"How much difference is there between `gosh darn' and `God damn'?" asks D.C. Martin, Grand Canyon College's chairman of religious studies. "Is it the spelling of the words, or is there a technical difference between the two?"
Those were some of the questions that prompted Martin to teach a class called "Cussin' and Fussin'" earlier this year at the Southern Baptist school. He says, "We wanted to look into what is it, this cussin' stuff, who does it, and what can be done about it?"
Forty-one students--far more than the fifteen or so Martin had expected--signed up for the three-week course. Those who lasted through three hours a day, five days a week, say they swear by it.
"I'm a Christian and I never find the need to cuss," explains freshman Maurita Haynes, "but I found out that some people in class thought you can be a Christian and still cuss. I found that interesting. That's between them and God, but it really surprised me."
But what happens when she gets frustrated? Haynes replies, "I find some crazy word to say, like `baloney' or something."
Martin says the language in his classroom got a darn bit racier than that.
"Yes, sir, it certainly did, but it was supposed to be a learning experience," says Martin, who's in his 26th year of teaching at the four-year Phoenix college. "I've been around here so long that everyone in charge knows I'm not a wild man, and I'm not teaching my students the wrong things."
In fact, he says, the class was simply divine inspiration.
"The Good Lord just planted the idea for the course in my mind," Martin says, "and everyone seemed to agree that it was something we needed to talk about."
In his first lecture, called "Openness," he warned his students that he was going to be blunt about those nasty four-letter words.
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"I've been around swear words all my life, and I wasn't uncomfortable at all in the class," recalls Ted Bowes, a senior majoring in Bible studies and public administration. "We had one group of students like me--Christians who aren't bothered by cussing, though we don't cuss, ourselves--and a group that at least knew what such use of vocabulary purports. Then we had a group that had not been exposed too often to swear words and couldn't understand why some people have to use the F-word in order to express themselves. It was a lot of fun to hear how people think."
Bowes himself used to swear, he says, until Jesus Christ "just kind of took care of my vocabulary after I decided to get serious about what it means to have a personal relationship with a personal God."
But Professor Martin isn't naive enough to think his class stopped anyone from cussin'. "All the kids said there is cussin' everywhere on our campus, even if I as a department chairman may not hear it," he says with a chuckle. "They cuss in the cafeteria, on the basketball court. They carve cuss words into desks. We found that everyone does it--it's in the movies, on television, in the newspapers." That was a sobering thought, Martin says, but the solution to this problem wasn't difficult.
"We got a little pessimistic about what we are going to do about it," he says. "We found that the only way to cure it is to say, `I'm not going to do it anymore.'