The Moral Uses Of Cursing

Cursing is not always profane. In fact, we may have reached a moment where the deliberate destruction of equal human rights and the earth itself is so blasphemous that the only sacred response is to curse it.

This is not new.

Cursing the evildoer is ancient and can be a profoundly moral form of protest. The wickedness is sometimes so enormous that it must be cursed.

But cursing is always controversial. From Tweets such as those of Reza Aslan, to the use of a swear word by Senator Kristen Gillibrand, and a different one by Bernie Sanders, there are now striking examples of those who have cursed in public, and what they have in common is that they are calling out the great immoralities of our time.

This is not some bad joke where a ‘Muslim, a Christian and a Jew walk into a bar and say !@#$.’

No, this is positively biblical.

The Bible contains a lot of cursing as devotion. Think especially of the Psalms. There are some Psalms called imprecatory; that means they invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one's enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.

Psalm 109 is one of these “cursing Psalms.” This is only a sample of the relentless cursing in this Psalm:

The Psalm is addressed to God but about the wicked one who lies and hates. The Psalmist prays that this wicked liar be cursed, that “his children be orphans and his wife a widow,” and his children become homeless beggars. “May the creditor seize all he has,” and strangers steal from him with impunity. The Psalmist prays there will be no mercy. “May there be no one to do him a kindness” and this curse even extends past his children to the next generation. (Psalm 109: 9-13)

Phew. A individual swear word here or there pales in comparison.

The moral uses of cursing are ancient.

The famous novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston collected a curse-prayer in 1920’s that was already very old.

To the Man God: 0 Great One, I have been sorely tried by my enemies and have been blasphemed and lied against... 0 Man God, I beg that this that I ask for my enemies shall come to pass:

That the South wind shall scorch their bodies and make them wither and shall not be tempered to them. That the North wind shall freeze their blood and numb their muscles and that it shall not be tempered to them. That the West wind shall blow away their life's breath and will not leave their hair grow, and that their fingernails shall fall off and their bones shall crumble. That the East wind shall make their minds grow dark, their sight shall fall and their seed dry up so that they shall not multiply.

And there is more to this curse, much more.

Cursing in protest to wickedness can be a moral act. Because, you see, it is the wickedness itself that is the real profanity and it must be met with even greater power.

Curse words have power.

On March 16, 1982, Alice Walker spoke at an anti-nuclear rally at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. She quoted the curse-prayer cited above collected by Hurston and warned, “Only Justice Can Stop a Curse.” She added her own curse-prayer with words that could be taken from today’s headlines:

When I have considered the enormity of the white man's crimes against humanity. Against women. Against every living person of color. Against the poor. Against my mother and my father. Against me . . . . When I consider that at this very moment he wishes to take away what little freedom I have died to achieve., through denial of my right to vote . . . . Has already taken away education, medicine, housing and food. . . . When I consider that he is, they are, a real and present threat to my life and the life of my daughter, my people, I think - in perfect harmony with my sisters of long ago: Let the earth marinate in poisons. Let the bombs cover the ground like rain. For nothing short of total destruction will ever teach them anything.

Read again the list of “crimes against humanity.” He wants to take away “what little freedom I have died to achieve.” Today that is again blocking voting rights. But it is also the rampant Islamophobia in the proposed Muslim Ban that violates the U.S. Constitution.

There are many more crimes. He has “taken away education, medicine, housing, and food” says this ancient prayer-curse. Check out the Trump budget which slashes or eliminates programs “that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts” especially housing, education, and food. The Congressional Budget Office Score on the “new” health care bill leaves 23 million more uninsured.

What is the real profanity today? Is it the protest against these crimes against humanity and even the earth itself, or is the true blasphemy the systematic and deliberate destruction of God’s creation, and the demolition of human rights and democratic institutions?

Alice Walker warns only justice for all life can stop that curse.

So let me ask you, CNN. What is the real obscenity? Is it the poison poured out from this administration, or the cursing in protest against it?