For some odd reason -- odd because I don't listen to contemporary Christian music unless I'm forced to -- I found myself, the other day, reading a blog dedicated to that musical genre. There is apparently a kerfuffle going on in those circles about the "explicit lyrics" of a song by someone named Derek Webb.
I read the lyrics. I read the frowny-faced comments by concerned CCM fans. And suddenly I had a flashback to 1979, when I was a freshman in college surrounded by members of groups like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Navigators and Campus Crusade. These were the kind of undergraduates who worried whether saying darn was taking the Lord's name in vain because it was just a bowlderized version of Goddamn, so anyone who actually knew the etymology of darn and said darn anyway was more or less saying Goddamn, and "I really need to pray about this, and if it is a sin I need to repent, because if I don't, when I die God is going to ask me why I loved saying darn more than I loved Him..." We Lutheran students, generally unsaddled by this degree of scrupulosity even in my then-LCMS congregation, would later wonder over our beers what in hell these people were going on about.
But anyway, back in the day, the same subset of Christians were having the same fits of moral outrage over then-CCM-identified-musician Bruce Cockburn's song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," where he, speaking for all conflicted pacifists everywhere, waxed ironic with the confession, If I had a rocket launcher/some son-of-a-bitch would die. You would have thought he'd actually set the thing off and taken out a few dozen innocent civilians, the way some of the Christian listeners were carrying on. My reaction to that reaction was the same eye-roll I found myself giving this latest episode of goody-two-shoes angsting. I mean -- these lyrics will never (please, God) make it into an Oxford anthology of sacred music -- but if the singer/songwriter's intention was ironic, to call out the sanctimony of his demographic by eliciting a predictable response, then it was in its own way quite clever; although apparently not clever enough to lead the subjects to understand the "gotcha."
In high school my English teacher -- a part-time gentleman farmer and full-time conservative Baptist -- affirmed the judicious use of cusswords in literature. His observation: "When you're up to your knees in shit, there's not much else you can call it."