Cursing Cancer

I am somewhat baffled by the fact that cursing cancer has become a thing. Do not get me wrong, cancer is a terrible product of the fall, and it is a natural evil that deserves our contempt. I am not surprised by the fact that so many people want to voice their hatred for it; especially if they have lost a loved one or are fighting the disease themselves. However, what is the motivation for people who usually conduct themselves with a sense of dignity to fasten an expletive to the window of their car in hopes to defeat the disease?

Cursing is becoming more and more mainstream, so the rise of its use in this context is not surprising. When I say I am baffled, I am not talking about people who’s language is regularly laced with vulgarity. When they do it, they are doing nothing out of character. I am interested in those for whom cursing is not the norm, but when it comes to cancer, they feel it is the appropriate thing to do. What inner reasoning drives that? It is as if cancer is such a blight that it demands them to step out of their usual decorum. What amuses me the most is that when they put the sticker on their car, in many cases, they still refuse to spell out the full curse word. They simply put the “F,” or they replace the “u” with another symbol like a skull and crossbones. It is as if they are saying, the evil of cancer deserves this, but not to the point where I can actually spell it out.

Cursing really only has one pragmatic use. The act of being boorish has a way of waking people up when they have stopped paying attention. In the case of cancer, when we are not alert to its evils, using a swear word does have the effect of making people snap out of it and take notice. For the first few people who cursed cancer, they may have received their desired effect. The problem is that it only works for a short time. After it becomes common, that utility is no longer viable, and we find people driving around with vulgarities on their car that fail to deliver. This is a major problem when profanity in general becomes common; it becomes meaningless. Of course, some people will continue to use it as a shibboleth to distinguish themselves as part of a specific tribe or group.

As Christians, I believe how we communicate is of the utmost importance, and using the Lord’s name in vain is always off limits. However, when it comes to slang, the rules are not as hard and fast. Outside of using the Lord’s name in vain, profanity unusually involves one of three modes. The first is taking something that is vulgar and applying it to things that are not. Scatological terms come to mind here. The other form is taking something that is not necessarily crude, like the term used for a female dog or donkey and applying it to a human or something else. Both are attempts to degrade or shock. The third usually involves using obscenities as an expression of fear, wonder, or some other emotion.

When it comes to cancer, using a word that denotes violent sexual activity to express disdain seems to degrade the communicator more than the disease to which it is being applied. There are times when words that highlight violent sexual activity are appropriate. Rape should be called rape when that is what it is. I will leave it to your Christian liberty to determine if you think it is ever appropriate to use the other word, but in the case of both words, intentionally misusing them reveals more about our lack of character than the thing we desire to demean. It is almost as if we are allowing cancer to win twice. Not only has it hurt us, or those we love, but we are allowing its pain to settle so deeply into our soul that it causes us to act in a way that also decays our virtue. If we want to express righteous indignation, it seems counter-intuitive to use profanity.

Perhaps this post is less about cursing and more about our cultural context. The real determination of whether there is any problem with vulgarity comes down to what we think it means to be human and to have dignity. I am aware that many, maybe even most, people who read this post will think this is the ridiculous pontification of a prude. The worldview of many is secularism which fails to establish a real basis for profanity. The biggest problem with this failure is that a worldview that is unable establish curses can have no real foundation for blessings either. When you lose one, you lose the other, and that is a major step backwards when it comes to human dignity.

Am I overthinking this? Maybe, but as Jesus said, it is not what goes into our mouth, but what come out of our mouth that defiles us (Matthew 15:11). In light of those words, a closer look never hurts.

-D. Eaton