Thursday, October 17, 2013

#$%& You, God

So, is it ever okay to swear at God?

I'm not sure I've ever really considered that question before. Is it okay, when praying, to use curse words? Is it acceptable to direct those curse words at God? I came across these questions in an article entitled, "Who Says It's Wrong to Mix Swears and Prayers?" A little warning — there are (not surprisingly!) some swear words in that article, so if you're easily offended by such things, you probably don't want to click through*. I have to admit — it's an interesting way to think about prayer.

* Although, an article which can reference medieval religious practice and the filthiest song from the wonderfully filthy play "The Book of Mormon" is always going to get a thumbs-up from me.

The article is mostly from a Christian point of view, and so it's a very different framework from Jewish prayer, and it's very different from my understanding of Jewish prayer, which has nothing to do with literal supplication. The people referred to in the article, though, seem a bit more literal:
One kind of response suggested that swearing would personally offend the Lord if TemplarKnight1 happened to run into him (“think about it this way, if Jesus were standing right in front of you, then would you curse?”), while another spoke of more enduring consequences: “Once I learned that there is much swearing and blasphemy in Hell… I realized I needed to stop.”
These responses seem to assume a very literal framework for prayer — God and the saints are living personalities who can be offended by something that we say. Now, you don't have to have an extremely non-literalist theology like mine to see that there are some problems with this kind of thinking. There's something a little bit strange about the idea of an all powerful God being offended, at all. That seems like an awfully human emotion, doesn't it?

For someone like me, who believes that there isn't a God who is "out there," as some Being with an existence separate and distinct from my own, it's even more of a non sequitur. If God is the sum total of all interconnected being, as any non-dualist will tell you God is, then God can't get offended by anything. God isn't a Being with personality. So, the question of whether or not it's ever okay to swear during prayer, or to swear at God, becomes somewhat more subtle.

The more I learn about prayer*, the more it seems to me that what prayer really is, is an opening of the heart. It's an attempt to connect with the thoughts and feelings that we hold deep inside of ourselves. It's an attempt to express whatever it is that we most deeply need to express. Joy, doubt, pain, thankfulness, peace, anger--all of it. And, if that's true, then why wouldn't swearing, at least some of the time, be appropriate?

*And, a lot of what I've learned about prayer of late is from the book Making Prayer Real

The author of the article seems to agree:
Given that it is neither novel nor all that funny, it might be more interesting to consider profanity in prayer as the product of genuine religious concern.
I suppose you could argue that, ideally, there were always better ways to express ourselves then with curses*. Swears become a shortcut to express what we aren't able, or aren't willing to take the time, to express with more exacting, less profane speech. But, as much as religion tries to move us towards an ideal, it also must deal with the real, and for most of us, shouting out a swear is, at times, a more honest expression of our anger, fear or frustration than anything else we might be able to get out at that moment.

* I've always loved the line from "Malcolm X" in which his mentor-to-be tells Malcolm [probably misquote here], "A man only curses when he can't express what's on his mind."

Just now, I suddenly started thinking about two families I know who have sons battling cancer. One seems to be doing well and is, God willing, going to win his fight. One is not. If any of those four parents takes a moment and talks to God about what their son is going through, would anyone deny the reality, the immediacy of them screaming, "F@#$ You, God!" until their throats were sore? That "prayer" would win highest marks for honesty, in every sense of that word. That says a lot about its quality as a prayer, don't you think?
To curse God, or otherwise to transgress boundaries of propriety within the framework of religious communication, is to approach a conclusion about prayer at odds with the usual understanding that it is primarily an act of comfort or devotion.
Prayer can be an act of comfort or devotion. But, that's just one kind of prayer. One mode of prayer. Sometimes, screaming from the depths of your despair at God, or at Whomever, can be prayer, as well. And, if you need to lace that prayer with some surprisingly salty language? I am pretty sure that God won't be offended. In fact,  I'm pretty sure that God knew that you needed to swear, before even you did.

Isn't that who God is?

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