Monday, February 15, 2016

God's View On Swearing As An Actor & Actress

I have come to a conclusion, thanks to my great friends on Facebook. My conclusion is that the general Biblical perspective is that it is morally okay for some people to swear in movies in certain situations. However, this is a complex issue, so I tried to boil everything down to a detail summary, in the form of many questions and answers.

After you read my questions and answers below, you can read the rest of the blog post, where I try to explain my conclusions more thoroughly.

Questions & Answers

Can any person swear any time?


Who can swear?

People can swear, when they really need the money/opportunity that is connected to the swearing, in the acting context.

Why do some people get preferential treatment?

They are hard on their luck, and they need the money. In and of itself, a swear word is just a string of sounds with meanings associated with it: anger; disrespect. Much of the meaning, if not all, will be eliminated in the acting context. Actors often like each other, even when they act out swearing, so they are not actually swearing at each other. Right?

Are we never allowed to talk about swear words?

We can talk about them all day long.

How do we talk about them, if we cannot swear?

We can use figures of speech or just say the actual word. If we talk about the word, then it is not atually swearing. Just as acting with a swear word is not actually swearing.

Since a swear word's meaning will be eliminated in the acting context, all people should be able to swear any time. Why are all people not allowed to swear any time?

When we swear all the time, we will naturally bring the meaning out of the acting context, which reattaches the meaning. We swear, because we want the meaning of the word.

Everybody needs money; even rich people. Who, then, cannot swear?

People, who have enough income without swearing, cannot swear. In other words, most rich people and most people with established incomes do not need the swear words. People outside of the acting context cannot swear. These people have no need for the words. The Bible is clear that foul language in our interactions is a no-no.

You just told us that a swear word is just a string of sounds with meanings. Prohibiting a string of sounds is pretty strict, when we do not mean any anger or disrespect outside of the acting context. Are there absolutely no other situations, where it will be allowed?

There are certain situations! There always seems to be exceptions to the exceptions. Life would be too easy without exceptional exceptions!

Many swear words have very absolute specific meanings, which can be used in a very clinical way. When we literally talk about literal shit in a serious tone, then it makes sense to avoid figures of speech to avoid confusion. More people know what shit and crap is, than people who know what a stool sample is. [ If you need to say, shit and crap, then you might as well enjoy it. After all, I would not want to poo poo all over your fun! :^( ;^P ] If the situation is casual, and/or if the situation is not a serious kind of discussion then a figure of speech is more appropriate. Not everybody at a formal dinner needs to know that you need to shit and crap.

Tip: if you need to shit in a non medical situation, then you could talk about being excused or using the washroom, or maybe mention needing the toilet. The more vague, the better is your choice, because you will leave things to the imagination, and that will allow some people to not think about it. Shitting is 100% natural, and it must have occurred before the fall of man, but that does not mean that people need to know any of the graphic details. If people do not need to know, then do not let them know. I realize that some of you like to brag about what you just did, but still. ;^)

Also, when discussing it in a theological context, it is okay to mention these things. Fool and piss were clearly and often written in the Bible.

;^) Eugene, just so that we do not offend your delicate sensibilities, would you please give us a definitive list of bad words that can be used sometimes?

It is hard to come up with a definitive list, but it should be easy to come up with a starter list. As language changes, items can be removed and added. We should bear in mind that these words are more crude than they are bad.

  • bitch [this is okay, when speaking literally about dogs or other animals, though]
  • fool
  • piss
  • shit
  • fuck
This seems complex. Is there an easier way to remember all of this?

Yes. Just remember that there are 2 situations [as of the time of writing this] when it is permissible.

  • when you are desperate for income in the acting context
  • when you are talking about it in serious literal way

That is just a summary, and not the definitive list or fundamental principal.

Some believe that the acting script is sacred. Are you really insisting that we actually try to rewrite it?

In most cases, yes, rewrite the script.

Unfortunately, writers do not treat the scripts as sacred as they ought to. For example, writers, who take childhood cartoons, and then transfer the stories to an adult movie, are disrespecting the script that they drew their inspiration from. You can see this in Transformers and G.I. Joe, and even non-cartoon stories, like The Phantom Menace. A lot of movies have no reason to break the rules of the story world, but the writers do it anyways for no apparent reason. Despite our ideals, the story can be rewritten. Another example is the story the actresses and actors of Three's Company. There was no reason to deviate from the original apartment number and the costumes, but the writers did.

Altering the script and the facts is useful, when we need to be brief. We can always use notes and disclaimers at the end of the story. An altered script can create a much more accessible story to a wider audience.

A lot of stories do not have reality or scripts to be inspired from. In other words, the writer is starting with a clean slate. Therefore, they can rewrite it, before the story is presented to the audience [i.e.: before the story is canonized by the community].

[To read the detailed explanation, read the full this blog post.]

Detailed Explanation

A very good passage on the value of swearing at somebody outside of the acting context, is in Matthew 5. For the majority of the chapter, The Lord Jesus Christ speaks on various laws given by God and cultural norms. He covers adultery, oaths, and many other topics. In each of those topics, he raises the standard by saying that we do not have permission to do the things that we want to do. For example, when he speaks about adultery, he says that men cannot look at women to lust, and he connects that kind of looking in that situation to adultery. When he speaks about killing, he connects the sin of being angry with his brother without a cause to killing. He also mentions the use of words, and actually says those words. He also goes on to talk about reconciliation between people and our sacrifices to God. This passage clearly demonstrates how easily we are allowed say words, and explains how serious it is to be angry and to swear at our fellow man.

In the acting context, we tend to not have that angriness, so it is not going to be a big problem. There is a societal norm that we not really be angry at each other. Obviously, some actors and actresses might actually appreciate swearing at actors and actresses that they do not like, but they are a different discussion all together. In this blog post, we are talking about people, who have no qualms against each other, and are there to get paid and have fun, which is the norm for most people. I think that this is very comparable to kids playing cops and robbers: nobody is claiming that it is okay to rob a bank or to shoot each other.

I suspect that in those days, they never really had the same awareness of acting as we do in this modern world. In those days, they probably had theatre, but I think that it was not as common, in the same way that most people were illiterate. Therefore, when Jesus spoke, he probably spoke in the context of everyday usage.

These few paragraphs might sound like a free pass to swear as much as we want, but there are a few limiting factors in our daily lives.

The first factor is God's first priority: he is a being that cannot deny himself. Since he can deny us, that means he has to place his desires before our desires. It is the only logical order of things.

In our world, if we heard about somebody, who always thought about himself first, then we might say that he is self-centered; and rightfully so. The reason that God gets a free pass is simply because there is no other way. When we say that people are self-centered, we mean it in a negative way, but with God it is not negative, and we should feel free to think of him that way, because it gives a clearer picture where we are in relation to him.

We should remember that he is so high above everybody, that he can only take an oath by his own name, whereas we should not take an oath at all.

The second factor is God's interests. He plans every detail in our lives, in the lives of the invisible world, in the lives of the animal world, and even in the nonliving world [i.e.: rocks, wind, snow, etc.]. He numbers the hairs on our head. In other words, every hair in the past, present, and future, has a serial number. He plans out when it will fall off, and what will replace it or if it will be not replaced.

In our world, if we heard about somebody, who concerned himself with this level of detail, then we might say that he is obsessive-compulsive; and rightfully so. The reason that God gets a free pass, is simply because he is all knowing, and in control. When we say that people are obsessive-compulsive, we mean it in a negative way, but we should feel free to use it in a positive way with God, because it gives a clearer picture.

The third factor is the repercussion of just using a word in general. Sometimes if we use a word a lot, then we naturally misuse it, and then it becomes redefined. Also, we can become desensitized to the things associated with it. On top of that, a word can distract us. When we listen to people, we are supposed to allow them to control us a little. That is what it means to give them our attention. They are allowed to fill our heads with images of their message.

Imagine going to a formal dinner, and then hearing somebody say, I've got diarrhea. I hate the way that it splashes against my butt cheeks. I'm pretty sure that it leaves enough residue to cause acne or some kind of skin disease, because I only get skin problems, when I get diarrhea.. What has been described is a very natural process, but the thing is that we do not want to hear it or see it. We tend to find such thoughts disgusting and unnecessary during a formal dinner.

It is the same thing during our daily lives. I understand that there are different perspectives out there, and that not all of you agree with the Bible, and that all of you disagree with me on some detail. I get it. However, with the Bible, we are supposed to improve our lives, and to make things as good as possible. It is almost comparable to being a weight lifter. He could focus on general muscle groups and be happy, or he could try to excel, and focus on each muscle. As Christians, we are called to be ideal, and to not accept anything less, when we have the opportunity to do better.

It also very comparable to writing stories, where black people are only slaves. There is a huge variety of black-slave stories out there, where black people can be stupid, smart, field slaves, house slaves, fearful, courageous, funny, serious, weak, strong, undeserving, deserving, deceitful, honest, victims, victors, or whatever. However, there must come a time, when we must put aside all the slavery topics, and move on. Only portraying blacks as slaves can theoretically be honest and not racist, but is still not acceptable. After all, portraying them as only slaves would not deny them the possibility of becoming president or prime minister, but it still should still strive for more. Even if we insist that blacks being only portrayed as slaves does not prevent the best from happening, then it still would alter our subconscious thoughts.

Also, it can be said that the partial portrayal of the truth can be detrimental, when not coupled together with the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To have the whole truth, we would need to portray them as something completely different in non-slave movies.

In summary, God thinks about himself first, and he is mindful of every detail of our lives, and what we feed into our minds can have a profound effect on our behaviour. Now, let us go back to the question of why not everybody can swear.

That question of why should be rephrased: Does God want to think about it, and does he want us to think about it?. I am sure that he has other things that he would rather be thinking about. I am sure that he can make good use of our swearing, but he can make better use of our not-swearing.

The same idea seems to be true of violence. There is a lot of good stuff in the world, that we should aspire to. There are stories about spelling bees. Do we need violence in those stories in order to tell them?

Tangential Issue

Sex In Cinema

This discussion also includes stage productions, and all forms sexual content.

The Facebook discussion also touched on nudity, and kissing, because the whole discussion was in the context of acting. After all, why should swearing be compared to violence, when it could be compared to nudity and sex?

To help shed light on acting, allow me to share with you the concept of different kinds of sins. When I went to Bible college, a teacher assigned us an essay: we had to describe the various kinds of sins in a certain passage, and contrasted them. That was such a foreign concept to me, because I was only used to the idea of sin just being wrong. Actions were right or wrong, in my opinion, at that time. At the time, I believed that people delved into complexity, because they wanted more ideas for rationalizing away the sins that they wanted to get away with. As you might guess, I almost failed that assignment.

The lesson did stick with me, though. I understood that there are different kinds. In that lesson, I learned that some sins are done with the hands, and some are done with the mouth, and others are done in other ways. Knowing this is important, because it helps us to keep a better check on ourselves.

There are also other ways of classifying sins and ordinary actions. You could classify them according to how many people are involved [e.g.: rape vs. ordinary adultery], or even how close it gets.

To help us shed more light on acting, let us use an example of a stereotypical guy, whom we shall call Guy.

Imagine that Guy, walking down the street has been approached by a world famous director. The director offers Guy a part in an upcoming adventure. Guy cannot resist this offer, because he has always wanted to be a movie star, and because acting looks like fun. During the negotiations, Guy discovers that his character will be rescuing a beautiful princess, who is also a perfect runway model. There will be a nude love scene, and she has agreed to do it topless. I am sure that we will all have our personal boundaries, but we will understand the thoughts that go through his head, when he says, Yippee!. Some of us approve, and some of us disapprove, but we all understand.

Unfortunately, she gets into a car accident, and can no longer work in the movie. The director says, Hey Guy, don't worry. We still have you covered. We found a replacement, who is also just as beautiful, and has the exact same body shape: your mom. Yes, your mom will be acting in the movie with you.. I am sure that we can all imagine Guy feeling a bit deflated. We should all be able to understand why he will back out of the movie. The thought of their bodies and lips pressed together is not a steamy fantasy.

The important principal here is that sexual things are more than just intent. The visual aspect [i.e.: nude] and the physical aspect [i.e.: naked bodies pressed against each other] are worth a lot to Guy.

Some might claim to be able to turn off certain aspects of the love scenes, but we ought to doubt them.

Even if we could trust them, it would still be a problem for the audience. Otherwise, we would be able to justify watching porn.

Swearing is not exactly like sexual activities. It is probably more like playing cops and robbers and more like Hollywood violence than sexual contact. However, the tangential issue of sex in acting teaches us that we cannot automatically use another action to justify swearing.

Imagine that the actress, who was originally supposed to play the princess, never got into a car accident. Perhaps Guy's mom coincidentally got to play the villain. Perhaps Guy had to swear at the villain. Most people would not have a problem with the 3 of them playing those roles, and he might actually like it for the potential laughs. After all, when else can he swear at his mom, and not mean it? The same goes with violence.


I think that spelling out the contrasts might help us with future questions and discussions. There are many kinds of sins in cinema, but these 3 seem to help us define the major categories.

Unique Aspects of Sex

Violence is similar to swearing, in that neither typically involve any serious touches. Violence is typically portrayed through the use of stunts and special effects and make up and prosthetics. Both swearing and violence differ from sex in that sex actually involves some form of contact, which also happens to be desirable on some level.

In my opinion, sex seems to differ from the other 2, in that sex seems to start on the outside, philosophically speaking. Technically, the desire starts on the inside, but the desire is okay. When we see something or when we are touched, then it philosophically goes into the body and fulfills that desire. With the other 2, we do not need to be touched or even see the results of our actions. For example, we could swear in private, or do something from a distance [e.g.: lob missiles; throw a rock; etc.].

Unique Aspects of Swearing

Swearing is unique, in that it is a little less clearly defined, but those words are clearly wrong across all cultures. In French, swear words are all religious words: tabarnacle, chalice, etc. In English, swear words tend to be focused around sex and genitalia or things from private parts: fuck, shithead, faggot, etc. When I say that they are clearly wrong across all cultures, I mean that we cannot expect to use French swear words, and not be foul mouthed. Another way of describing this is saying, You don't really think that you're being polite and not foul mouthed, just because your harsh words were in French and not English, do you?. It is the intent that matters the most. With sex, you cannot really not mean it. With violence, there is no such thing as French violence. Their swear words are different, but when people are violent, then they violent.

Unique Aspects of Violence

Violence is unique, in that God does it, but not the other 2. He does not have sex, and he does not utter foul language. On the day of judgement, he will throw people into a lake of fire to burn forever. If that is not violent, then I do not know what is.

Further Exploration

It might be worth exploring the concept of cursing people. In faerie tales, we might see somebody, like a witch, pronounce a curse upon a protagonist, and the curse comes true. In the Bible, there is that kind of cursing, but there seems to be cursing of a much milder kind. Is the Bible speaking about saying bad things to people or saying bad things about people? Is it speaking about saying things with swear words or without swear words? You tell me.

We are allowed to eat food sacrificed to idols. How many of us can do it? Does it matter if we do or not?


First, and foremost, I would like to thank all the Facebook people, who discussed this with me. You had such a diverse set of opinions. It was an unusual discussion, because each of you represented a concern that I had, while I disagreed with each of you in some manner, and yet you all guided me to do what the Bible says. I think that I came to a fairly reasonable conclusion that you agree with, too, but I could be wrong on that.

Second, thank you, dear reader, for reading this.

Lastly, and most importantly, I thank God for all his help.

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