profanely insolent language; He is not committing blasphemy; He is merely afflicting the tree in a way harmful to the tree. “Cursing” in this sense, the judgmental kind, could have also been used in describing Jesus’s purging the Temple of the money changers, but it was not (Mark 11: 15-19; Mark 11 27-33; Matthew 21: 12-17; Matthew 21: 23-27; Luke 19: 45-48; Luke 20: 1-8; John 2: 13-16).

As pointed out in an hilarious scene in the Monty Python movie, “The Life of Brian,” making the use of words as evil is pretty pointless; the scene reminds us that once upon a Biblical time, to pronounce even the name of Jehovah was blasphemy punishable by death by stoning! At least we’ve come so far that today the worse than can happen by using certain words is be unfriended and/or cut-off from communication!

My unfriended friend is behaving as if all use of profanity is judgemental in the sense of Jesus judging the tree and the money changers, or as if all use of profanity is guttery, insolent insulting, the language of the “potty mouth.” I’m sure that if I used such words as “Goddamn” or any form thereof, he would accuse me of using the Lord’s name in vain, even thereby being blasphemous. For him, there is no room for words being just words, for profanity to be adult words of emphasis and humor — words to play with. It is sad to see those offended by profane words often paint them out of their context and counter to their use with the broad strokes of calling them always judging someone or some thing, swearing, cursing someone out, blaspheming, or taking an oath. It is sad to see they cannot see George’s simple truth that they are just words.

Hell, this shit is getting too long! Let me summarize: Read this sentence — “If you think words can be evil or harmful, then you’re fucked up!” If you read it, and at least a little smile, if not laugh, comes to you, then you get it. If you feel shame, moral outrage, pity, indignation, or an urge to unfriend me when you read, then read it again. It was especially written for those having any of these negative responses. If you responded negatively, remember, they are only words. Grow up — Queen Victoria is dead!


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