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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Philosophy of Swearing: Words Like OUCH in Christian Fiction

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. For relaxation, he writes westerns. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at

A pit bull bit me, and days afterward, the wound was still sore. As I sat down, it hurt. “Ouch!”

The man at the meeting turned his gaze toward me. “I wish you wouldn’t.” He sat to my left.

“Wouldn’t what?” I leaned back on the hard bench.

“Say that.”

“You mean…” I didn’t say the O word. “Why?”

He glanced at the speaker, who seemed preoccupied for a bit longer, took a deep breath, and said, “You’re replacing the word you said with one you might have said. But the meaning is clear. You used it as a swear word.”

I pointed at my hip. “But it hurts.”

“It’s your heart. Let God get a hold on your heart.”

I rubbed my hip. “It really hurts.”

“God works with you through your pain.” The man crossed his arms. “Give your pain to Him the moment you feel discomfort, and you won’t need to swear.”

Discomfort? More like agony. What was this guy getting at? “It’s not like I used a euphemism of the seven dirties.” I shifted, and pain shot through my hip. I didn’t say it. Instead, I grunted.

He gritted his teeth. “Again?”

“What? What?”

“Look,” he said. “Language is fluid, flexible. Groans are as valid a language as any. The point is, you’re using the sound as a swear word. This is an issue of your heart.”

Thankfully, as a writer, I’m a target for philosophies, and I’ve heard ideas like this before. I say philosophy because his idea fits more a Platonic society with a Christian twist—creating a ruling state of spirituality in the church—than a doctrine regarding sin. The rules to this game can be made up on the spot.

It’s best, I’ve learned, to stay quiet.

I kicked him.

He said, “Ouch!”

I love writing Christian fiction. But I've noticed two camps that sometimes leave discussion and start tossing angry words at each other—one that attacks Christian fiction, while the other defends it. One side celebrates the clean fiction and wants it cleaner, while the other is stretching the boundaries and definitions of Christian fiction.

It’s best to remember that both sides are philosophies, not doctrines. Will one or the other go to hell over their belief? If you believe the answer is yes, perhaps it’s time to bring in my other buddy who believes fiction of any kind is sin. He’ll kick you in the shin so you swear.

Both camps are pretty much valid. They're both wrong, as well.

There’s room for (almost) everyone in Christian fiction—from the person who is heartbroken over the filth in Christian fiction (she said the word guts! *Ramona the Brave) to Christian fiction is sweet romance with a moral lesson that brightens the day because purity of mind is to not knowingly allowing entertainment to include certain sins.

In the end, this election for who is right and who is wrong is decided with the vote of the dollar. Christian consumers will decide who will win the debate, and publishing companies will be one step behind.

Just remember, critical thinking skills are only honed by honest, cool debate. Not hot, emotional words.

(Edit: The above story is true, in case reading fiction is a philosophical problem for the reader)


  1. Love it. The other day I was criticized in a one-star review for having my Samaritan character say "Jehovah" when, as the reviewer stated, no self-respecting Jew would say that word (he forgot the title of the book: The Samaritan.) Then he went on to talk about my silly name spellings at trying unsuccessfully to translate Hebrew. Actually, I got the names and their spellings from a Hebrew list of names. But, if my book made him feel superior for awhile, go for it

  2. Love it, Peter, and I love the previous comment, too. I had one reviewer say I had vague and inaccurate references to Scripture. Well, yeah. My character is a growing Christian. She doesn't have it right yet. I wish people who review would pay attention to what they have read and what they say. That person put the review up on the wrong book. ROFLOL!

  3. Wow. Lord, save us from our readers!

  4. I've had this debate on fb before. There were no winners. But you know what's interesting? Studies show that people who cuss are more honest. How does that fit into theology?

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Ha! So if I say ouch, more, Angela, you'll know I'm being honest.

  7. Damn! This is a well-written piece, Peter.

  8. Ouch, Mike. Ha! Thanks for reading :)

  9. love your bit about using a word as a substitute for what you "really want to" say! ha! if that's true then we're all doomed! if ouch is now a swear word then nobody cain't say nothing! that said, SHEESH! am i ever in trouble! my characters are mostly unsaved, and occasionally throw out what i call "PG-13 language" they also say "oh my God" from time to time. but as one commenter said above, they're honest in their speech.
    ps, for this reason, i do not market as Christian fiction; i am a Christian and i am an author, and my faith rides through my stories with or without "those" words!
    [guess i better seek and destroy all use of the word ouch, though!]

  10. I hear you, Robin. Good point. And I say 'Oh NO!' all the time.

  11. I love this post. I love all kinds of Christian fiction, ranging from squeaky clean to downright gritty. I guess my preference is probably gritty, as it seems more realistic. Again, great post!

  12. This is too funny. So when we hurt, we simply grin and bear it? Too funny.

  13. Jesus cussed, in anger, a number of times, if the Apostles are to be believed. Just sayin'.

  14. ChappyDebbie, you have a VERY cool photo.

    Lisa, thanks for pointing that out. It needs to be discussed!

  15. I just have to ask and do not seek to cause friction. Where in the Bible did Jesus cuss? He is the Son of God, and God says not to let any corrupt communication proceed from your mouth. Jesus, as God, also never sinned. I certainly don't believe saying "ouch" is cussing; I don't personally know anyone who would.

  16. Good job bringing it up, Adam!

    Comments that Jesus made, such as brood of vipers, would be considered—at the very least—crude in Israel. Most secular historians call it swearing—as we would translate the words today. Christian historians hum and haw over it. Paul used some interesting language as well. Although, I'm checking through the latest blogs as we speak, there's long, drawn out explanations that start with inspiration, then the many verses on purity, and then approach the word insisting it couldn't be improper language instead of looking at the word in its historical context of what the people would have viewed it at the time. Pick your position, I suppose. Either way, Jesus NEVER sinned, and anyone who claims He did is ignorant and foolish and has no evidence. So perhaps we must look out our rigorous definitions of proper communication and rethink our culturally driven views on behaviors we deem improper.

  17. Interesting discussion. Thanks. I did a series of articles on this topic at my blog and even found an Old Testament scholar to weight in. His response to charges of vulgar language in the Bible are here:

    For what it's worth.


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