1. Swearing by the gods.
One of my blog readers brought up an interesting point. Is it or is it not okay to have a pagan culture swear by their gods? After all, that's a fair portrayal of historical attitudes, especially with the Roman cultures.
Jesus himself said that we are not to swear by anything:
"But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
Therefore, I can't say I'm fond of Christian characters who use the various pagan gods for light exclamations. But in the case of unbelieving characters, I do see room for this tactic. For one thing, they don't adhere to the Christian system of morality. While this is not an excuse for their sin (God applies his standards of morality to everyone, whether they believe in Him or not) their unbelieving heart has not yet been softened to see their need for the one, true God. Take Pearl Maiden for example, in which Marcus often swears by the Roman gods. I don't find that to be offensive. But if he swore by the true God, then yes, I would find that to be a problem. Granted, the author should clearly portray these characters to be without Christ if they're going to use this tactic, but I think it can be fairly and correctly done. I'm not hard and fast on this point, but that's where I am right now. :)
2. Profanity Used in British Wit.
I often encounter problems with whether or not to laugh when a swear word is being used in conjunction with a witty remark. You won't find this in American works, but it abounds, unfortunately, in British literature. Please excuse my picking on Lord Peter Wimsey again, but honestly, sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry over him. How can I laugh at his wit when he uses the Lord's name in a light and carnal manner, or when he's making light of God's judgement the next breath? Coming from a person who loves British wit, it's very difficult for me to deal with this. Do I laugh and ignore the profanity? Or do I refuse to laugh to show my disapproval? Either way, a choice has to be made.
3. Swearing in Fantasy.
This is another problem with the upcoming rise of Christian fantasy in today's literary market. Everybody wants to write a fantasy novel, and the current counsel on Christian and non-Christian sites alike is to make up your own swear words. Back to that thought in a moment.
In fantasy/allegory books where the world has its god-figure as an allegorical representation of God Himself, I don't appreciate it when I see the characters swearing by their god figure. That's simply an allegorical representation of using God's name in vain. I understand that it's not the same--after all, fantasy gods are never on the same level as our real God, even if they portray Him. But if Eru and Aslan are intended to be the fantasy equivalent of the God of the Bible, then have the characterstreat that figure with the same honor that we should treat our real God in real life.
Back to making up swear words for fantasy. God calls us, as Christians, to take captive evil to the obedience of Christ. That doesn't mean making up more evil to do so. Fantasy worlds have a moral code as well as the real world, and just as we need to be careful about how we represent evil in historical fiction, so we need to be careful in writing fantasy. If you wouldn't put real swear words in your character's mouths, then don't put fantasy swear words either. It's the same thing.
4. Swearing as a Portrayal of Wickedness
Some might say that swearing is a fair portrayal of sin. After all, let's face it: people do swear. In saying that I think they're unnecessary, I'm not denying that profanity exists. Nor am I saying that none of your characters should swear. But I do believe that it should be told and not shown. I would also argue that Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Gene Stratton-Porter, and L.M. Montgomery, when they use it, are not using it as a portrayal of wickedness. Freckles uses the name of the Lord in vain just as many times (and come to think of it, maybe more) than his arch-enemy, Black Jack. Dickens is honest in that his dirty characters have dirty speech, but he doesn't seem to think it unrefined for his aristocratic lords and ladies to use the Lord's name in vain. Devout church-goer Miss Cornelia isn't considering that she's setting a poor example of reverence when her conversation is speckled with the light use of His name. After I lost count of the number of times she did, I gave up on the audio recording and bought the book to white it out.
This is wrong.
When we don't call these instances out, when we don't show that we're holding the name of the Lord in highest reverence, when we don't express our displeasure at authors who have no trouble using His name blasphemously, then we're sending a double message as Christian bibliophiles, however unwittingly. We're setting an example in everything we do to a world without Christ. And if this is how we treat authors who make light of Him, then what message are we sending? It is uncomfortable for me to speak this openly, but I see the dangers of enjoying classic literature without calling out one of its biggest problems. People are going to look up what you read, and judge your Christianity by it. If they see that we never speak of this problem, and gloss over it willingly, then they might very well be skeptical when we say that we love our holy God. No one looks at a man who abuses his wife with his words and says "Wow, he must really love her!" And it's the same way when we condone the use of profanites that displease God. If you don't speak out against it, that's the same as endorsing it.
The Ultimate Reason
Here's why I use white-out so much: because I started using the words I so despised in my own mind. Some of you out there are like me. Some of you have the same struggle. Three years ago I would never have admitted this to any living being, let alone in a blog post. It was a long and painful journey to learn how to take my thoughts captive, one that I am still on to this day. And because I know that no temptation has seized me except which is common to man, I know that I'm not the only one who has to deal with this. There are other young ladies out there struggling with the exact same thing. And that is why I came out so boldly on this series. Minds are scarred because authors did not restrain themselves in their use of these words, and people are struggling to deal with the fact that they can never gain their innocence back. Once you have the knowledge, it's very likely there to stay.
I learned that God's grace covered everything. Some days I could only go minute by minute, trusting that he would give me the grace to keep my thoughts pure. There was a time when I didn't read a lot, because my mind had to heal first.
When it did heal, I started on a mission:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
--2 Corinthians 10:3-5
It was a painful start to a lifelong journey, but a pain seasoned with grace at the same time. It is because of this struggle that you are reading My Lady Bibliophile right now. I saw what I went through as a result of this topic, and I wanted to write reviews that would save others some of the disappointments I faced, to warn them of some of the things I wish I would have known, and to teach them how to deal with some of the things that I have had to deal with.
This is why I use white-out. And this is why I encourage everyone I know to do the same. Some would argue that books with language should not be read at all, but when I look at Scripture, I see a command to take everything captive--a command of dominion, rather than of hiding. A command to wage war, rather than to retreat in peace.
I trust that I shall wage war not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of the living God.
I Have a Dream
I have a dream that one day I can hand my children my favorite authors unpolluted with profanity. I have a dream that one by one, I shall white out every book in my library, so that they can read them. I have a dream, not to hide evil from them, but to show them how to cast down imaginations and wage war upon evil. I have a dream that someday, somehow, I can see my favorite authors ranged on my shelves without any white-out in them, because they will be published with nothing to hide. I have a dream that this blessing will not extend simply to my children, but to their children after them, and not simply to my family, but to the body of Christ around the world. I have a dream that rank on rank of believers will join together not to increase of their knowledge of evil, but to increase the dominion of good in the literary world. I have a dream that every lover of books will be equipped to take their shelves captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.
That shall be the goal of this corner of the web, as long as it endures.