What is the value of saying bullshit when...?

Here's a question for preachers, worshippers and those who are concerned about church in general:  is there a value in calling bullshit by its true name in worship?  I have been persuaded by the Stanley Hauwerwas and Clarence Jordan school of public speaking that sometimes there is no better word to describe certain reality except bullslhit.  Jordan, the curmudgeon Baptist preacher and founder of the inter-racial Koinonia Community, called those who are rattled by the earthy words of scripture and reality "Kleenex Christians" - people who just can't handle the dirty truths of incarnational living. 

Evangelist Tony Campolo once cut to the chase for me saying:“[According to a profile in Christianity Today entitled] The Positive Prophet, ... I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

So why does this continue to be true in so many of churches at a time when social sin is eating us alive?  Why are we so afraid of naming bullshit by its true name in the church instead of being offended by hunger, violence and fear? In 2005, the moral philosopher, Harry G. Frankfurt wrote the definitive book on the subject with a small volume called , On Bullshit.  I like this summary of what Frankfurt was trying to accomplish: 

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. Yet we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, "we have no theory."

Frankfurt, one of the world's most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.

Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

Today, as I was talking about the belief that we are called by God to suffer so many of our fears and the agonizing wounds of our souls in silent alienation, I said: "BULLSHIT!  The God made flesh in Jesus Christ is NOT about silent suffering into perpetuity out of pride or shame... God seeks our healing,hope and renewal." I carefully chose to call bad theology bullshit - it wasn't a slip of the tongue - but rather a theological affirmation. And all the while I knew that somebody would be more upset with my street parlance than the fact that this bad theology has keot God's people wounded and afraid for centuries.

So I guess I would like to hear from people of faith who take worship seriously:  what's the deal with all the bullshit?  Why are we so afraid to speak the truth of our God in the everyday language most people use without batting an eye?  Are we really people who affirm the docetic heresy and fear/hate incarnational language?  Thoughts?  Insights? Concerns?  Please... talk among yourselves.


Rev Nancy Fitz said…
Ok, so nowbyou've got me thinking Back to younlater on this.
RJ said…
I would value your insight,Nancy. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
I feel a little like these are the comments of a 14-year-old boy who is titillated by using swear words in church. I think this is more about your need to be cool and edgy than it is about a desire to spread the truth of our Incarnate Savior.

I dunno, RJ. I call bullshit on this post.

Truly yours,
A Midwestern Pastor
Black Pete said…
Earlier this morning, I looked up the word "mountebank" in the dictionary, as a word I had occasionally heard, but wanted to confirm its meaning. It has been popping up in my conscience for a couple of weeks, usually when I think of certain persons, one of whom deliberately uses the phrase "impression management" in his interactions with others. Sounds like we are on the same wavelength, James.

Many years ago, Joyce and our toddler daughter Emma and I attended the ground-breaking Re-Imagining gathering ( http://sir.sagepub.com/content/37/2/311.short?rss=1&ssource=mfc ) in Minneapolis. I was only able to attend a couple of the more informal parts, but my role was largely that of caregiver to Emma, which was fine.

Some of the Re-Imaging liturgy was provocatively anti-bullshit in the course of being very anti-masculinist, by including some very earthy female imagery. Of course, the criticisms of the conference and of feminist theology were manifold and loud, but what stands out for me was that of a PCUSA female minister whose main criticism was that the liturgy was "in bad taste".

The point was since made that women for centuries have been marginalized and oppressed by traditional masculinist Christian theologies with predominantly male God talk, but it just wasn't nice to use female God talk and {gasp} celebrate women's sexuality as a sacrament. In other words, a parallel to the 30,000 children and the "kleenex Christian" culture.

I don't agree with Midwestern Pastor's take on this posting, but I am aware that there is such a thing as speaking gratuitously for effect, and it's a risk we all take when we seek to name the infamy.

Thanks, James.
RJ said…
Well, like I said: I invite your commentary good, bad or indifferent, yes? I don't think I have too great a need to be cool or edgy - maybe 15 years ago - but not so much. Rather, I want to speak some critical insights in a language that cuts beyond "churchianity." Sometimes it works and I get the balance right; sometimes not. And sometimes the most curious folk are offended. The feedback from people in worship was fascinating: those on the "edge" felt I was speaking truth to them; insiders were a bit more uncomfortable; and a there was also a clear divide re: ages. Thank you for your comments - one and all - we shall see.
David said…

For the record, the "Midwestern Pastor" is NOT me. This midwestern pastor doesn't believe he has a right to an opinion until he is ready to attach his name to it. Just sayin'

Yesterday, I referred to sensationalist theology and the rapture as "Crap" No one was more surprised by this than I was and I got no negative feedback. Apparently they agreed.

I agree with Black Pete that there is a danger that one might adopt shocking language as a mere affectation and thereby blunt the force of your witness but I don't think that this is inevitable. A bigger danger is that we will enable people in the false notion that "politeness" and "righteousness" are the same thing and that "being nice" is our highest calling as Christians.

Finally, if you consult your RSV translation of Psalm 50 you will see that even God resorts to coarse language sometimes. "I will accept no bull from your house"

-Dave Comstock, Indianapolis IN
David said…
The term was supposed to be "dispensationalist" theology... Damn spellcheck!
RJ said…
I didn't for a moment think it might be you, David. And I think both you and Black Peter are right that shooting for effect is bad homelitics and not at all helpful for the body of Christ. And I really resonate with your sense that too often being "nice" has come to mean the same as "righteousness." UGH! And I guess sometimes dispensationalist theology is also sensatinalist, yes? Thanks for your words.
Black Pete said…
"Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns."

--Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte), in the forward to "Jane Eyre", 1847

And David, you're right: with an opinion must come a name...
RJ said…
That last quote, Peter, gets it very right for me. Thanks for sharing.
Black Pete said…
She takes it further, James:

"These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth: narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is--I repeat--a difference: and it is a good, not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth--to let whitewashed walls vouch for clean shrines..."

I recently read her novel Jane Eyre and was blown away by the personal integrity of the heroine of the book.
RJ said…
Whew... Peter I am going to have to read this - maybe like reading it again for the first time: thanks for these VERY important and powerful words.
Di said…
And isn't it revealing that this post of yours has gotten far more comments than any other for some time? Prrof that there's a lot more concern in the Churchian ranks over "foul language" than other, one might think, more important issues?

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