“There’s no profanity in my society…”

This letter came to me in response to my article at CT about profanity in the movies. My argument covered a lot of points, including the fact that artists often use their work to hold up a reflection to culture with all of its pros and cons. Thus, art often reflects foul language because, clearly, the culture which we have been challenged to love and transform does indeed include people with colorful speech.

Here is the response:

If you ask me, this is a pretty flimsy way to rationalize and justify your movie reviews. Sorry, but I’ll continue to check Focus on the Family so that I know exactly how much profanity I might be subjected to before I go to view a movie. I cannot tolerate a movie which takes my Lord and Savior’s name in vain. You say that this honestly depicts our society. Well, no it does not depict mine. I don’t work with people who speak that way and I’m not around them away from work. If someone attempts to use this kind of language around me, I will quickly point out that I don’t like it and then remove myself from the situation.

As Michael Medved has repeatedly said, the movie producers and directors always said they are simply honestly depicting the way people talk and behave, but in reality they are depicting the way they talk and behave.

“You say that this honestly depicts our society.”

Uh, yeah. Ever been downtown?

“Well, no it does not depict mine.”

I suspect that is because, like so many Christians, you stick to a community that makes you comfortable… other Christians who don’t use foul language.

“If someone attempts to use this kind of language around me, I will quickly point out that I don’t like it and then remove myself from the situation.”

And Christ responds to sinners in this way… where? If I recall, he hung out with the drunkards, the money-grubbers, the riff-raff, and this troubled the pious religious leaders. It threatened them in their sanitized, insular religious world.

The development of a “safe Christian culture” is one of the church’s greatest obstacles to its responsibility to be “salt and light.” We’ve made ourselves quite a comfortable salt shaker, and we’re staying on the shelf, thank you very much.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • TerminalMFA

    This is a distressing letter, and I appreciate your response. In our quest to become more Christ-like, we have somehow forgotten that Christ’s response to sin was not to condemn or to run and hide. He didn’t flee from sinners lest he be compromised. He walked with them and talked with them and showed himself to be loving and caring.