The amount of media attention over the past week’s devoted to President Bush’s utterance of a “naughty” word has been incredible. Maureen Dowd uses it as just one more bit of proof supporting her depiction of the president as a frat-boy, who “has enshrined his immaturity and insularity, turning every environment he inhabits — no matter how decorous or serious — into a comfortable frat house.”
She writes, “No matter what the trappings or the ceremonies require of the leader of the free world, he brings the same DKE bearing and cadences, the same insouciance and smart-alecky attitude, the same simplistic approach — swearing, swaggering, talking to Tony Blair with his mouth full of buttered roll, and giving a startled Angela Merkel an impromptu shoulder rub. He can make even a global summit meeting seem like a kegger.”
Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame takes the same tack with this, umm, “rap”. In an impression of Bush, Shearer intones, “Now sure I’m a moral man who has God-fearin’ ways, I wouldn’t use a dirty word or worse, a smutty phrase, I’ve restored dignity to the White House…”
It reminds me of a preferred tactic of progressive Christian speaker Tony Campolo, who in the 1980s would often begin speeches in the following way:
I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a s#!%. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s#!% than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.
Is George W. Bush a hypocrite because he’s a Christian and he cussed? And why is it such a big news story? What a scandal the words of Martin Luther, or even the apostle Paul himself, might be…
Here’s how the NIV translates Philippians 3:8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
The word that appears as “rubbish” is the Greek word skubala, a form of skubalon. The most immediate and core sense of skubalon seems to be the equivalent of the word President Bush uttered, e.g. “the excrement of animals,” with the somewhat more remote sense being that of “things worthless and detestable.”
Jerome uses the Latin word stercus to represent the Greek in the Vulgate, which still comes over as a technical medical term in English for feces. The KJV translates that part of Philippians 3:8 as “dung.”
This is to say nothing at all of all the rather “earthy” imagery of many parts of the OT. Whatever else you or I think of him, on this one point at least, maybe Tony Campolo is on to something. And it seems to me that conclusions on this point will have important implications for just how Christians are to engage the culture.
More on Christians and swearing:
- Beelezeblog (in the genre of The Screwtape Letters, the Lord of the Flies passes along commentary on current events. Be warned, he has no qualms about using salty lanuage.)
- the evangelical outpost: “What the @*…? A Christian Critique of Swearing”
- Michael J. Svigel: “Toward An Evangelical Theology Of Cussing”
- Zondervan: “To The Point,” July 25, 2006
- Cuss Control: “Swearing”
- Emergent What?: “Cussing and Sin in the Emerging Church”
More with Tony Campolo:
- “An Exchange on Christian Compassion,” (2-CD Set). This spirited debate was recorded on October 29, 1996. The exchange centered on the question of whether liberals are more compassionate than conservatives, and featured Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Doug Bandow arguing for the conservative side, and Rev. Tony Campolo representing the liberal side.