Why I can say "Shit" and not be an Antinomian

21 07 2007

In the world of Christian politics and theological discourse a common bullet fired from the barrel of the gun is the word “antinomian” (literally meaning “against [the] law”).

Conversely another is the word “legalist”.

Both Legalism and Antinomianism are dangerous extremes in our Christian faith, one raises lawfulness to the point giving it salvific qualities, or to say we hang our holy hats on doing particular things and not doing particular things. As though doing “this” or “that” or abstaining from “this” or “that” could, in fact, induce holiness. The other, Antinomianism, means I reject any and all concept of law, that I can engage in any sort of behavior and to hell with the consequences, as though I were the lord of my domain and captain of my ship.

The Christian must not find him/herself in either camp.

What I want to focus on is the charge of Antinomianism.

It’s a charge that’s been leveled as a kind of pejorative jab against a person or group another group happens to find distasteful. During the Protestant Reformation Rome accused Luther and Co. of being Antinomian, consequently Luther defends his position and contends that he has never advocated lawlessness.

What am I getting at?

Here is my point, I fail to see how holiness, genuine holiness, can be attained by following a particular code of behaviors, and in our culture that usually means the remnants of late 19th century Victorian Era behaviors and cultural norms.

A well-mannered and “civilized” person in the year 1900 would most likely not use “crude” language, they would refrain from speaking about many topics.

Sex, off limits.
Bodily functions, off limits.

And a host of other issues were, for a gentleman or a lady, verboten.

Certain words were to have no part in a gentleman or a lady’s vocabulary, because they were “vulgar”–they were “common” words and far be it that a good Christian gentleman or lady ever engage in or discuss what was “common”. You just wouldn’t speak about what those filthy uncivilized vagrants down at the shipyard spoke about, you were “above” that.

Marry the Victorian Era to the post-WW2 baby boomer era, which was, in case you’ve never seen “Leave it to Beaver“, fairly conservative.

Boy, was that time swell!

So there is a culture of “nicety” and since the ’60s and ’70s we’ve, as an American culture, been slowly moving out of that, and not a few people have lamented our cultural departure from the “good old days” (you know, those times when “blacks” were barred from voting and segregation was the norm, where a woman’s place was barefoot and pregnant and cooking dinner, where everything was hunky dory…assuming you were a WASPy male and middle class, for everyone else, it was pretty much a shit hole).

Middle-Upper class WASPs have pretty much been pissed off since the 1960s.

Now here’s the thing. I don’t particularly feel any need to be a “gentleman” as Miss Manners would dictate I be c. 1900. Because I don’t particularly see how that benefits anyone. I do follow a code of ethics, but not ethics dictated by 19th century cultural elitists and Victorian Era snobs.

I follow the ethics of Christ, or at least to the best I can (being a sinner and all).

Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem identifying Himself with and enjoying the company of “vagrants”, He ate and hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors, made friends with lepers, and genuinely did everything that pissed off the religious elite of His day.

Should I feel obligated to use “nice” language, where “nice” is defined according to Victorian Era standards? I don’t see why I should. Because I don’t believe certain words have inherent value in them, we assign value and meaning to words. Words which we consider “bad” or “foul” only have such an assigned value because we allow them to have such an assigned value.

There are words which I have no trouble using in everyday speech and around friends, that I use in an informal way; words that I probably would not use around my grandma. Then again there are a LOT of things I wouldn’t discuss around my grandmother, and many words, many not even “bad” words, I’d never use.

Simply a matter of context.

I feel no particular need to USE certain words either, as though their usage somehow means something of value, but I see no reason NOT to use certain words either.

A word is a word, and such cultural baggage does not have an impact on my Christian faith.

And as to whether or not I am engaging in “lawless” behavior has much more to do with how I treat my neighbor than if I happen to use a word that to Victorian ears sounds unthinkably awful. I do know there are people who find such words horribly offensive, and I have no desire to intentionally offend their sensibilities. At the same time there are people who are offended by the fact that I enjoy to eat pig meat, I enjoy bacon, I would not go out of my way to offend a person’s sensibilities, but I don’t see why I should be yoked to something just because another person feels particularly yoked to it.

In this vein I think we ought to abide by the words of St. Paul, to follow conscience. After all that is part of what our liberty in Christ means.

So, no, I’m not an Antinomian, I’m not engaging in lawless behavior when I speak frankly and openly about a subject, nor when I use this or that particular word. It is not lawless because I am breaking no law. I am not violating the commandments of Christ, to love God and my neighbor.

I violate no law by saying “shit”, but I do break outdated cultural norms.

But only in the same way a woman who votes or wears pants breaks those same norms.

-Jon

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One response

22 07 2007
bobby grow

It’s true you can say sh** and not be an antinomian . . . but you can’t say sh** and follow the spirituality Paul discusses in Eph., given as you note, the way “our” contemporary culture defines and uses that word.

But, I really don’t want to argue with you on this . . . since in the end you’ll still feel justified to say sh**, and I’ll still say you’re wrong; and think all your doing is rebelling against your perception of “Leave it to Beaver” ethics that you seek freedom from . . . to what, well I guess that’s only something you know (its definitely not Jesus’ approach, and I live/work with those shipyard workers, and they would think your argument is rather strange, I would think, coming from a Christian and all–actually they probably could care less).

So go sin boldly, and we’ll both stand before the Lord, and give an account for our motives, which is the real issue here anyway.

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