Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cursing... how much is ok? Input desired

I have addressed this issue before, but just read a book that has caused me to rant, as some of my friends call posts like this. :-)

The book I was reading had one curse word in it: "Damn." The author is one my sister's favorites and she has already emailed the author to complain. The reply she got was polite, but the author stated that she used it because it was something that character in the book would have said. Ok, so why could she not have said " David muttered a curse" or something similar as I have seen in other books.

This all too common practice of slipping curse words into Christian books frustrates me. I don't curse, and don't appreciate it when I run onto it in a Christian book. I also emailed this author, and politely told her how I felt about it, and also the publisher. Here is a bit of what I said. I pointed out that no curse words belong in a Christian book, and if she read a Christian book that had a curse word every other paragraph, she would probably be horrified. I then asked what the limit for allowable curse words would be to her in a book - if 500 is too many, then where is the limit?

I also asked her if she was given a glass of water with just one drop of in it, would she want to drink it. Of course not, it is impure, and also one curse word in a Christian book is out of place, and I don't want to run onto just one.

I would like some input here. I'd like to hear from you if you are bothered by curse words in a Christian book, and what do you think we should do - should we contact the author? The publisher? Both? Or just not do or say anything? Should Christian fiction hold a higher standard?

And if you aren't bothered by curse words in a Christian book, I'd like to hear from you also, but I'd like you to answer a question if you comment. How many curse words do you think crosses the line for a Christian book if one doesn't cross that line? How many are too many?

I of course don't like cursing anywhere, but I rarely read a secular fiction book, so I am talking about Christian fiction here.

Update - author's reply:

Hey Mark,

So sorry you were offended. I really debated, but I felt that the word was appropriate for the situation and feelings of David at that moment. I don’t liken that word to some of other vulgar words in our world, either, that might not be officially cursing, but are even more offensive. My goal was to write an authentic story about the deliverance of people who feel like they don’t deserve God’s love because of their actions. I appreciate your comments, however, and will consider them in the future.

Thank you for reading, and for writing!


By the way, I have changed the character's name, it was not David. So is she right? If the character is the type who would curse, is it ok to stick it in? And is "damn" a more acceptable curse word? What are your thoughts?

Note: if you disagree with me, I will publish your comment if you reply to my question:

How many curse words do you think crosses the line for a Christian book if one doesn't cross that line? How many are too many to be in a Christian book. Surely for anyone who is ok with it, there is a limit to what is ok - 10, 20, 50, 100? More than 100?

I did allow on comment by a lady that didn't reply to that question, but it was such an interesting comment, and I had no way to contact her or reply.

Update note: One more thing about the curse words - I had this thought before, but forgot to add it - my oldest niece is 14, an awesome sweet kid. She is starting to read Christian books. Her parents - and I also - would not want her running onto curse words in a Christian book, and kids that age shouldn't be reading curse words (not that any of us should) - I think it is a sad state of affairs that we would have to weed out some Christian books for her to read because they have language issues.


Steve-n-Deb said...

I agree that no swear words are necessary in a Christian book. I do read non-Christian books, but I still don't like swear words being used frequently -- they tend to affect us without our realizing it. I admit that at times I just skip over the words, but in a Christian book, I shouldn't have to.

I have a question for you. What is the character uses creative words instead of swear words? For example, Odyssey had a character in one episode that used the names of Presidents and Vice-Presidents instead of swear words. I've thought of writing about an atheistic (or backslidden) scientist who would use scientists or scientific terms as swear words. Is that any better?

Steve-n-Deb said...

Update: No, damn is not a "better" swear word. Sending someone to hell is taking God's name in vain.

Unknown said...

The subject of cursing is precisely why I don't read secular books, and have stuck with CF only. I feel like it sets a bad example as a Christian, especially if I were to pass a book like that on to another person, Christian or not.

I recently came across this same issue in two different books with two different publishers. The first one I came across probably had 3 total curse words in it, and it was enough for me to actually put it down and not finish it. I did email the publisher directly, and was politely told "We're sorry you were offended....thank you for your input." No word about whether or not there would be any forthcoming changes, whether the author would be contacted, etc. I did not contact the author, and in hindsight, maybe I should've. It was the first time I had ever read anything by her, and I've already made the decision to not read any more of her work.

The second book used the word "hell," not in reference to fire and brimstone, but with another context altogether. I didn't take any action on it, but I might still.

I am in agreement with you that CF should not have any cursing whatsoever included. I don't care if it supposedly helps an author get a point across through a character....it's simply not necessary, and they should have enough talent to get their point across in some other fashion.

As for the publishers... Both were completely different, and used to be among the ones that I associated with good, quality CF. Now, I'm oh-so-leary of reading books published by them. Do they really think that the inclusion of cursing is gonna help them sell more books?

(Ok, time to step off my soapbox...) Thanks for bringing up a great topic...it's definitely a good one that hopefully, won't become a trend in CF.

Annette W. said...

Vulgar language...despite how "mild" has no place in a book considered to be Christian fiction. None.

misskallie2000 said...

I agree, I don't like cursing and don't want to find in my Christian book. In fact I have quit reading a book more than once because of the curse words.

Carmen said...

I'm 100% behind you about curse words in Christian books. It's one of the main reasons I choose Christian books. The author absolutely needs to be contacted. The publisher, too, so they know people won't buy if they publish curse words. Your example of she could have handled was great.
Some former Christian writers that I love have turned to cursing. I just read one, and I won't recommend it to anyone! So, bottom line, no cursing.

Anonymous said...

Apparently none of you have read your Bibles in a while, because the King James uses the word "damn" and its variations a total of nine times!

I find it interesting that you, Mark, feel it is okay to type "damn" repeatedly in your post. I suppose you justify this usage according to the context of your rant? Perhaps you ought to extend that courtesy to this author (and meanwhile, let US know the context in which character uses the word). Just saying a character says "damn" means nothing to me. Recently I read a novel in which a character complained of those "hellfire and damnation" preachers of yore, and I doubt you or anyone here would be offended by that?

Let me ask you, Mark, were you touched by the larger spiritual message of this novel? Or did you get stuck at "damn"?

Sigh. I don't know why I bother to write this, as I won't convince anyone here. But I work "in the trenches" (an inner-city ER) and hear lots of cursing every day. Never once has a word I've heard slipped out of my own mouth, so no, Christians don't necessarily "absorb" cursing. That's ludicrous. But my profession has shown me that there is a lot of hurt, suffering, and pain in this world, and that people rarely say, "Oh, rats" when they've learned they're dying or that their loved one is near death.

Let's be more concerned with WHY hurting people mutter words like "damn" and do our best to understand and ease that pain. I'd bet almost anything that this author was not setting out to condone cursing, but was making a broader point about sin, pain, and God's redemptive work in a hurting world. Or was that completely lost on you?

Andi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark said...

Comment sent to me by my friend Joy - her comment wouldnt post for some reason:

"Ahhh. An interesting topic. One I probably fall in the middle on.

Cursing in a book. For some people, their definition of cursing differs, so it's tough to discuss the topic.

I don't condone cursing. Have I read books with it - yes. Did I really pay attention to it - not really. Do I think that there should be cursing in Christian Fiction - no. I'm not sure why you'd need it.

On the other hand, I've heard plenty of Christians talk about how bad cursing is, only to come up with their own brand of cursing.

I'll never forget hearing a minister talk about how bad cursing was in his sermon, and then his kids were out after church saying things like "son of a biscuit eater" and "what the fudge"...Hmmmm wonder what they really meant? It's not hard to guess.

The thing is that many people substitute words for curse words. Isn't that cursing too? People won't say the words so they make up derivatives, really mean the same thing, but still think they're okay???

Like I said. Interesting topic. One that everyone probably needs to work out on their own. I guess I didn't really answer the question though lol. Just my ideas and pet peeves. "

Mark said...

To answer Steve-n-Deb's question - I think the intent of the heart depends on substitues for curse words. If something goes wrong, and I say "rats", but am not thinking of a curse word, and just not saying it, I personally don't think it is wrong. Attitude could come into it also. Unless God convicts someone of stuff like that, that is between them and God, and I see nothing wrong.

Joy, I agree with you on some of what you said - I think some substitues like you mentioned are too close, and people should be more careful. Some kids at our church say "oh my cow" - nothing like God, but it sounds like they are trying to get as close to saying God's name in vain without actually doing it.

I myself don't use slang such as "heck, darn, gee", for they are just another way of saying other words - even if you look them up in the dictionary, it will say.

I think we can be too picky, like saying if you say anything, it is just a substitute for a curse word. Like if something irritating happens and I say "oh brother" - if I say nothing, but sigh, what is the difference - I am still voicing my frustration.

And another thing to keep in mind - curse words are considered bad because of what they mean and stand for, and I think attitude does play into what is right or wrong when substituting words for those, or saying some innocent word in frustration.

Andi said...


I don't have a limit actually, I don't actually think about it. I look at the context of the book. What is the author trying to portray? Is he/she showing a character that is unsaved and in the world, and then turning him/her around as a follower of Christ. I believe that as Christians who read Christian fiction we need to be able to allow CF authors the latitude to write freely. Otherwise the characters are flat, and have no substance. I say this as a reviewer looking at the upcoming books realizing that with topics coming out the Christian writing world is really giving the secular world a run for it's money and I think it can still impact it for Christ even if there are a few curse words here and there if the spiritual element is present.