Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Jesus Trigger

Zestful Blog Post #247

Indulge me today. Just indulge me.

I’ve brought up the name of various lords (or Lords, if you like) several times in this blog. Whenever I mention Jesus, I always get an unsubscribe notice for exactly one person. Never two, three, more, or zero. It’s funny, it happens whether I take the name of Jesus or God in vain, such as two weeks ago, when I wrote “But do you see how goddamned entertaining and enjoyable it is to read closely?”, or whether I mention Jesus or Christ in any sort of positive or neutral way, in the in the context of one of my metaphysical-type posts. No one seems to object to the mention of Buddha, or any ancient gods/goddesses I’ve mentioned, like Athena. None of the unsubscribers sends me any sort of message of explanation, but they really don’t have to, because the correlation seems so distinct. Sometimes I wonder what they’re thinking when they make the decision.

Like, “Eww, she said something about Jesus! I am so allergic to that Christian thing! Because there are so many hypocritical Christians out there who are actually fascists and everything!! Any reference to the historical Jesus is surely—somehow—an attempt to proselytize, or as a signal that proselytization is about to occur!! Bad blogger! Lemme outta here!”

Or like, “Eww, she cursed!! I am so allergic to cursing! I condemn cursing! This person is ungodly and perhaps even dangerous! I myself am devoted to clean language, and I myself will go to heaven if I keep doing things right!! This blogger and I have nothing in common! Bad blogger! Lemme outta here!”

Seriously, unsubscriber? You’ve been enjoying this blog, yet now you’re tapping ‘unsubscribe’ because—your identity is that tenuous? You have to protect your bubble so reactively that you’re foregoing the whole experience of Zestful Writing? You can’t just shrug off the bits you don’t like? Is there something I’m just not getting?


[Pagan piñata about to be busted during a Catholic festival in Mexico. Yes! Piñatas were used by the Aztecs to celebrate the birthday of Huitzilopochtli. You remember that popular war god, right?! [photo by ES]]

I swear and use vulgar language fairly liberally in real life. (If you’ve ever spent so much as half an hour with me over a cup of coffee or glass of wine, you’re like, yeah, Elizabeth, no shit.) And I put curse words and vulgar talk in the mouths of some of my fictional characters, especially my first-person ones. Why? For one thing, it’s a comfort zone, and bad language can break tension in a scene, or even add humor. And I feel it’s only honest to permit my characters to swear because I swear, and I feel it’s only honest for me to swear occasionally in this blog.

Last week, in the context of reviewing the writing app Floor 23, I wrote out a Catholic children’s prayer that came to mind. You might conclude that I was brought up in a Catholic household, and you would be right. However, my parents, apart from attending church, for years owned and operated taverns in working-class neighborhoods. And we lived in a working-class neighborhood. So guess where I learned the prayers and the curses? Right! You might wonder what I believe or practice now. My current religion, if you could call it that, seems to be a mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, and paganism, sprinkled with some vestigial Catholic devotional practices.

I know writers who swear in real life but who eschew it in their fiction because they don’t want to alienate readers. Heck, I know Jewish writers who say things like, “for Christ’s sake!” but who wouldn’t put those words into the mouths of their characters. I can understand that. I’ve lost readers because of the language I use. Some have scolded me either via email or in an online review (or both—so proud of themselves). And maybe someday I’ll launch a newer, cleaner series where nobody swears, not even the lowlifes. I shudder, but it could be an interesting challenge.

Well, I have no particular conclusion to offer here. It’s just funny how the Christian God/Jesus is such a trigger, on both ends of the offense spectrum. Funny as hell.

What do you think? Did this post make you uncomfortable? If you’re a writer, do you consciously use or avoid bad language? Reasons? I’m interested. To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

If you'd like to receive this blog automatically as an email, look to the right, above my bio, and subscribe there. Thanks for looking in.

21 comments:

  1. That cursefree series will have to have all robot characters in some fantastic shiny utopia.

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  2. Oy shit! I converted to Judaism where I'm a lackadaisical member of the tribe. I don't mind your cussing, Sims, but if you said, "have a blessed day," then I'd run! I think people who say that, might just shoot me if they knew who I really was!

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    1. LOL, Pam, the last thing I'll wish for you is a blessed day. Maybe a blasted day...

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  3. Laugh out loud funny. Really, you lose a (one) subscriber per reference? Well, (stuffs sock in mouth) yeah, you know what comes next. The whole high grand poobah thing is just so overrated.

    Oh wait, what am I saying? Have you seen what's squatting on the Iron Thorn in the US? Go ahead, think about that without swearing.

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    1. And yes, although I would have bet money on the opposite, one person unsubscribed today...

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  4. I do use cursing or swearing when it's appropriate to the character. My books are not full of foul language, but there are some people who don't know how to speak without a hell or damn. For my sci-fi book, the word of choice is "frazzlecrap," which apparently does not offend.

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    1. Frazzlecrap. Somewhat like a futuristic version of 'fiddlesticks'? Thanks for sharing that one, Veronica!

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  5. Dear Elizabeth,
    I have never talked with you outside of a work setting. However if we ever have a cup of coffee together, you can swear or curse all you want. To me, swearing or cursing is a safe release of negative energy. Please do not curse at me personally without explaining why.
    Occasional mentions of the word Jesus would not cause me to unsubscribe. If your blogs became primarily religious in nature or worse preachy in nature, then I would probably unsubscribe. Live and let live. Take care Jennifer

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    1. Exactly, Jennifer. You understand. And yeah, preachy is the worst...

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  6. Who gives a shit if someone can’t tolerated a little cussing? Let ‘em unsubscribe.

    My dad once told me that swearing shows that you have a limited vocabulary. If you have to use cuss words to express yourself, you’re not very smart. I don’t think he really believed it because I would frequently overhear him say that so and so was a “peeving bastard”. My brother and I would laugh our ass off.

    I personally believe there is no better word in the English language than fuck. It can be used as a verb, adverb, and adjective. It’s so versatile and expressive. However, I am very careful not use the word freely in public so as not to offend those that are overly sensitive. I would have no problem using it in my writing if it fit the character and genre. Words are our tools. So why limit ourselves?

    Same thing goes for religious titles and names. It depends on the context in which the words are used. But I cringe when someone tells me to have a blessed day. I’ll choose to have any kind of fucking day that I want.

    Oops! Sorry about the cussing.

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    1. Bill, I heart you. Brilliant comment. I agree that a responsible citizen ought to exercise restraint when in public. I keep trying...

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  7. I find taking the name of my God in vain offensive - yes. Will I unsubscribe because someone I have never met IRL uses it, and is speaking in to a void hoping to reach all sorts of people, uses His name in vain? No!

    Now, if you were my IRL friend, and I said stop that in my presence, and you didn't - I would unfriend you, as you have not shown much consideration for my views.

    As a reader, unless it is written specifically for me (like that's ever gonna happen) I just shrug it off.

    And I think the problem with people today, is there are too many snowflakes. Society is getting segregated to groups of people with the same views, who are unwilling or unable to listen maturely to another point of view.

    I read somewhere recently "We were taught to not talk about politics and religion, when we should have been taught how to talk about politics and religion sensibly" or something to that effect.

    I get offended, but unless it was so disrespectful, I would not unsubscribe. I am a new subscriber to your e-mail, and you seem pretty balanced when it comes to using those 'dangerous' words. Using them for effect is different to using them to cause offence.

    Keep on writing, and God bless ;)

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    1. Ingrid, you have written a very insightful comment. I appreciate your common-sense (and mature) take on the subject. God's blessings right back to you, and thank you.

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  8. Thoughtful blog...as usual, E. While I tend to be tight-lipped with strong language, my sensibilities on this topic have become less easily offended as I age and have learned to give others room to be themselves.

    I write in the cozy mystery genre and one of its conventions is very limited or zero tolerance for bad language. I have found though that my MC would not be believable if she did not utter a "crap" or a "damn" when I placed her in life-threatening situations. The same is true for the antagonist/murderer.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your process on this, Liz!

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  9. Hi from Portugal Elizabeth,
    Great, provocative post. I don't use strong language in my books, but that's because I don't use it myself (barring, of course, when the occasional hot casserole dish slips from my oven mitts onto the tiled kitchen floor, or worse, my feet).

    I was raised a Catholic too. My parents did not go to church, and my dad, a Navy man, swore like a--well, you know. I followed in his footsteps until when, after comparing religions for decades (the subject of my first memoir), I became a Christian. Then I swore off cussing. :)

    But one mistake I think believers often make is to close dialogue with people with different beliefs and practices. There's a way to react with gentleness and respect that results in a kinder world. At least I hope so.

    Best to you always.




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    1. Thanks for joining the convo, Tricia--and with wit to boot. I agree with you. Tolerance seems to have gone out of fashion these days, in many different arenas. There are always the few and true out there, though, who buoy me. Thanks.

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  10. Had to come and look at this post. I try now not to take God's name in vain and curse, but in my memoir WIP my parents swore and I put their words in the dialogue. Before I accepted Jesus in my life I spent 40 years in the wilderness hating God, turned to the new age, witchcraft, voodoo, and other cults (will be in my memoir), and then I raged at God who I saw as the great abandoner (He didn't stop my father's abuse), that He hated me so I hated him. I used to rage at Him asking Him where the hell He was and why should I even give him any acknowledgment. When I finally realized God wasn't like my father, that He was the loving Father I really needed, and I came to my senses, I apologized to Him. He said in my spirit, "That's okay, Heather. At least you were talking to me." God can handle us, our swearing, and our hurting comments. He won't be crushed by them. He understands. Now I wouldn't think to approach Him like that, but I've healed. If your characters swear a bit, it is normal in real life. People won't respond to perfect characters, we all have flaws.

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    1. Wow, Heather, thank you for sharing this pretty heavy trip. I'm awful sorry you suffered at the hands of your dad. And thankful you made it through, via your own spiritual deepening. I do feel that God doesn't take it personally when someone swears, though I think one must be judicious and not abuse his understanding! Best wishes on that memoir.

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