Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Jesus Christ" Is America's Favorite Curse Word - Why?

I was watching Super 8, a movie produced by Steven Spielberg. Four middle school boys are helping the US military fight off an attack by space monsters. But my attention wasn't on the aliens. It was on how those boys were using swear words in almost every sentence.

I found myself counting the times the Christian name for the Son of God is used as a profanity: "Jesus." "Jesus H. Christ." "Jesus F--ing Christ." "Christ." Along with a fair number of "G--Damns!" I quit counting near a hundred.

Before the movie began, I overheard two grandmothers sitting behind me swapping stories about their grandchildren. Now on screen the first alien leaps out to attack the boys. Both grandmothers scream in unison, "Jesus Christ!!"

Does this underscore for you that Jesus Christ is America's favorite curse word? Have you recently heard the Lord's name used in vain? Among friends or acquaintances? In your own speech?

Can you imagine Krishna becoming the favorite curse word in India? Buddha evolving into a profanity in Tibet? Allah an obscenity in the Middle East? Why then is "Jesus Christ!" the favorite swear word in America, not only in daily conversation, but in literature, television, and movies?

In past decades most curse words derived from bodily functions related to urination, defecation, sexual intercourse, or contempt for another human being. Why, then, this choice? This leap from excrement and sex to a sacred religious name, the name at the heart of Christianity? A name held holy by the majority of Americans and over two billion Christians worldwide? Why does Jesus Christ head the list of national vulgarities, so endemic to American culture?

Using Jesus as a swear word used to break a cultural taboo. Its shock value used to surpass those taboos broken by "F-you" and "you A-hole!" However, after three decades of usage, it no longer shocks at all. That's why the curse word "Jesus Christ" is used in so many contexts today -- anywhere from cussing out an enemy, to showing surprise and awe, reacting to physical pain, venting anger, and revealing contempt for a person or idea.

Those of us who choose Jesus as a swear word do it because of the power embedded in Jesus' name.

The power of Jesus' name, used perversely. 

Converting a term that stands for holiness, hope, and heaven into profanity repudiates the holy object, in this case the person of Christ. So in exclaiming, "Oh Jesus!" -- or "Jesus Christ!" -- a person consciously or unconsciously conveys, "I am not a follower of Christ and spurn what he stands for!"

When this particular cuss word becomes so second-nature that grandmothers and children use it to express negative emotional states (shock, fear, anger, or disgust), then, derogatory though it is, the  Christ-expletive becomes a societal merit badge. A badge of mockery. A verbal badge that dishonors Christ, Christianity, and Christians.

Perhaps this is a way of protesting the Gospel of Christ, which invites people to repent from evil and comprehend God's love for them. But rather than protesting Christ's message through derogatory speech, I suggest that we respect the freedom to worship God or not, and find tolerance for the religious differences that make America great.  

Here is a consciousness-raising experiment you might try out this week. When you stub your toe, witness a shocking event, or get furious at someone who crosses you, see if your unconscious flips into automatic pilot by erupting with a desecration of Jesus' name. If not, it means you've successfully averted this national trend. And if so, it means that with a little spiritual vigilance you can remove its influence from within your psyche.

Wouldn't we all find benefit from a constructive separation between religious sensibility and cursing?

For more about Dr. Dan's integration of psychology and theology in the 21st century, read:


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