The Value of the Vulgar

The Value of the Vulgar March 24, 2019


This post is in response to an article published through Verily on March 13, 2019 titled, “The Value of Innocence” by Margaret Handel. You can read it here.

“I want advice from women who have been down in the dirt and passed through the valley of the shadow.” –Rebecca at Suspended in Her Jar


Dear Margaret,

It may send you into embarrassed blushes and stomach knots to know that I’ve cussed the word “fuck” at least fifty times since I woke this morning (and that’s a very conservative estimate). I’ve also taken the time to complain to God about how crappy I was feeling, how much I missed Him, and that I want to feel closer to Him again.

I want to say this from the start because, after reading your post, the biggest takeaway I remember the following morning is you associating something so culturally biased as cussing as an act that inherently prevents us from engagement with the lovelier things in life. I could launch into an entire post about cussing alone, but for now, I’ll just say this on the subject: if cussing bothers you so deeply, I wonder how you function in mature society—even the nicest, kindest people vent anger, excitement, etc in the various extrapolations that so horrify you.

Innocence is not my stock and trade and I’ll be the first one to say it, but I take exception to your presumption that such misunderstood and sugarcoated declarations of “innocence” are the only way to live a good, decent, and moral life:

Innocence is a deliberate series of choices that we make to preserve and cultivate our personal integrity. It’s like keeping mud and dirt out of my house: I want my house to be clean, but right now there’s a Michigan winter out there, so I take my shoes off at the door before I track sludge through the house. That way, my home stays bright and clean, a welcome refuge from the cold nastiness outside, both for myself and for everyone who comes over. Innocence serves a similar purpose—to keep our inner lives clean and lovely …

That, my dear innocent one, is bullshit.

You could say (and justifiably so) that I’m bitter at reading your post because I have never known the innocence you describe and take advantage of in your piece. Between being raped as a child, enduring physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse from my family, and dealing with incessant bullying and torment in school, the newborn babe complex that the upstanding person should apparently possess was never something remotely in my purview. It wasn’t even something I had a concept of until college when I was told by sanctimonious people that, because I had endured trauma, I was missing something. Because, of course, you only lose this innocence by choice. It is never forced from you, torn from you, or ripped from your sight before you’re even aware of its reality.

Where do you come up with the presumption that being innocent is somehow superior?

Let me ask you this–how do you know you have a hand up in facing the world if you claim utter innocence? You cannot–I repeat CANNOT–understand the world and its tortures, its horrors, its aches, or its beauties by sweeping out the mud and dirt from your house and shutting your blinds. That is the same fallacy that would say Christ wouldn’t need to know sin, to become sin, to suffer in each agonizing detail the pain of every turn against nature and the Divine life, to redeem the world. He could not have saved the world if He hadn’t become completely absorbed by the very vulgarity you denounce.

And, after all, what could possibly be more vulgar than the utter, wretched butchery, torture, and violation of the Son of God, the Messiah, by the hands of the people He came to save?

The innocence you describe is strikingly similar to the stereotypical, middle class Christian ideal of good manners, step lightly, don’t make a fuss—Christianity is not merely for those who can afford, whether financially and ethnically, to keep the mud outside their house. Christianity is not a set of good manners. True sanctification and holiness, an actual leap in the journey towards further intimacy with God, is not about remaining proper, watching your mouth, and dressing appropriately—it is about the pain of acknowledging the world the way it is and finding God at the heart of the pain. It is not enough to keep yourself “innocent” if such a thing is actually possible in the adult, knowledgeable Christian life. Purification and uniting your sufferings with the suffering of the One Who saved us is just one of many ways to know God further—remaining innocent is not. 

In preparing my post, I came up with a laundry list of names from both history and scripture that violates the treatise of your innocence defense, but I’ve decided to only use one of them: the slaughtering of holy virgins in the early Christian persecution.

Whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, these examples of holy righteousness are trotted out as the perfect suffering for Christ’s sake–and with good cause. What I take exception to is when the lives of the women who were tortured and killed are boiled down to nothing but a sacrifice to preserve their virginity—their innocence—and not about their spilling their blood in martyrdom for the faith and Truth they would rather die for than surrender.

The virgin martyrs experienced the depths of vulgarity—their breasts removed, their tongues cut off, their eyes plucked out. Does their dying no longer knowing innocence violate their morality? Does it diminish or destroy their integrity, their courage?

Stop using the lucky circumstances of your place in life as justification for declaring “innocence” as the best route in life. Experiencing life, both its goods and its ills, is what living an actual life is about. You cannot hope to function in a mature, intelligent capacity without experience, far beyond any of the realms of innocence.



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About Jennifer Riley
Jennifer Riley is our co-leader. She’s an emotional writer, engulfing people in her tidal wave of life experiences and interpretations. She’s a bad Catholic, a good sinner, and a pernicious writer who tries to find who she is to herself and to God through her words. You can read more about the author here.

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  • nicole

    Shit, that was an interesting read. I once learned that cussing means you have a mature brain and good vocabulary but i also grew up with a swiss german dialect that only works with cussing. People who try to use only polite language always strike me as weird and out of touch. BTW innocent in my language simply means you don’t know how babys are made.

    Is there anything more annoying than those super-clean-house people? You are afraid to even sit down because everything is so amazingly over clean. I had a relatively wonderful childhood, just recently i remarked that i almost grew up in a utopia but even i don’t think you can or should maintain that innocence because life and the world is messy. In order to feel compassion you need to let the suffering of others touch you and that is hardly innocent.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I guess I have a couple of things to say.

    First, there’s nothing “innocent” about not swearing. Curse words are nothing more than a collection of sounds, just like every other word. If you stub your toe and say, “Golly!” you aren’t doing anything physically or even mentally different than if you say, “Fuck!” or “Merde!” or “Gaffledorf!” Either way, you are verbally expressing your pain using a collection of sounds. Going with “golly!” doesn’t make you any more or less innocent than if you went with “fuck!” or “Merde!” or “Gaffledorf!” It may be indicative of various things (for example, the collections of sounds that your community has decided is acceptable, or the words you are exposed to in your social group), but it’s not about innocence.

    Second, I don’t actually know the kind of people who are being referred to in the article (who think not swearing makes you innocent, or who want to make people who don’t swear say a swear word). I do know lots of people who think that those who don’t swear are judgmental twits because, well, they write articles like this whereby they cast themselves as more innocent (a good quality!) as people who don’t swear as less innocent (a bad quality!). Many of the people who I’ve known not only don’t swear themselves, but they don’t want other people to swear around them (i.e. they don’t just want to control their own language, they want to control the language of others).

    Third, as someone who was sexually abused from her earliest memories, I’m not really keen on this idea of innocence. What is it even supposed to mean? It may be an interesting idea that one can keep dirt out of one’s house, but the doors were torn off my house and the windows were blown out, all before I could even form memories. I don’t remember a time before I knew vivid details of horrors that I wouldn’t describe to children under any circumstances. My choice of language has nothing to do with this and never has.

  • Some people are victims of abuse, trouble, evil, and sin, through no fault of their own. It sounds to me like you’re one of them.

    But there are also people who volunteer. It struck me, at her death, that Anna Nicole Smith was one such. The purveyors of the virtue of purity ought not to blame you for what was done to you, but their desire to steer people away from volunteering to be violated, exploited, manipulated, or used is laudable.

  • fractal


    Blaming women for being “damaged”, by saying it is their fault they are victimized, is the HEIGHT of Patriarchal Abuse.

    That great big —————BUT————————
    you put in your comment says it all.
    You are brainwashed by misogyny.

    Put your focus on the people who are victimizers, and PREY UPON those who are in a fragile place, for whatever reason.
    They pick certain kinds of women KNOWING that jerks like you will sneer and look down upon them, feeling superior.
    Really, what these sociopaths are sussing out, is that people like you will reliably sell the women down the river—they are reading your ilk just as reliably as they read the women they victimize.

  • So you’re suggesting that Anna Nicole Smith (as an example) had no agency whatsoever in her career in reality TV, soft core, and so on? Nor have any of the WWE Divas, nor any of SI’s swimsuit models, nor any Playboy centerfold, nor this young woman? — — All, all, are only victims of male patriarchy, with no choice of their own but to enter into this exploitative and immoral industry — perhaps at gunpoint, if necessary?
    Nota bene, I didn’t say they weren’t enticed, nor paid. And my position (and that of the purveyors of purity) is that when such women are offered such a choice, or (e.g.) the choice to let themselves be seduced by slutty men who absolutely intend not to be husbands and fathers to the children they spawn, it is moral and just to tell these women that they ought, for their own good, to choose “no.” Am I wrong for so saying?