UK Vicarette with obscene car sticker involving the Lord’s Name

Can I get your take on this one?

I am not going to include images.  They would just invite comments all by themselves.

Keep in mind that the “blech factor” is going to be pretty high in this article.

From the Daily Mail:

‘What The F*** Would Jesus Do?’: Female VICAR causes stir with obscene car sticker
Reverend Alice Goodman put the sticker on her red Subaru Legacy
Some members of her parish in Cambridgeshire were offended by the motto
Dr Goodman claims it is harmless and says ‘F***’ is ‘an Old English word’

When the Rev Alice Goodman bought a bumper sticker for her car, she wanted something that would catch people’s attention.
But perhaps she did not envisage the unholy row that her choice would one day provoke.
For seven years the noted opera librettist and wife of a distinguished poet drove around happily with the sticker bearing the letters WTFWJD? on the back of her red Subaru Legacy.
Now, however, someone in her rural parish has complained after realising that the letters stand for What The F*** Would Jesus Do?
The offended parishioner took a photograph of the 54-year-old American-born vicar driving in her car and sent it to the local newspaper along with an anonymous letter quoting the Bible’s prohibition of swearing.
Yesterday, Miss Goodman, rector in the Fulbourn and the Wilbrahams parish in Cambridgeshire, was unrepentant about the sticker and said her detractors should ‘get a life’.
‘F*** is not a blasphemy, it’s a vulgarity, an Old English word,’ said Miss Goodman, who is married to Sir Geoffrey Hill, professor of poetry at the University of Oxford.
‘My bishop knows I have the sticker on my car, and has no difficulty with it, and I’ve had the former Archbishop of Canterbury in my car, Rowan Williams, and he didn’t raise an eyebrow.’ [Which, in his case, is not a small matter!]
The parishioner, quoting from James 5:12, had written to the newspaper:
‘The Bible says: “But above all do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation”.’
Miss Goodman said she has no intention of using the F-word in the pulpit. ‘The sticker is urging people to just wake up and take notice,’ she said.
‘The Gospel that I’m preparing to teach on this week is the one where Jesus says he comes not to bring peace but the sword. I’ve never had a complaint about it before.
‘I would suggest that anyone who thinks it is inappropriate should get out a little more.
‘The important distinction to be made is with taking the name of the Lord in vain and the common vulgarities.
‘I wouldn’t use language like that in church. But that’s why I have it on the back of my car – it’s a different context.



You can read the rest there.


I can just imagine the firestorm that would result were I to start of line of car magnets with this … abbreviation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Late for heaven says:

    Okay not strictly blasphemy. Not reverent either. You would think that a librettist married to a poet would have a larger vocabulary.

  2. yatzer says:

    To me it looks like the same tiresome, adolescent effort to draw attention to oneself by doing something outlandish that has been going on since the 1960’s. See me “pushing the envelope”, blah, blah, blah. It calls into question her affection for the Lord. Why would anyone use that type of language in reference to someone who is loved tenderly and has brought meaning into her life?

  3. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    I note with a shake of the head that the article uses several different titles for the vicaria Anglicana in question: “Rev. Alice Goodman”, “Miss Goodman”, “Dr Goodman”, but never refers to her as Lady Hill, to which she is entitled as the wife of Sir Geoffrey Hill.

  4. JeffLiss says:

    Everything that should be said will be articulated better by others. For my part, this: If someone prints a WWFrZD? sticker, it’s going on my bumper (with the Z in red, of course). That is all.

  5. Imrahil says:

    I don’t like what the parishioner did.

    1. There is no need to invoke the Bible to tell anybody what they know already. If she thinks the vicarette had committed some sin (say, profanity), she could have just named that in a precise word.

    2. And then of course, the Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek. When it uses the word “swear”, it means “ius iurandum” (resorting to Latin because Google translator tells me that even “oath” can mean malediction in English). The passage cited is on an entirely different subject. The English language may have called using swearwords “swearing” because they sometimes (!) fall under the same Commandment as false (or rash) swearing (actual swearing now), but that does not do anything to the substantial issue. Then of course, all these nice words beginning in s, or f*, or on a person a, have nothing to do with profanity at all (*you could say that “f” profanes the holy act of marriage, but that connection is usually not done; and we are not yet talking about setting them next to the name of the Lord, about which matter I am indifferent), though they may with slander or indecency.

    3. And aren’t newspapers, in our days, somewhat the Tribunals of the Unfaithful the (same) Bible warns us against?

    It calls into question her affection for the Lord. Why would anyone use that type of language in reference to someone who is loved tenderly and has brought meaning into her life?

    Interesting point.

    However, the whole thing does run according to the “WWJD” spirit, which is not genuinely about tender love (though not excluding it) but about faithful obedience. And you can imagine a soldier saying “w.t.f. would the leader order were he here”. Though when I say “according to” – it is with the exception of course that here a swearword is added, the dignity of a lady is not upheld, possibly a sin committed, and a (nevertheless by the description unsympathetic) parishioner offended.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    The entire Western culture is sliding quickly into coarseness. I have seen the change in comments on my blog, where people think it is ok to use the f… word. I think that the adolescent mind-set of shock is pathetic for a grown person, and belies a misunderstanding of Who Christ is-God, and not someone to be manipulated for our purposes. As the wife of a famous poet (and I have read much of his poetry) , one would think she had a larger word trove at her disposal.

  7. Imrahil says:

    Dear Hon. @Deacon Allen,

    interesting point. Not knowing much of the British naming conventions, still I did stumble that she was referred to as “Miss Goodman” in one sentence and as married in another. Strange.

  8. AngelGuarded says:

    It’s simple. If she “wouldn’t use language like that in church,” then don’t use it anywhere. Isn’t that one of the problems we face today, that we should not be part-time Christians. If we belong to Christ and seek to do His will and to imitate Him in all things, then drop the cursing, 24 hours a day seven days a week. Context, please. Rule of thumb, Lady Hill/Miss Goodman, if you cannot or would not say it in Church, don’t say it, not even on the back of your car.

  9. AngelGuarded says:

    Btw, I’m pretty sure Jesus would not have that message on His car.

  10. JohnE says:

    As they used to say on Fat Albert, it’s like school in the summertime: no class.

  11. Bob B. says:

    American-born and a Church of England vicar, hmm…puts me in mind that maybe some of the Nuns gone Wild might be interested in relocating?

  12. Martlet says:

    I’m too stunned to comment. Mark the date and time. It might not happen again.

  13. Alanmac says:

    This “priest” is representative of the Anglican Church. She is not an anomaly. The Anglican Church wanted to be everything to everybody. It wanted practicing homosexuals as members, then priests and soon bishops. It wanted women priests and bishops. It was totally inclusive to the point, it became nothing to nobody.
    It’s attendance has fallen off a cliff, collection plates are bare, but perhaps Alice Goodman’s creativity can turn this mess around before it dies a well deserved death.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    As to British nomenclature, she is not a Lady in her own right, so she cannot use the title as such. It is complicated, as she would not necessarily use the term Mrs., either, as in Sir Geoffry Hill and…. However, in some instances, she could be addressed as Alice, Lady Hill but ONLY if she uses his name. If she wants to use her own maiden name, as she does, she is not called Lady Goodman, never, never, never.

  15. SimonDodd says:

    She says that “[t]he sticker is urging people to just wake up and take notice”; but she drove around with it “[f]or seven years” before anyone paid enough attention to realize what it said. So good job on that.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Bob B. no thanks………..we have our own nuns on the bus types in England, believe me.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    Bob B. no thanks………..we have our own nuns on the bus types in England, believe me.

  18. Jim R says:

    Several days ago you had a post about the change in the meaning and use of “gay.” Well, this is simply part of the same phenomenon: the meaning of words and their use change over time.

    At one point the “F’ word was simply the word to describe copulation. Unsurprisingly it was not used in polite society – though it was OK early on to describe the act when needed. Soon that changed and other words took its place in technical discourse and it was relegated to use as a coarse substitute. For the last few centuries it’s been about the coarsest word around. Over the last 4 decades or so, it’s become more and more widespread slowly losing the shock factor of its coarseness and the actual reference to copulation.

    Like “gay” it retains it’s original meaning, but more and more is taking on other meanings and uses. 30 years ago I would have said this particular use was largely a sophomoric/adolescent schtick. Unfortunately now it’s part of mainstream English…and is increasingly so.

    The good thing is within a few decades it will mean nothing like what it used to mean. It looks to me like it is primarily becoming an intensifier with no actual meaning of its own. It’s a tide that hasn’t completely washed over society yet, but it’s inexorable and not worth much more than a sigh, a shake of the head…and the hope that we get through this change as quickly as possible.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear @AngelGuarded,

    I believe you are going too far. There certainly are things that are appropriate sometimes and unappropriate at other times. Indeed, the reverence in the holy place (which our generous host so often reminds us) is precisely about that, or so it seems.

    Also, I wonder whether you go to far in saying “cursing”. Certainly, if you mean by “cursing” any profanity and understand the addition of an arguably obscene and certainly vulgar expletive to the holy name of Jesus as a profanity, then you certainly can say so. However, I have a feeling that you also understand the mentioned expletive to be “cursing” even in itself… and this would not be true, that is, not in the moral, 2nd-commandment sense.

  20. acricketchirps says:

    Wow, she was the librettist for Adams’ Nixon in China and Death of Klinghoffer… And now this!

  21. APX says:

    And I was taken aback when a priest said “crap”… Wow…

    Dr Goodman claims it is harmless and says ‘F***’ is ‘an Old English word’


    I tried that in high school when I wrote an English essay on why the F Word wasn’t always a bad word and it’s grammatical usages proving such. My English teacher had no idea I was so interested in grammar, but it didn’t convince him into accepting it as appropriate daily language in class.

    FWIW, It’s actually first seen used in Anglo-Saxon, and in it’s original form it means “to have sex.

    I can see it now:

    LITTLE JOHNNY: “What the F is that, mom?”
    MOM: “John Joseph Willam Smith! Don’t use that vulgar language!”
    LITTLE JOHNNY: “But mom! It’s not vulgar. Rev. Goodman says so!”
    MOM: “I don’t care what Rev. Goodman says about it. In this house we don’t use that language. Now get me the dish soap. There’s only one solution for a dirty mouth”

    I’m sure Mothers everywhere will appreciate Rev. Goodman’s review of the English language and what is and isn’t vulgar.

  22. Jon says:

    The very notion of a “vicarette” is blasphemy.

    Thanks again, Hank Tudor.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    Imrahil, F is a nasty, bad word, whether it falls into cursing, profanity, or swearing or just plain evil coarseness and should never be used by a Christian. To try and categorize is beside the point. Christians have class and neo-pagans are crass…because the virtues make us gentle and sensitive in all aspects of life. Cursing is a serious sin, and bad language like the f.. word comes under profanity, which is also a sin, as it separates people, destroys conversation and is, frankly, aggressively negative and impolite.

    In addition, such language debases an holy act. It is offensive and should be to Christians.

  24. Imrahil says:

    Well, dear @Supertradmum, thanks for your answer…

    but I disagree to the statement that coarseness is sinful. Of course we had that discussion already…

    I would wish, though, that the English would cease to refer to mere profanities (including the ones in cursing) as blasphemies and to both bad language and informal short prayers as profanities, as they apparently do. We can debate afterwards whether these things are acceptable or not.

    In addition, such language debases an holy act.
    For which reason, I cannot figure how in the word “s” can be more offensive than “f” in the English language, as I’m told it is.

    I don’t deny though that, though I do have the feeling that I might disagree with Lady Hill on many instances when it came to it, in my view the one who does the meaner thing in this story is the offended parishioner.

  25. Imrahil says:

    how in the world. Little semi-Freudian slip maybe.

  26. Michael_Thoma says:

    I can tell you what the fist St. Nicholas would do!

  27. James Joseph says:

    Suburu wagon says it all….

    I had a friend who was in the Navy, who had purchased a Suburu wagon. He got a great deal on it he said. It will be a fine drive he said. I warned him and warned him. And, I warned him again. He did not heed my warnings. After driving the Suburu wagon for just a few months, he returned it; taking the financial hit. It did not matter at that point. He needed to escape from his four-wheel-drive sweatshirt symbol.

    What did I warn him? Suburu wagons are the official automobile of man hating lesbians.

    Returning it without informing me, I saw him pull up my driveway in a new Volkswagon. I asked what happened to the other car. He clearly thought it was an amazing little machine. His pride diminished he told me that he couldn’t understand how everywhere he went women with short hair of all ages would wave at him and even approach him in a friendly way. It suddenly dawned upon him that they all thought, young and old alike, saw he and his Suburu wagon as fellow travelers for “the fight for dignity”.

  28. pvmkmyer says:

    Fr. Z:
    Loved your quip about the former Archb. of Canterbury’s eyebrows. Quick witted.

  29. Supertradmum says:

    Imrahil, name one saint who used coarse language. You cannot.

    To be holy is to think and speak in manners which never offend for the sake of offence. If one must speak the Truth, that can be done in clear, intellectual debate and apologetics using excellent definitions in the language of 2,000 years of Tradition, words which are never coarse.

    If you honestly do not think coarseness is a sin, I suggest your read this and this.


    If one is not trying to break away from coarseness either in mind, spirit, body, or language, one is not trying to become a saint.

  30. PostCatholic says:

    “I can just imagine the firestorm that would result were I to start of line of car magnets with this … abbreviation.”

    I might buy one.

  31. MAJ Tony says:

    One needs to understand the cultural differences between the US and Europe, and specifically English-speaking Europe and Australia/NZ. The “F” word doesn’t have quite the sting over there even in Christian circles as it may in generally well-brought up middle class Christian US circles. I’ve heard an Irish Benedictine use it in the adjective form “F-ing something-or other” in the refectory of S’ant Anselmo in Rome, and nobody batted an eye or even flinch, and that Fr. had a rather clean accent and clear diction for an Irishman (for all I knew had I not been told, I’d have thought he was English). Probably a prof at the Liturgicum or one of the other Pontifical colleges.

  32. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Supertradmum, thank you for your kind reply. Up above, someone else reminded of a saint that engaged in a fist-fight for the good cause, and I believe that is enough.

    Of course, I quite agree that one must never offend for the sake of offence, only I seem to think of less causes as offensive than you do. Maybe I am understanding the word “coarse” false though. I’m using it in the sense of German “derb” and certainly agree that any being mean or vile (some alternatives Google translator has for the word “coarse”) is nothing for a Christian.

    As for the two nevertheless quite helpful citations, the first describes what it is to be a gentleman. The Bl. John Henry does describe it in a way that whatever it seems obliging on the Christian. He does not, however, mention coarse language.

    The second really does take your position. However, I happen to disagree with some of it. In his reasoning against bad language properly speaking, Fr Saunders uses as argument that “language should build good relationships with other individuals”. Now this has much to do with friendliness, understanding and the like, also exactness maybe, but, in my opinion, not much with refinement. Armies uses plenty of bad language (even profanities which are sinful) and does not seem to be the worse for it when it comes to comradeship (cf. General Patton, “you cannot lead an army without profanity”, I say: you must nevertheless, but when it comes to not-sinful bad language, things are not so clear).

  33. Jeannie_C says:

    A parishoner found it offensive, and though only one person wrote that letter, it is most likely representative of many more. So what did the vicarette do? She defended her decision to drive around with this on her car, no give and take for her. What’s next? How far will she push her right to offend? I think if the parishoners are displeased as a whole, and their bishop unwilling to take action against the woman, then they should vote with their feet and the plate. When the ledger shows a negative balance her bishop may decide she can go out there and get a life outside his diocese. Continuing to support a church whose priestess and bishop disregards its members is a waste of time and money. Given that the church of England was founded upon disobedience her actions should come as no surprise to anyone.

  34. Andrew says:

    Palma vitiorum est honesta polluere. (S. Hieronymus)

  35. AngelGuarded says:

    Imrahil – I am having a hard time digesting your defense of using that language as a follower of Christ. I would add, in hopes of clarifying my opinion, that if one thinks he or she would be comfortable (to use an overused modern term) using that language when conversing directly with Jesus Himself, then by all means, curse away. Personally, I would not and I do not use that word because I try to follow Scripture, Ephesians 4:29 “Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers.” I thank Supertradmum for weighing in. And I’m still pretty sure Jesus would not use that word or put such a sign on His car or the back of his camel. God bless.

  36. frjim4321 says:

    It’s not really technically swearing.

    Reading this, I realized she just had an acronym and not the word spelled out.

    People need to get a sense of humor. I don’t think it does anyone any good going about all the day scouting around for something to be outraged about.

    Oh yeah, and we have another holy do-gooder running around taking pictures of pe0ple and writing anonymous letters to bishops.

    A non-story.

  37. Imrahil says:

    Dear @AngelGuarded,

    in my answer to you I only wrote about a certain case I felt you’d call “cursing” and said that it was not cursing (i. e. not taking the Lord’s name in vain nor any violation of the 2nd commandment). I stick to that and Fr Saunders, the 2nd reference provided by the dear @Supertradmum supports me so far.

    That does not in itself say that – as Fr Saunders holds – it is not sinful by a different commandment. (He thinks charity, which I fail to understand. An appeal to Christian perfection might, however, also be done). As to this question, I refer to the incident reported by the dear @MAJ Tony though.

  38. Supertradmum says:

    Imrahil, St. Nicholas slapped Arius as a teacher would have done in those days to a recalcitrant student. And, for the sake of Arius’s soul. As a result, Nicholas was put in prison for a few days, until God released him. He most likely thought about his famous action while in prison.

    I assume it was a one off thing and not a way of life for St. Nicholas. The slap of an authority is not necessarily coarseness, but discipline. Too bad Arius was not humble enough to take this as a sign of his eternal life to come, and the disdain of a holy man in public.

    I go on record for the use of corporal punishment in teaching, and for the parents’ right to so discipline children. That is not necessarily coarseness, and you should be able to see that. I do not know if you are American, but even in my day, kids who said “naughty words” had their mouths washed out with soap. Of course, in our tolerant society, this would be seen as too horrible for words. But, there was much less profanity in the old days. I come from a family of mostly men and never heard profanity growing up.

    BTW, Fr. Z., “Rev. Goodman” was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota and attended the famous private Breck School. As she is a convert to Anglicanism from Judaism, I shall pray for her today to one of her “kinswomen” whose feast it is today, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a real “lady”.

  39. Elizium23 says:

    Since my reversion, I have endured a long slow slog away from using profanity and taking the Lord’s name in vain. I now even avoid minced oaths, which are IMHO just as bad as the terms they are supposed to represent. But it is often difficult in modern society to recognize coarse language where it lies. A while back, a representative of a local student group came to an organizational meeting for my ministry in order to make a fund-raising presentation for a certain pro-life website. This website contained the word “sucks”. We were rather shocked at the frankness and while we did not formally agree to fund the effort from our coffers, some members personally gave a few bucks from their wallets. Our chaplain was not present at this meeting. The next month he was reading the minutes and he expressed his dismay at the “coarse language” used in the title of that website and declared that we could never support such an undertaking.

    This incident helped me understand that we should really understand the meaning of words before we use them especially as insults. The term in question has always had sexual connotations. Even my eighth-grade teacher acknowledged this and she once took 15 minutes to preach about the sanctity of the act inside marriage and the inappropriateness of its use as an insult (yeah, liberal catholic school…) But they are right about one thing: these words cannot be used in polite conversation, and any word that I could not address Jesus Himself with is unsuitable to be in my vocabulary at all.

    I think that many of us need to consider expanding our vocabulary. Play some Scrabble, Boggle, Words with Friends. Learn new words for your imprecations and you will be surprised at the flexibility of languages such as English. Nobody needs to use profanity, it’s just rude and disrespectful.

  40. Jeannie_C says:

    So, frjim4321, when was the last time you used this not technically swear word in a homily or prayer at the altar? Tell us what is good and humorous about the bumper sticker, please, as well as why you are defending this person’s actions? As far as “another holy do-gooder running around….writing anonymous letters to the bishops” perhaps you have an axe to grind concerning another matter?

  41. AngelGuarded says:

    This is why I “lurk” and almost never post. Thank you Imrahil for making posting my “thoughts,” as Fr.Z requested, a wearying experience. Sigh. Yes, maybe I am over-senstive but that is the least I am guilty of as the horrid sinner I am. It’s a bad word and followers of Christ should not be using it or abbreviating it in the same sentence with the Precious Name of Jesus. My opinion, my thoughts, nothing more.

  42. Bea says:

    Another good reason women shouldn’t be priests

    I have found that most women are rebellious by nature.
    Sorry, ladies, no offense., I’m one too.
    She just sounds like a rebel, trying to be “cute”
    “See, look at me. I’m an American female rebel and I like shock attention”

    Jesus would never use “in your face” tactics to draw attention to His Message, so her bumper sticker defeats the purpose of the message itself.

    senseless, stupid woman.

  43. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Supertradmum, nevertheless Arius was not, technically, a student of St. Nicholas (if I am rightly informed). If I am rightly informed the story runs thus: St. Nicholas heard Arius’s heretical talks, was outraged and gave to Arius what the latter had had coming to him. Righteous anger, but certainly something refined gentlemen would regard as coarse.

    Also, I cannot imagine Charlemagne not being coarse at times, and we have permission to venerate him as a saint. Similarly for the shepherds who were present at Christ’s birth.

    It may be that they repented for (part of) what they did, but the thing is you asked for saints who did something coarse, and I simply tried to answer.

    I am German, and washing the mouth with soap is rather unknown around here. The usual (traditional and now looked down upon) punishment is the ubiquitous the ubiquitous slap-in-the-face. The use of the s-word is widespread and not regarded a moral issue, and use of the slightly milder replacement “dung” (Mist), which after all is not so different in its literal meaning when you look at it, is not even regarded as coarse.

    You may be right that the older times were better times; and I say that without irony. Nevertheless, insofar it happens that the standards of the older times really are just such (and not perpetually binding morality), then it is true that one is not supposed to burden men of another time with them.

  44. Supertradmum says:

    Americans and Brits are more sensitive about such language, I know from travelling. But, the mark of a true Christian should be, among other things, gentlemanly and gentle-womanly behaviour. Need to go.

  45. Imrahil says:

    Dear @AngelGuarded,

    I beg your pardon should I have offended you. (How did I do so? By hairsplitting? Maybe. I felt I was attacked by you and thought to defend myself. Excessively maybe.) God bless you.

  46. edm says:

    As an Anglican, this is very embarrassing to me. The use of the sticker is what makes it worse. It was not a “slip of the tongue”. It was a deliberate choice, probably made to call attention to herself. Of course, she failed miserably since it took so long for anyone to notice. Sad too that she decided to “throw under the bus” a bishop and an archbishop by claiming that they knew about it. Probably at least the latter never even noticed it. It is one thing to look, another to really decipher something like that and take it in.
    For someone who wishes to be accepted as a member of the “clergy” her behavior is most un-cleric-like. Shame on her.

  47. Tradster says:

    Just curious. Do male Anglican vicars wear black jeans?

  48. msc says:

    I tend to agree with a lot of what Imrahil has said. Obscenity is a matter of custom and culture. I’m an adult Catholic convert who was raised by earthy lower middle-class parents, and swearing as such comes pretty naturally to me. Compare the comments of MAJ Tony above. I have known people who are shocked by an awful lot of words, especially ejaculations, that are in common use. I know people who are deeply offended by even the use of a clinical, proper name for a body part or bodily function, producing abundant coy and childish euphemisms. I have heard an adult say to a child “p**-p**”, which is to me more offensive than “urinate.”
    In short, I’m not offended by the sticker, and I see some humor in it (I snickered). I can see why the person in question thought it would make people take notice.
    Jeannie_C asks what’s humorous about it. Well, humour is pretty personal, but one major source of humour is incongruity. Taking the overused, somewhat trite, WWJD and adding the F creates such incongruity. I understand why most people don’t like it, or are even offended by it, but that does not mean it is, in absolute terms, wrong. I agree that one should try to act and speak so as not to offend others if one can, but that cannot be a firm rule, since I know some people who are offended by any mention of God or Christ.
    Someone said something about saints never swearing. I can’t believe that. An awful lot of saints were pretty rough people. Is it likely that Augustine, who was comfortable with having a concubine, never swore? If saints can sin (as Augustine did by keeping a concubine), they can swear. I can’t believe that St. Paul never swore. Angelguarded mentions Ephesians 4:29. The Greek word for “bad” is “sapros”, which can mean “bad” as in worthless, or “bad” as in harmful. What follows suggests to me that “harmful” is meant as in bearing false witness, insulting someone, etc.
    I’m not defending obscenities, but I don’t think that the issue is as unambiguous as most people seem to.
    I love this web site. One thing I find particularly interesting is the wide range of cultural Christians that meet here. For example, at some point I read someone who said that a woman shouldn’t wear a sleeveless dress to church. My wife has a beautiful, crisp cotton, rather fifties-like a-line dress (just below the knee) that covers her shoulders much as would any sleeveless shirt. I consider that modest enough. One of her sister’s husbands is a very good man. He’s also only ever worked in the oil fields or as a rancher. I suspect the total number of times he’s worn something other than jeans to any event as an adult would be less than a dozen. I can’t imagine objecting to his wearing of jeans in church. My family, too, was very casual, and I wear clean jeans and a clean shirt (usually long-sleeved) most of the time. I do not think I’m being disrespectful.

  49. ByzCath08 says:

    Given the heresies that come out of the Anglican communion, this pretend clergy’s bumper sticker should surprise no one.

  50. Michael_Thoma says:

    If saints can sin (as Augustine did by keeping a concubine), they can swear.
    It’s my understanding that the post-baptized Augustine did NOT, in fact, keep a concubine – at least according to his biographer Possidius.

    Exactly when and at what time he came to rethink what possible road he might take to becoming a full member of the church is not clear. What is beyond doubt is that sometime between the departure of his concubine and his conversion in 386 Augustine came to
    link his possible conversion to Christianity with sexual renunciation. More specifically, by the time he decides to pay a visit to Simplicianus (Conf. 8.1.1) Augustine has made the equation between conversion and continence.
    The Example of a Woman. Sexual Renunciation and Augustine’s Conversion to Christianity in 386, F.B.A. Asiedu, Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania, February 1994

  51. JamesM says:

    It is just another sign that the “Church” of England has drifted even further from Christianity.

    It is just a state social enterprise now.

  52. Phil_NL says:

    A cheap pun perhaps, but I can’t help observing that a ‘vicarette’ is probably worse for your health than a cigarette… and if you tell Wesminster, they’ll soon tax them.

  53. pfreddys says:

    I hate things like this which have a tendency to get stuck in the mind.
    Also, it took people seven years to realize this?

  54. RobW says:

    Blasphemous and disgraceful. Im amazed at the “broadminded” people who wouldnt have a problem with this. “Too many people get credit for being good, when they are only being passive. They are too often praised for being broadminded when they are so broadminded they can never make up their minds about anything.”–Fulton J. Sheen

  55. RobW says:

    …and I think Sheen also said something about people who were so open-minded that their brains fall out.

  56. Imrahil says:

    Dear @RobW,

    if you mean me, I can happily assure you that I am not broad-minded.

    I am so tight-minded that I cannot bring myself to overlook broad-mindedly the borderline between the obligatory and the desirable, and cannot broad-mindedly accept a diminishment of the Christian freedom unless obligation is proven.

    That said… thanks for the Abp Fultion Shee quote. May be the origin for the famous Strauß/Stoiberian saying “Wer für alles offen ist ist nicht ganz dicht” (who is open for all is not quite waterproof”, not quite waterproof being an expression for “nuts” in German.

    Dear @msc,
    thanks for the support! Though, if
    swearing as such comes pretty natural to you,
    may I advise you friendlily to keep it at expletives instead of using sinful expressions (is not only the latter “swearing” properly so called?)?

  57. benedetta says:

    I think the story here is that some people, based upon the responsibilities for others souls’ they have accepted for themselves, are really bound for pastoral reasons to a sense of decorum and professionalism, as well as holding one’s self out as being approachable and as being trustworthy of knowing the states of others’ souls and spiritual lives. I think that quite a lot of people would question whether this is a person who could be trusted with their confidences. We can say what we want about whether it’s blasphemous or not, whether it shocks or not, whether the society is increasingly vulgar or coarse, but the fact is that if it’s debatable at all for pastoral reasons someone should avoid it. Seems like common sense. Her actions provoked a letter of complaint precisely because of the spiritual position she holds out to the public and not for any other reason.

  58. Ben Kenobi says:

    “To be holy is to think and speak in manners which never offend for the sake of offence”

    @Imrahil. There is a reason why St. Nicholas is the Patron Saint of Sailors.

  59. Ben Kenobi says:

    “I think that quite a lot of people would question whether this is a person who could be trusted with their confidences.”

    @benedetta. I disagree. People are willing to share confidences with someone who has proven themselves to be trustworthy. Kipling said it better, “single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints”. Trustworthiness has very little (if anything) to do with decorum. Someone can lie to you just as easy through flattery, as they can through stylish clothing, money, etc. There is a time and a place for decorum, but there is also a time and a place to set it aside. Sometimes saving souls involves getting your hands dirty and actually doing what needs to be done without worrying whether one has violated protocol.

  60. benedetta says:

    Sure, Ben Kenobi, point well taken, however, it’s far superior in a pastoral sense to avoid leading with the negative. And, certainly lack of decorum over time downgrades overall confidence. See, “On the Waterfront”…

  61. edm says:

    James M
    “It is just another sign that the “Church” of England has drifted even further from Christianity.
    It is just a state social enterprise now.”

    And others… have alluded to the connection of her craziness and that of the C of E …

    In the interest of full disclosure… yes, I am Anglican… and here it goes…

    Would any of you make a connection between a priest who doesn’t follow rubrics when celebrating or perhaps with a priest who is a sexual abuser of children and tie in to the entire Roman Catholic Church?

    SHE is wrong.
    SHE acted inappropriately.
    SHE reacted incorrectly.

    No need for the wide brush here.

    We all know there are serious problems with the C o E, TEC, etc., Give it a break! It is SHE who did something wrong! Stop generalizing needlessly.

  62. msc says:

    Michael_Thoma: Supertradmom simply said “saints”, not “saints after they became saintly”. My point for Augustine (of course he didn’t keep his concubine after his conversion; it’s there in the Confessions) anyway was that he, like many other saints, led far from exemplary lives all their lives, and that the image of spotless, puritan saints is not accurate. My main point remains: some saints, while doing the things that they are recognized for, were far from the general modern usage of “saintly.” Jerome was deeply argumentative and angry and intemperate all his life. I can’t believe he didn’t swear at some of his pagan enemies, even under his breath.

  63. Jeannie_C says:

    It doesn’t matter what culture you come from, you know what words you should and should not use. In Quebec the traditionally used swear words have to do with sacred things – tabernacle, host, chalice, blood of saints. You wouldn’t think such words could be used as expletives but I assure you, having grown up there, they are indeed used. The British tend to use excrement and genitalia as swear words, as well as the many descriptions of the act of copulation. A Christian has no business using foul language no matter where they come from or what form is preferred, that’s the bottom line. As St. Jerome said (translation from the latin comment much earlier “Palma vitiorum est honesta polluere”) “Vice always glories in defiling what is noble”.

  64. RobW says:

    I didnt even read your comment. If Sheen’s quote hit a nerve, maybe it applies to you.

  65. RobW says:

    …and putting one foot in the gutter, or justifying it, isnt gonna save any Catholic from the enemies of the Church. We’re either for Him or against Him. Expect the fence to get harder to sit on as time goes on.

  66. Johnno says:

    She wanted to seem ‘Hip’ and ‘With It.’

    Any responses to her should include the F word alongside her name nad the names of her loved ones in a casual and nonchalant manner supporting her F-ing youth-marketing strategy so that someday the Holy Name of Our Lord shall become as meaningless and empty as the F-word; that way men of any and no faith can have no trouble accepting Him. The ultimate goal of our ecuministic age.

    For the record I actually do think the ‘F-word’ is perfectly appropriate to use as a replacement for the word ‘sex’, because ‘sex’ actually means something and is certainly not what the majority of people imagine they are doing today; which is more appropriate to ‘F-ing’, a word completely void of meaning now that you can casually attach it to any old thing in any grammatical context that I’m surprised it’s tolerant usage hasn’t been honored yet for inclusion in the secular declaration of human rights.

  67. msc says:

    One of my points is simply that there are a lot of different cultures and different standards of what makes obscenity. A twenty-something from Brooklyn is probably going to have a different view of obscenity from a eighty-year old in Utah, or a twenty-something from Montana. My cultural niche is a lot more tolerant of what some people would call obscenity. The comparison someone made with the proverbial bad language of sailors is a good example. I’m not defending the widespread use of the F word as in the sticker that started this discussion, but I’m going to defend my right to use words that some people would consider “cussing”, or “gutter” language and presume that God doesn’t have a list of swear words for every language and every culture at every time that we will incur his anger if we use them. I don’t believe a merciful God cares much, just as Christ did not care that he was criticized for associating with publicans and prostitutes.

  68. benedetta says:

    You can defend your “right” to use obscenity however if you have accepted certain responsibilities for others’ well being and on behalf of a spiritual community which employs you, your rights may not extend quite as far as you would imagine. Ordinary people may curse all they want, but that is not what prompted the letter of complaint against this person in the news story. The fact is, even Hell’s Bible, which thinks itself attuned to the let it all hang out mainstream, doesn’t publish those words. There’s a reason for that. Nor will you find that usage in a judicial decision. There is always a time and a place, no matter how free you feel yourself.

  69. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: title, she’s “Lady Geoffrey”, right?

    Re: coarseness and saints, I’m pretty sure St. Jerome used some pretty descriptive language in the pursuit of argument! Against other saints, even!

    But anyway, the point is that she’s in a position of authority and supposed to be an example. What’s funny when you’re at home alone is different from being out in public. And dragging Our Lord into it is tacky if not blasphemous.

  70. benedetta says:

    It’s kind of funny also, how others note, that typical curse words are just slang for excrement, or copulation. Kind of takes the allure out of it once you consider it. Seems like there are more worthy, and even less absurd, ways for a Christian to vent when necessary. There is something to be said for the virtue of self-control.

  71. inexcels says:

    I’m going to come down on Imrahil’s side: If you’re not taking the Lord’s name in vain or otherwise blaspheming, then using coarse language is not in itself sinful. Context is everything.

    If I stub my toe and let out a coarse word as an expression of the ensuing pain, am I somehow giving offense against God? Or even if a program isn’t cooperating with me and I give my computer a choice word or two? Don’t think so.

    Using coarse language to excess can have a variety of detrimental effects, and combining it with anger or spitefulness directed at a person can certainly be sinful, but inherently…? I believe the phrase “chill out” is appropriate here.

    More on-topic, I’d say this ridiculous bumper sticker is an example of where the context DOES make it sinful. When you’re talking about God you should elevate your language to God’s level (inasmuch as is possible), not pull God’s name down to the level of the common and the vulgar.

  72. Lucchesi says:

    “Imrahil, name one saint who used coarse language. You cannot.”


    “What conversations! What vulgarity and what dirt! And you have to associate with them, in the office, in the university, in the operating-theatre…, in the world.

    Ask them if they wouldn’t mind stopping, and they laugh at you. Look annoyed, and they get worse. Leave them, and they continue.

    This is the solution: first pray for them, and offer up some sacrifice; then face them like a man and make use of the ‘strong language apostolate’ (sp: “el apostolado de la mala lengua”). – The next time we meet I’ll tell you – in a whisper – a few useful words.”

    – St Josemaria Escrivá, Camino, #850

    Of course not the context of the post, as probably no saint would use the bumper sticker, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of using strong language to prevent someone from falling into eternal punishment.

    However, in order to preserve its shock power, these bad words can’t be used all the time. If you see someone who’s always calm and polite talking like that, you know things are pretty serious.

    One also wonders in what exactly consists this “strong language”, probably nothing related to sacred things, I think.

  73. Supertradmum says:

    Firstly, canonization is infallible. This means that stating that a person was not in the unitive state of holiness when on earth, completely free of mortal and even venial sin, is a heresy. St. Augustine, St. Jose Marie Escriva and all canonized saints reached a high state of holiness, that is perfection, while on earth, which is the point of the Church giving us their lives as examples. To imply or state anything else is wrong and foolishness.

    Secondly, the road to holiness is a process of purification from all sin and the tendencies to sin. The road to heaven must be one of purification of the senses and spirit. If one does not cooperate with this process while on earth, one will go to purgatory, which is painful, as only the perfect go to heaven. To be rid of all sins and imperfections is a goal for now. This would include breaking away from cursing, which is a serious sin, and profanity, which can be and most likely is.

    Thirdly, to blame a culture or excuse an action because one belongs to a particular culture is both bad theology and poor logic. Within a few years, all the western cultures will accept ssm. All western nations bar a few very small ones kill babies in the womb. So, by some of the thinking here, abiding by the norms of a culture would make these horrific sins ok.

    Same with language-cultures are infected with sin. My missionary friend in Papua had to deal with polygamy, ancestor worship and worse, as that was in the culture. If a culture has fallen into the sin of profanity and cursing, an individual must break away. Catholics are counter-cultural and in the past, we remade the culture to become civilization. No more, sadly…

    Fourthly, cursing and profanity reveal deeper sins of wrath, licentiousness, and maliciousness. Language can be a symptom of much more serious and soul threatening evils. What is seen or heard is connected to what is in the heart.

    Lastly, the Church is weakened by those who insist on sinning and being imperfect. All of us are supposed to be living the life of the virtues given to us in Baptism and the gifts given to us in Confirmation. The life of the virtues flourishes after one breaks away from sin, not before.

    This is a serious thought. Those who refuse to see sin and repent weaken the entire Church.

    I have over 400 posts on the road to holiness, including in-depth studies of the process from the Doctors of the Church. I suggest a little reading. Just put doctors of the church, perfection and perfection again in the search bar.

    Only the perfect see God in heaven. Not my words…”Be you perfect, therefore, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

  74. Palladio says:

    If it fell within my competence, if I had a competence, to say she was Christian in the first place… Assuming, for the sake of argument, that she is Christian, this sort of behavior has a short shelf life. I know teachers who swear in the classroom. They want to seem cool, and thus to be able ‘to reach’ their students. But I have never known such teachers to produce first-rate students, because their swearing not only undermines their teaching, it also increases what is already weak and needs improving in the teachers themselves.

    Incidentally, nice to know Sir Geoffrey, not a young man, is still with us.

  75. Supertradmum says:

    Palladio, yes, I love his Mercian Hymns. But, David Jones is better…

  76. Palladio says:

    I have not read either in years, but I read more of Hill. Jones is not so well known here as Hill, who was (is?) a University Professor at Boston University, with the absolutely great Professor Sir Christopher Ricks as a kind of champion. I adore the poetry of Sandy Hutchison, all of whose (not prodigious) work is pure gold:

  77. Simon_GNR says:

    supertradmum: The correct form of address for the wife of a knight is given at as follows:

    “How to address the Wife of a Knight
    The recommended (social) style of address is as follows:
    Beginning of letter Dear Lady Brown
    End of letter Yours sincerely
    Envelope Lady Brown
    Verbal communication Lady Brown…”

    “Alice, Lady Brown” would be the formally correct style for an ex-wife of a knight who has kept her ex-husband’s surname after the divorce. This is analogous to “Diana, Princess of Wales” and “Sarah, Duchess of York”, which were these ladies’ formal names after their respective divorces from Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.
    The current wife of a knight is “Lady Brown”, unless she has some higher title than that.
    A peeress in her own right who is a baroness (as opposed to, say, a viscountess or countess) can choose to be known either as “Lady Brown” or “Baroness Brown”. Many baronesses do choose to be know as “Baroness [surname]” to distinguish themselves from “Lady [surname]” who is merely the wife of a knight or baronet.

  78. Others here have addressed the weightier moral and theological issues but–on a strictly grammatical level–is not this car sticker, on its face, a clear cut example of “taking Our Lord’s name in vain”, that is, of using it to no real end or purpose?

  79. Tony from Oz says:


    Just to back up ‘msc’s’ contention: “Someone said something about saints never swearing. I can’t believe that. An awful lot of saints were pretty rough people.” Try St Thomas More’s disputaion with the heretic Martin Luther on for size. Here are a few fruity quotes from St Thomas More:

    “Who would not laugh at the most wretched scoundrel blasting out such frenzied boasts, as though he reclined on the bosom of Christ, whereas he lies confined withing the arse-hole of the devil? Thence he farts and trumpets his splendid victories.” — Responsio ad Lutherum, vol. 5, part I, p. 77

    “But meanwhile, for as long as your reverend paternity will be determined to tell these shameless lies, others will be permitted, on behalf of his English majesty, to throw back into your paternity’sh**tty mouth, truly the sh*t-pool of all sh*t, all the muck and sh*t which your damnable rottenness has vomited up, and to empty out all the sewers and privies onto your crown divested of the dignity of the priestly crown, against which no less than against the kingly crown you have determined to play the buffoon.”

    And again:
    “In your sense of fairness, honest reader, you will forgive me that the utterly filthy words of this scoundrel have forced me to answer such things, for which I should have begged your leave. Now I consider truer than truth that saying: ‘He who touches pitch will be wholly defiled by it’ (Sirach 13:1). For I am ashamed even of this necessity, that while I clean out the fellow’s sh*t-filled mouth I see my own fingers covered with sh*t.”

    I think many folk have rather bourgeois notions about saintliness, equating sainthood with ‘niceness’ rather than the virtue of ‘courageousness’ better appreciated in those outspoken, less cowardly, times.

  80. Tony from Oz says:

    Not that I am in agreement with the Vicarette’s crass car sticker, mind. Yet…consider the rich vein of satire the Vicarette Lady Hills of the Anglican world has afforded the script writers of the Vicar of Dibley!

  81. Kathleen10 says:

    Language reveals the heart. The lady’s language reveals much, whether she wants to acknowledge it or not.
    WTFWJD is a variant on the root phrase “Oh my F—– God!”, which I have heard (guess I DO get out) and the lovely “Jesus F—— Christ” which I have also heard. All sweet sentiments of the heart which pay homage to Satan more than Jesus. To pair the name of our Lord with such an extreme vulgarity demonstrates an utter lack of respect, to say the least, for the Name above all names. They ought not be paired in vicinities, and it is not a non-issue, in my eyes. When people blaspheme the Lord in our earshot, or eyeshot, it’s a big deal. There’s a line.

    America has her embarrassments and I was initially glad she was not one of ours for a change. Then, I see she is American born. That explains it. Ugliness is what we export.
    Her response that anyone offended “needs to get out a little more” is typical. If you’re offended, you just aren’t as fly as she is, she’s mad cool, and you’re so whack. Clearly a cloying attempt to ingratiate the younger crowd, who are going to see the F word and come streaming back into church! Dropping their techno gadgets and whatever, they will jump over the hedges to get back into that church to hear what is going on in there! They will be entranced by your cool lingo, and fill the church from now on, dying to hear the Word of God.
    If only! It’s fake and a phony strategy, young people know it, yawwwwn.

  82. Nan says:

    @Deacon Nate Allen, perhaps there was a presumption that Lady Hill would have more class than to use such vulgarity.

  83. jflare says:

    So..because a vulgarity isn’t blasphemous strictly speaking, then it’s OK. I see.
    Pretty disappointing to see this kind of attitude.

  84. Perhaps a part of the solution would be for everyone to refer to the Reverend Alice Goodman as the Irreverend Alice Goodman. That might get the point across.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  85. Tony from Oz says:

    I pass on the observations of a mate of mine:

    “The f word certainly isn’t a blasphemy.

    WTFWJD might be.

    A woman in a clerical collar seems a greater offence.

    And doesn’t that Bible passage about swearing (from today’s Mass!) refer to
    taking oaths, not bad language?!?!?”

  86. Vecchio di Londra says:

    “I’ve had the former Archbishop of Canterbury in my car, Rowan Williams, and he didn’t raise an eyebrow.’ ”
    As she well knows, the Archbishop wouldn’t have been in a position to view the rear of the car. Because he was inside it, not being towed in a trailer behind it…
    As the Rev Alice might tweet, “Jus’ sayin’ ”

  87. Supertradmum says:

    Simon_GNR, there are differences in addressing hereditary positions and those given in the honours lists, especially wives or husbands thereof.

    Tony from Oz, you are wrong. Read more on how to become a saint and less on historical references which may have been said before a person was actually a saint. Do not think that St. Thomas More was saintly his entire life, as he admits he was not himself.

  88. jaykay says:

    Maj. Tony: “One needs to understand the cultural differences between the US and Europe, and specifically English-speaking Europe and Australia/NZ. The “F” word doesn’t have quite the sting over there even in Christian circles as it may in generally well-brought up middle class Christian US circles.”

    In relation to the UK and Ireland, that is quite simply wrong. It has every bit of the sting that it has in the US and is regarded as unacceptable in polite company. I don’t think that the lapse of a single Benedictine can be used to generalise in the way that you have.

    And as for this: “and that Fr. had a rather clean accent and clear diction for an Irishman”. Words fail me.

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