Recently I had a conversation with two people on the topic of vulgar language. To both protect their identities and piss them off, I'll call them Simon and Garfunkel.
"Hey," I said to them, "Did you guys know they can say the "F" word on network TV in Australia?"
"That doesn't surprise me," Garfunkel said, a solemn expression on his face, "It's an island of convicts and thieves."
I felt a rush of indignation and fascination wash over me. In my life I've heard many filthy racist slurs come out of ignorant mouths, but never have I heard a bad word directed toward the Australians.
Not even from Kiwis. (They are so polite!)
I wondered how anyone could hate an Australian. Did we not fall in love with Paul Hogan in the '80s? Did we not cry with the rest of the world when Steve Irwin died by--of all things--a sting ray to the heart? We flooded the theaters to see Heath Ledger's Joker, a performance so eloquent it was described in one headline "Ledger cements himself as legend." We even forgave Russell Crowe's anger issues because damn it, he's a fine actor. We just quietly removed the phones within arm's length of him.
Frankly, we kind of owe Australia. By way of Nicole Kidman, we sent them Tom Cruise, who brought nothing but Scientology and unnaturally white teeth into the country. In retaliation we got Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head," an admittedly catchy but migraine-inducing ditty that cannot cancel out the pleasure of Olivia Newton-John's landmark contribution to the Grease soundtrack, which still gets daily airplay on the radio here.
Because I secretly believe my life should be a musical, I started to imagine how I could reply to Garfunkel's response in song. Perhaps I would click my ruby-red heels three times and sing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to him. In my pitch-perfect voice, I would tell him about the wonders of the land of Oz, a place so fantastic that there are parades to celebrate homosexuals and no one ever gets shot over a parking space. Oh--and women glow and men plunder.
My reverie was interrupted by Garfunkel's friend Simon, who said, "I don't know why everyone gets so up in arms over the "F" word when the Lord's name is used in vain on American TV all the time. I find that very offensive."
"Oh my god!" I exclaimed, "Are you offended when I say omg?"
"On so many levels," Simon muttered.
"Well what about 'oh my gosh'" I asked, "Is that all right to say instead?"
Both Simon and Garfunkel shook their heads. "That's just as bad," Garfunkel explained, "Everyone knows you really mean to say 'oh my--well, you know.'"
"Right," I said agreeably, "He Who Must Not Be Named." I continued, "Well, what else should you say? What about 'oh my goodness'"?
Garfunkel said, "No, that's almost worse. When you say 'goodness,' it's like admitting that you're good, and everyone knows that people aren't good, only God is. So basically when you say it you're admitting you're equal to God."
I considered this. "Wow, you've got it all figured out. You're definitely not going to hell."
Later that night I tossed and turned in bed, and not in a fun way. I just couldn't get past how silly all these rules seemed. Why would God care if you said His name in vain? I grew up Catholic. I've had all ten commandments explained to me in the appropriate crushing, guilt-ridden manner. But what I got out of it was not a list of rules on what words are acceptable to use, but just an overall "treat others with kindness and respect, and avoid harming others at all cost."
I think it all starts when you're young and told that you should view God as your father. Well I suppose that was meant to invoke fear, with the assumption that your father was a murderous, abusive, cold-blooded man.
But that wasn't my dad. My dad's a cool dude, and if I'm to see God in the same way, I assume He is also a fan of Holden Caulfield, liberal satellite radio and the Green Bay Packers.
So I always viewed God as an ally, a support system. No matter how much I sucked at sports, my dad was in the bleachers at every game, cheering me on. That's how I see God.
As for Jesus, I've always seen him as a younger, cooler friend. Maybe He's Jim Morrison. Only God and Elvis know for sure. I knew I was on the right track when I saw Kevin Smith's version of Jesus in Dogma.
Seriously, who wouldn't want to know Buddy Christ? He's awesome.
Another thing I was always taught ad nauseum in Catholic school was to always keep Jesus in your heart, and always keep Him present. Well what better way to do that then invoke His name? The other day, for example, it was my turn to go at a four-way stop and a douche bag in a Mazda with shades and frosted hair blew past the stop sign and almost hit me. I slammed on my brakes and yelled "Jesus Christ! That guy's a motherf**ker!"
Now, it could be argued I was using His name in vain. What with the Holy Trinity and all, Jesus = God = Holy Spirit even though they're all separate entities. Don't ask me to elaborate. As a woman I'm inferior and therefore not allowed to be a priest. Personally I think they do that because there just aren't enough little boys to go around, but that's not my bag anyway baby, so let's move on.
I think I said "Jesus Christ" in that moment the way I would've to a friend. I just invoked Him in my moment of need. I needed my friends, Christ included, to agree that this guy was in fact a total douche bag who most likely f**ks his mother.
I think it's important to note that in the most intimate of moments, people tend to say "Oh my god." Hospitals are filled with life and death, birth and passing, and I'm sure, the use of the Lord's name in vain.
And what about sex? At the most climatic time, do people yell "Oh my Bob!?" I think not, though Bob might disagree. No, they invoke the name of God, call Him to be present, at one of their most intimate of moments. Why is that? Should it be shameful, offensive? I think it's the highest form of respect you can give God, and I'm sure He feels the same way.