Good And/Or Bad ?

I walked into a verbal buzz saw this morning and thought I should comment.

It started like this: I posted that a study said that “People who use a lot of swear words tend to be more honest and trustworthy, human behavioral studies suggest”. I posted it on Facebook with my response: “I’m in good shape then”.

A friend wrote “flawed” and I responded “Just like all Christians”. — and away it went. The friend replied that it’s a condition of humanity, not just Christianity and I agreed. Then all hell broke loose (see what I did there?) There was a very lengthy discussion of Original Sin, Salvation, and so on… I was astounded that there was that much energy around a post I meant as slightly humorous and rather humble.

Here’s my thing: I have a love/hate relationship with swearing. Intellectually, I know it’s wrong. Emotionally, I feel it’s perfectly right. As a pastor it freaks some people out, and I probably shouldn’t do it. As a therapist, when I get in the groove of therapy, it occasionally slips out. In the parish years ago and now in the therapeutic session, it seems to “humanize” me. I have clients who have said specifically that they don’t normally trust therapists, or ministers, but my swearing makes me feel safe and human. Years ago, people said the same thing in the parish. People in the parish, and in some places in my life, find it “inappropriate” and are appalled and it really turns those folks off.  Whichever result I get, it helps to define the context  I am in and it either serves me or doesn’t.

Here’s the logic behind it, if there is any. In the culture I grew up in — Chicopee and Springfield, Mass. — Swears are used all the time: “I got up this ——– morning and —- it was cold! I made some eggs and I ——- burned myself. Can you believe that —-?! It’s lunchtime, mother——- give me some of your sandwich. I didn’t have —- to eat after that”.   Six swears in two sentences!

I’m not like that. They are natural to the environment here, but that much is unnecessary. My mother allowed two swears: “hell” (It’s a place) and “damn”.(at least you weren’t taking the Lord’s name in vain).. When I grew up George Carlin’s “7 Words You Can’t Say on Television” said this was silly, and — like all of Carlin’s stuff — made me think. In the end, it comes down to this: Swearing is not a good thing. When you’re describing something which also isn’t good, Swearing is the only thing that’ fits. It gives voice to the pain people are feeling, or the incredulity I feel about some irony my client is facing: “Nooo —-! She/He said that after he/she did this for years?! Are you ——- kidding me?!” or the anger someone feels after abuse: “I hope they fry in —-“. I’m sure there are politer ways to express these feelings, but politeness is not called for in these situations. Raw-ness is.

The Bible and Swears

As Donald Ames points out, “You illegitimate bastard” appears in John 9:34; while the term, “You son of a bitch” is found in 1 Sam. 20:30. Would you parents like to recommend a volume containing the above to your kids and have them begin using such expressions? They will find them in The Living Bible-Paraphrased!”

The Bible Gateway on line says this:

1 Samuel 20:30-32Living Bible (TLB)

30 Saul boiled with rage. “You fool!”[a] he yelled at him. “Do you think I don’t know that you want this son of a nobody* to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother? 31 As long as that fellow is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!”

32 “But what has he done?” Jonathan demanded. “Why should he be put to death?”

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Samuel 20:30 You fool, literally, “Son of a perverse, rebellious woman.” The modern equivalent is “son of a bitch.” this son of a nobody, literally, “son of Jesse.”

John 9:34Living Bible (TLB)

34 “You illegitimate bastard,[a] you!” they shouted. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out.

Footnotes:

  1. John 9:34 You illegitimate bastard, literally, “You were altogether born in sin.”
If the Bible records it (and many people agree that this was the intent, whether or not said), is it bad? Is “impiety” the same as “sinful”?  Is “impolite” the same as “bad” or “evil”?
The Real Question
Should I or shouldn’t I? I’m not sure. Can I? Am I capable of it? Yes. Definitely. Why? That’s the crux of the argument that flamed high enough to light up the screen.today. If I know something’s wrong and I do it anyway, am I flawed and how did it get that way?
In short the question of Original Sin came up  — The idea that we are born bad.. The follow up question is this: “If there is no Original Sin, then what did Jesus save us from?
I have liberal friends who don’t believe in Original Sin.  For years, I didn’t have any clear understanding of salvation. I didn’t need it. I was a good guy. Creation was good, God was good. Clearly acts are wrong or evil, but nobody’s born that way. Then I met the alcoholics in the AA group in our building. Why did they drink? Because they were alcoholics. Their addiction made them did really horrible things. Yes, they would admit, they chose to have the first drink. But after that, it seemed they just couldn’t stop, nor would they want to — until they woke up somewhere they didn’t want to be or did something they couldn’t remember or lost their marriage or family. This was illness or sickness in their very being. They had to guard against being themselves. That’s messed up!
If God creates them, and they start off as messed up, what does that mean? Do only alcoholics or addicts have Original Sin? Are “sins” different than “sin”? Are acts (doing) the same things as “who we are”(being)? Why would a loving God create flawed people– and then send them to Hell (it’s a place) for being the way they are?  I still don’t have an answer to all of these things.
This is what I have learned out of all these experiences:
1) There is evil in the world. How it got here I haven’t a clue, but it is here in our lives. We certainly do evil things.
2) Some people are born with things that make them do bad things, even if they selves aren’t bad.
Much of mental illness is this way.
3) To deal with that, they need to forgive or be forgiven — forgive themselves, forgive others, get forgiveness from others.
4) Forgiveness is possible through God. Somehow in the salvation model, we are forgiven.  Some people are really big on the “Blood of Christ” thing as the way of forgiveness (i.e. Christ died for our sins). Others see forgiveness modeled by Jesus forgiving us from the cross. In any case, “buying” the premise that God can forgive you heals a lot of things. I don’t know or understand how it works, but I buy the premise and it works for me.
5) Some people have trouble acknowledging evil around them because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
On the other hand:
1) There is good in the world, How it got here, I call “God”, and I think it is here in our lives. We certainly do good things.
2) We know “good” when we see it, and some (most?) people are simply born to do good things, even if they themselves aren’t all good or any better then anyone else. They don’t need to be forgiven for being good.
3) It is difficult to forgive or understand it’s importance if you’ve never had to be forgiven.
4) Forgiveness leads to compassion, and it’s hard to be compassionate if you’ve never been forgiven.
5) Some people without compassion, who are basically doing good things, have trouble seeing the good around them. It makes them feel uncomfortable because they are not used to it.
To quote a really sappy song by two geniuses, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, “There is good and bad in all of us”. How it got that way, I don’t know, but it is still real. When we act in bad ways and hurt ourselves or others, forgiveness is possible. When we need it, it’s there. When we don’t need it, we don’t need it. I don’t believe in “total depravity”. I don’t believe that anyone is totally evil. I believe that they are capable of incredibly evil things, but that’s not all there is to them. If we nurture the good, and forgive the bad in people, things will be all right, but we have to acknowledge what is there, what is real, to cope with it.
Peace,
John
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3 thoughts on “Good And/Or Bad ?

  1. Hi, John!

    So many thoughts, and so few weeks to type them all up…

    1) Yes, the Bible clearly states that all men “inherited” sin from Adam.

    2) There is an important distinction between God being “at fault” and God knowing what would happen. Yes- God knows all, including what will happen in the future. But we are

    still the ones making the choices. So you can’t “blame” God for the choices that we make. (The topic of predestination is the subject of volumes and volumes of writing, but I

    think that pretty succinctly sums it up). And to call God an awful being because of the choices that we make seems naive and ignorant.

    3) I have yet to meet a perfect person. The Bible says that there was only ever one perfect man on the planet.

    4) If you put all of the “good” and “bad” on opposing sides of a scale, most of us would outweight the good with the bad. But nobody has zero on the “bad” side of the scale

    (that I’ve ever met).

    5) I think that with rare exception, swearing is done by people who don’t have the intellect to come up with sufficient “real” words to describe a situation or emotion. If you

    want to swear (for example to release some aggression) I don’t object to it at all, but generally I’m unimpressed by people who swear a lot.

    6) To better understand the way that God works, people have to truly understand the difference between “eternal” and “temporal” perspective. I’ve spoken to many people

    (including many clergy) who don’t get this whatsoever. Granted, the concept of infinity is not something that people tend to ponder very much, but once you do it sheds a lot

    of light on a lot of Biblical concepts. It’s a fun thing to discuss, actually! And the more you talk about it, the more you can’t help but be amazed by God (and start to doubt

    so many of the “scientific” conclusions that are reached).

    7) Coming back to predestination – many people ask why God would create children and send them to Hell. This is a tough concept to tackle, but the way I think of it is similar

    to choosing a spouse. Let’s say that in your single days, you were given the opportunity to have a magic spell where you could find a suitable female mate and magically make

    them fall in love with you forever. After a while, surely you will realize that the female (who didn’t have any choice in the matter) is giving you love only because they are

    forced to, and not because they chose to. I think God wants us to CHOOSE to love him. Again, many volumes of material have been written on the matter, but that’s my best

    simple analogy.

    8) I don’t there is a gene (or combination of genes) that makes someone an addict. From what I’ve seen, it’s usually life factors (the things we learn when we are children,

    how lonely we feel, etc.) that determine whether someone will be destined to become an addict. I’m sure there could be mutations or deformities that might cause “off” behavior

    or choices, but I think that most addicts are molded (by a very complex combination of circumstances).

    9) I am grateful that God has given us an opportunity to get into Heaven, despite our sinful nature (and/or the sins we have committed).

    10) God doesn’t “mandate ignorance” but certainly does not give us all of the answers about everything. We don’t need to know it, but there is plenty to learn from. Our minds can’t truly grasp the concept of infinity, or many other things, to the concept of “mandating ignorance” is just foolish.

    11) I’ve heard you swear before, and you sound very uncomfortable and forced when you do. It’s against your basic nature, John (and that’s a compliment BTW).

    More rambling (or clarification) available on request.

    • Thanks, Bob. I think I swear more often than I do. There are so many thoughts and feelings re: all of this that I think I’m just going to post replies and let readers sort out their own thoughts. It was a long piece, so I thank you again for reading, thinking about it and responding so in depth!

      • Sure! I enjoyed the discussion. “Teach thy mouth to say ‘I don’t know’ and thou will progress”

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