Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.48.2: ON CURSING

V048-02_pullThere is no way of finding out, but I have the suspicion that the name of God, and members of his family, is invoked more in oaths and curses than in prayer and worship.   This is not just an idle and gratuitous wonder, but something that I think is one of the legs that holds up the stool holds up the belief of the credulous.  “Taking the Lord’s name in vain” ranges from the imprecations that make your mother wince (even if she has mumbled a few herself) to your father whack you upside the head for murmuring “ferchrissesake”, to “geez,” “jeepers creepers,” “bloody” this and that, and “darn it all,” etc. [1]   It’s a form of negative prayer.


We don’t readily admit it, but we have a lot of reasons to get pissed-off at the gods we believe in. We invest them with power over the conduct of our lives (even right down to the details, like hitting our thumb with a hammer)—so they get responsibility to go along with it.  The very credulous explain away the negatives with “God must have a plan for Aunt Tilly getting that terrible disease” which we can fathom, to “shit happens.”  But I like the believer who, after disastrously losing several loved ones and his home, raised his eyes heavenward and half-pleaded and half-castigated, “Aren’t You tired yet?”


I admit that I have no use for prayer. [2]   For a long time, I would do little more than have a thought like, “Hey, God, why don’t you do something nice for X.   You know, the person you gave cancer, or one of your other dreaded diseases.  Frankly, my default emotion when faced with the ugly realities of life is not to whine, but to bitch. Anger doesn’t make for a very sincere supplicant.  Some people pray; I’m inclined to curse. Never mind that cursing for a non-theist like myself is a contradiction, if not hypocrisy.


But I don’t think I’m a rare case. I think a lot more cursing goes on that we give account for. It’s just that cursers don’t assemble in megachurches and curse in unison with their eyes closed and their hands waving to the Lord.  We don’t sing “Holy God, we denounce Thy Name.”


Actually, it might be that cursing–for me anyway—is the vestigial recognition to which I have been conditioned of the existence of the Big Guy in the Sky. I believe there is not only a need for humans to feel they are loved and protected by the Big Guy, but some of us need somebody—some thing—to rage at, to blame.


This is, of course, all enmeshed in the larger metaphysical question that if God is creator everything, then he is responsible—so “is there, or can there be, a free will.”   Relax, I’m not intending to go there.   Anyway, I’ve settled it for myself:   if God is not responsible then who the hell am I going to blame if a meteor smashes my house?   I realize that, as a non-theist, I am fulminating at something I don’t believe in . . . but it makes me feel better. I need the delusion—sort of like I need for the “willing suspension of disbelief” to really appreciate a movie.


Frankly, I think it is easier to hurl imprecations at a deity than words of love.  The Catechism said right up front that I was created “to know, love, and serve God in this world, and be with Him in the next.”   But how do you love something you don’t even know? You can’t. You canfear the unknown, and we do, but love something we don’t know—impossible. Which is why, I allege, religion is rooted in fear.


A more urgent need is, however, accountability, and finding someone, something, to blame, to hold to account, for all the pain and misery, and most of all, the (ahem) goddam unfairness of life for so many people, is something that is made a bit more tolerable, by the essential release of cursing.


Of course, there are people who would not dare curse, not because their father might whack them upside the head, but because they believe that God the Father might whack them upside the head. These are the folks who believe that God has a plan, that He will even everything out in some mystical accounting for the afterlife. A “higher place” will be accorded those who accepted—without cursing—a Jobian earthly place in God’s mysterious “plan.” They might, however, curse me out for calling them “fatalists.”


Have you ever noticed that people don’t curse “Lady Luck,” whoever she is (any relation to God?). That’s because we don’t want to jinx ourselves; we just might want to beat the point spread on that NFL game next week, or scratch off some numbers on one of those Lotto cards.(Goddammit! another Filipino postal worker from Oxnard just won the billion dollar Lotto!)


If there is a God, He has a lot to answer for.

©2008, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 1.9.2008)

[1] I haven’t investigated curses in other religions, like Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, although, I suspect that, in Judaism they are followed by the words “not necessarily, there are fewer, if any in Islam, and that, in Buddhism, they have to be repeated at least thirty times.

[2] As a grade school kid I used to say the rosary sometimes during mass. But I became obsessed with how fast I could get though it.