Sex, Violence, and Cussing

Shouting Man by chrisroll

Sex, violence, and cussing (SVC)—three big sellers in the entertainment world today. As a Christian writer, must you ban these themes from your work? Or can you use them as tools to relate to today’s culture? This is a rather hot topic in the Christian community, and it stems from our constant struggle as Christian artists—how to be in the world but not of it. We walk the line between relating to culture and conforming to it, between writing to honor God and sounding like Sunday school teachers. The inclusion of SVC in our work is a real world example of this struggle.

So, should you (I’m talking to you, Christian writers) put SVC in your work? Before I try to answer this question, perhaps it’s logical to first look at each of these items to see what all the fuss is about.

Sex is intended to be a blessing, a sacred act between a married man and woman. God gave it to us so that we could take pleasure in one another as spouses, as souls. So naturally, this world utterly adulterates it. Sex is everywhere, on display for quick indulgence and sick perversion.

There’s a whole genre of books that focuses on sex. But sex is of course not limited to the Harlequin group; it permeates every kind of genre from horror to sci-fi. The common result of centering a book on sex? The writing is atrocious, the plots ridiculous, the characters stock and flat. Why? Because the steamy scenes are designed strictly to turn people on, which (for some reason) qualifies as entertainment. The bottom line is that many writers detail sex because they aren’t skilled enough to tell the story any other way, or (even more likely) because there isn’t a story in the first place.

Couple at Sunset by piyaphantawongHowever, one can argue that it’s of course possible to write a meaningful, tasteful love scene that adds to the story. Take the Bible as an example; it has sex in it (gasp!). Song of Solomon is purely about sex, written with passion and powerful visuals. And the Bible is the Word of God (no, seriously; It’s the words of God written down), and He wouldn’t write a whole book about something and then slap our hands for reading it. So the question remains: as Christians, should we write about sex?

I’ll answer this question with another question: is sex truly necessary to tell your story, or is it just tempting to write about it for your enjoyment and/or the erotic pleasure of others? There’s a definite difference between tenderness and vulgarity, between poetry and pornography; the line between the two is not fine, and you as a writer representing Christ should seek to be on the correct side.

If you’re a Christian writer considering inking that racy scene, first ask yourself the following questions: 1) Is it necessary to tell my story in the best possible way? 2) Am I resorting to turning people on to entertain them? 3) Does it tempt people and therefore draw them away from God toward sin?

Violence is a reality. It’s in our world in many forms, both fictional and non-fictional. Denying its presence is certainly folly. However, it also has the tendency to offend and/or disturb people. As a result, should it not appear in Christian literature? Again, we must look at how the world details violence as opposed to how we as Christians should detail it.

Blood on White Wall by mack2happyHorror movies and books make fortunes off of detailing horrendous acts of violence (aren’t we on Saw XXIII or so now?). These works attract millions of people. Perhaps this attraction is due to an adrenaline rush, or because of some sick fascination with evil, or maybe they just make viewers think their lives aren’t so bad after all. Whatever the reason, it seems safe to say that watching such filth does not bring us closer to God and serves to cloud our minds and consume our thoughts with images that shouldn’t be there.

However, violence is still a reality and sometimes it’s appropriate to write about it. Like sex, violence is found in the Bible. Take for example in Judges when the woman Jael kills Sisera by driving a tent spike through his temple, or in I Samuel when David cuts off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s sword. Perhaps most striking of all are the brutal details of Christ’s crucifixion. Again, it stands to reason that God would not put things in the Bible that He didn’t want us to read. So is violence inherently wrong to write about? Of course not. Should its ability to offend people still be considered? Certainly.

Once again, we come to the question: should Christian artists portray violence in their work? And yet again, we come to the answer of “it depends.” Always question your motives when writing a scene like this. Use your judgment and ask yourself these questions: 1) Is this violent scene I want to portray worth the risk of losing a reader? 2) Does this scene have a true purpose in my story or is it just to add action and/or shock value? 3) Will those who read this scene be left with disturbing images for no reason?

For some, cussing is taboo. For others, it’s just a part of their vocabularies. Attitudes toward cussing vary not only from culture to culture, but also from person to person. The topic of cussing is found in the Bible, but the popular four-letter words that we use today are not specifically called out. Rather, Scripture says to not let filthiness or obscene talk come out of our mouths (Ephesians 5:4, Colossians 3:8). The Bible emphasizes multiple times that what comes out of our mouths can defile us (Matthew 15:10-11).

“Obscene talk” and “filthiness” are broad terms, and it’s safe to say that our words don’t have to match some sort of format to be obscene. Almost anything can be obscene. One could argue that what we in the U.S. call “curse words” are not inherently evil; they’re just nonsense words, a few letters strung together. Shouting Man by chrisrollIt’s the sentiment behind the words that offends us, that can shock people. In reality, one could say “I love you” with the same degree of malice expressed via “fuck you.” But for some reason, the latter freaks some people out far more (admit it—you flinched a little at “fuck,” right?). But in the end, it’s the heart behind the words that’s filthy. Because of that, if you were to ban curse words from your writing, then you might need to ban negative speech altogether.

As a Christian writer, figuring out whether or not you should curse in your work is actually pretty simple—are you using the word for a purpose (e.g., my character would definitely curse here, it’s the only way to say what needs to be said, etc.), or are you just being lazy? The bottom line when it comes to cussing is that it’s often used in literature (and life) when an individual is either too lazy or unskilled to come up with a better way to express himself. I challenge authors that each time you consider dropping an expletive, you pause for just a moment and ask yourself these questions: 1) Would my character really cuss here? 2) Is there a more original and powerful way I could get my character’s sentiment across? 3) Am I just being lazy?

If you’re a Christian writer struggling with whether or not to include SVC in your work, question your motives. Does this scene you want to write serve a true purpose in your story? Or are you resorting to writing it for the worldly appeal, and/or because you’re too lazy to think of a different way to write it? It may very well be that you have a legitimate reason to include these themes in your work. As stated earlier, the Bible contains many of these themes. But always question your motives and how your work will impact your readers—this goes for any and all writing you do.

By Madeleine Mozley

Images from Image credits in order of appearance: piyaphantawong, mack2happy, chrisroll.