Now that I’ve been writing this blog for five years, it’s time I…well not make a confession…but make an affirmative statement. I cuss. It’s a habit I got from my father who was an eloquent cusser. I think I know about as much theology as the average guy who took four straight years of theology and philosophy from Ernie…and I’ll tell you, I still can’t imagine anyone thinking use of swear words is a sin. I exempt denunciations that invoke the name of the Son of God for expletives. But let me ask you this?
What’s wrong with letting it go with a string of cliché imprecations when you stub your toe in the dark or are demoted at work or miss a train when the next one won’t be arriving for an hour and you will miss luncheon with someone who wants to introduce you to a potential client?
Do you think not swearing is virtuous? Saying “heck” instead of hell? Forget it.
Oh I admit that use of swear words is a breach of etiquette; they shouldn’t be used in front of children. But let’s get this straight: What I categorize as swear words are not words of obscenity that degrading sexual congress. Although, friends, I’ve got to say this: When telling a story to adults…and quoting someone who for effect used an obscenity…I don’t find it a mortal or even venial sin to reproduce his conversation. And I find it sanctimonious as hell (there I go again) when somebody—usually a woman—simulates going into a dead faint because I describe someone I despise as…putting it euphemistically…a person of illegitimate birth or a male whose mother is a female canine.
The wildest concoction of political correctness is this. Suppose I say about a miscreant who has verbally assailed me as—
“That person of illegitimate birth!” Or “that guy whose mother is a female canine!”
That would pass the respectability test but also produce exchange of strange looks from others at the table but that’s it. They wouldn’t faint away with shock…but why should they look askance, look around the room and hope no one overheard… regard me as indelicate and a boor if I say—
“Do you know what that officious bastard wrote in The New York Times today? He tried to dress up research in embryonic stem cells as vital to saving lives when he knows—fully knows—that adult stem cells can do the job. You know what? That sonuvabitch simply glories in defending an act of snuffing out lives!”
The fact remains that I feel better when I say this…and that’s important—important to let repressed steam be released…a safety valve that spares bottled up blood pressure.
Let’s be clear. Cussing fate with a string of denunciatory colorful words is different from cursing where you call down evil on someone. Or invoke God to strike someone dead. That’s altogether different. I would judge that to say “goddammit” is different than slowly pronouncing “God damn so-and-so!” Although I’ve been known to do that as well. But seriously calling down evil on someone and invoking God to do it is blasphemy.
Ernie once told us that to curse rational creatures is a grave offense against justice and charity. When I sat in his classroom so long ago listening to him I thought—and still think—but if you say this to yourself and do not poison this guy’s reputation by enunciating it to someone else but to yourself in solitude, what’s wrong with that? It makes me feel better. And who hears it when I mutter to myself? Ever since that time I have doubted Ernie on that particular item. How do you sin against justice and charity if you growl to yourself imprecations against an unfeeling boss for example?
Another thing Ernie would say is this: “To curse irrational creatures such as the weather or animals who let us say defecate on the floor is a venial sin of impatience.” Wha? Do you understand what I’m getting at here? Is it not possible that we are too Jansenist in this business of cussing? Do we imagine that General George Armstrong Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn…when suddenly surrounded by 3,000 Indians who seemingly came thundering out of the hills from ostensibly nowhere…and remembering that he foolishly left a supply of Gatling guns at Yellowstone because he felt they would not be needed…said:
“Oh my gosh where did these darned Indians come from all of a sudden? And gee whiz, I wish I had the Gatling guns!”
Ernie also said this: “To curse the evil spirit as the enemy of God and human beings is lawful.” That means I guess I can say: “God damn the devil and all his works!”
But Ernie, being Ernie, added: “Exclamations that in themselves are not sinful may become so for other reasons such as the danger of scandal.”
Why don’t you share with me your views…theological and otherwise…about the vice—I’ll admit it is that—of cussing?
*: Feast of St. Monica, Mother of St. Augustine [332-387]. Born in North Africa, Monica earned her sainthood the hard way. First she was married to Patricius, a dissolute pagan who was often unfaithful to her, a boozer and violent in temper when he was drinking which was often, reportedly. Second her mother-in-law lived with them who had a scathing tongue and who sided with her son in all disputes, never staying out of them but intruding with bias and ill-feeling. Suffering through all that should have made Monica a saint anyhow—but she fell into alcoholism (I can understand why) which she conquered.
Freeing herself of that old devil booze, she then proceeded to win his conversion. He was baptized in 370 and while she expected the remainder of their lives to be spent in calm and forbearance, he died the following year. She had three children: Augustine, Navigius and Perpetus…of which as we know Augustine was her greatest blessing but for years her greatest trial. The early Augustine lived such an irregular life that they argued often as she sought to get him to change his ways—finally throwing him out of her house. But she didn’t give up, turning to prayer, fasts and vigils hoping to achieve by these things what arguing failed to do.
Augustine became, as we know, a great intellectual and teacher but still in his early adulthood did not change his ways. In fact as he admits in his Confessions, he misled his mother on when his ship would leave for Rome and so when she showed up at the dock, the ship had already departed. She caught the next ship, followed him to Rome and from there to Milan. She contacted and was highly esteemed by Ambrose (later canonized), the bishop of Milan who converted him first to the moral life…enabling him to send his mistress away…and then to Catholicism, being baptized in 387. No convert to go halfway, Augustine rejected Monica’s suggestion that he marry in favor of the celibate life. Gloriously happy, Monica set out on a journey to Africa with him but died on the way, at Ostia the same year her famous son was baptized. She was only 55 but she earned her canonization through suffering, prayer, penance and humiliation. Humiliation? Nothing like being left on the dock while the ship carrying her son sails without her.