Oh my! Doug Wilson has really stepped in it this time! Well, perhaps that’s not quite the right metaphor: he didn’t actually step in it, he said it. That’s right. Near the end of the brand new, action-packed, mind-bending, worldview-challenging debate-documentary-film-experience Collision, before a tavern-room full of skeptics and atheists, Wilson encapsules the atheistic worldview with a particular two-word sentence distinguished greatly by its down-to-earthness. Stepping into the atheist’s worldview, he shows them—using their own presuppositions, beliefs, and language—exactly what they really believe and why they have no reason in their worldview to get upset over “evil” or suffering. But certain Christians are upset over Rev. Wilson’s use of terminology. They think no Christian should ever say the word he said at that juncture. So here we are at a classic impasse between reaching unbelievers and coddling life-time pew pietists. Wilson let it fly, and now it’s hit the fan.
So what was Wilson thinking when he quoth the atheists’ naturalism as, “Shit happens”? You can bet it was thinking indeed—calculated precisely for audience and timing in order to produce the most coveted of all reactions to rhetoric: impact. It was perfect. Can you think of a better summary of the atheistic worldview? Nowadays it has grown fashionable for atheists to pretend moral outrage: Christianity is a “wicked cult,” according to Christopher Hitchens; the “root of all evil,” according to Richard Dawkins; “pernicious” and “vilest lunacy,” according to Sam Harris, ad nauseum. They make an outcry over the problem of evil: “How can an all-powerful and good God allow evil and suffering to exist? Either he’s not all-powerful enough to stop it, or he’s not good enough to want to. This is a moral outrage!” Wilson simply pulls back the curtain on their charade: in the atheistic worldview, there are no such things as purpose, good, evil, or morality. There is only matter and chance. Why, then, does the atheist react with real moral outrage? Why does it matter what one concentration of matter chances to do upon another concentration of matter. It just happens, and whether you like it or not, it carries no ethical meaning or judgment at all. The bruised and battered victim may wish her rapist to burn in hell, but he will never. And if human authorities never capture him, he will walk freely to do as he wishes again, and die peacefully with his little secret. There is no judgment. In fact, in an atheistic world, the rapist has done no wrong. The victim may have suffered, but, big deal.
Rev. Wilson argued thusly, and just as he began to see his skeptical audience beginning to feel the weight of his argumentation, beginning to look slightly uncomfortable with themselves, beginning to squirm a bit, stare away a bit more awkwardly… he encapsuled their whole life, beliefs, and struggle for them in what they already knew: “shit happens,” deal with it, get over it. Doug showed the atheist that not only does their emperor have no clothes, he doesn’t even have a tailor to go to.
What Wilson was doing was what evangelists like to call “building a bridge.” As one who spent fifteen years in the civil engineering business, I can talk with some tiny bit of authority on bridges. Here goes: it is very important when building bridges that the bridge touch the ground on both sides of the chasm. This means that a bridge must stretch its life-saving pathway all the way into the dirt on the other side. Good evangelists know this: they must be able to meet the unbeliever where he is, in his culture, in his neighborhood, on his dirt. Sometimes this means seizing the opportunity in which speaking to him with the very dirt of his own culture will have some impact upon his tidy little compartmentalized worldview. The unbeliever will begin to see that what clean laundry of morality he has in his mind he has actually stolen from the Christian worldview, and to be consistent he must either let his dirt soil his mental laundry too, or leave matter-and-chance-ism completely and cross the bridge into Christianity.
Christians can do this because we are the new creation, unspoiled and unsoiled by touching the unclean things of the old fallen order. We gain this imperviousness via our relationship to the New Creation, Christ. He illustrates this for us in the Gospels. Under Old Testament law, a leper was decreed “utterly unclean” (Lev. 13:44), was segregated from society, and continually had to pronounce and indentify himself as “unclean, unclean” (Lev. 13:45) so that others would not come near him (lest they should be made unclean by association?). It was the priest’s duty to pronounce verdict of “unclean,” whether upon a person, garment, or house. Before he entered a house to inspect it, everything in the house had to be removed lest it also fall under the condemnation by association (Lev. 14:35–36). The point is clear, before Christ, unclean things could defile clean things; the clean thing touching the unclean thing defiled the clean. Corruption ruled. While this understanding holds in some ways still in New Testament thought, there is also a radical transformation. When a leper comes to Christ for healing, Christ does what is unprecedented: “And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed” (Luke 5:12–14). After Christ, mere contact with the unclean thing no longer defiles the clean thing. Rather, power flows the opposite direction: the clean thing cleanses the unclean. Redemption rules instead of corruption.
This does not mean, of course, that Christians should freely avail themselves of vulgarity and “cuss words.” They should not habitually associate with bad characters (1 Cor. 15:33) lest bad manners grow habitual as well, nor should they freely associate with the plethora of idolatries in the unbelieving world. From these our faith by its very nature requires us to separate ourselves, certainly covenantally as in marriage and religion (2 Cor. 6:14–18). Yet we should not be afraid to encounter, contact, brush up against, and even reach out and touch the uncleanness of the fallen world. A mature Christian, walking in faith, will not fear getting a spot from the world on his Christian garment. Rather, like Christ, trusting in the power of God, will reach out and touch it seeking to transform it.
This type of communication is not only a matter of evangelism, it also pertains to Christian discipline. Both the law and prophets (referring to the law) use the imagery of excrement as a description of idols. Ezekiel even uses the Hebrew word gillulim (from gel, meaning piles of dung) as his favorite word for “idols.” The reference comes from Leviticus 26:30, where God promises judgment for disobedience. “The NEB freely translates, ‘I will pile your rotting carcasses on the rotting logs that were your idols.’” It could as easily translate, “I will pile your carcasses upon the piles of dung that were you idols.” Nothing would shock a Hebrew more thoroughly than this—corpses and dung were about the two most unclean things one could touch, let alone become. So God chose this revolting image to communicate how revolting idolatry and disobedience are. When the Hebrew people did grow so disobedient, Ezekiel went right back to that imagery, even so far as to say the leaders of the people had erected such piles in their hearts (Ezek. 14:3).
Worse yet, God had Ezekiel bake bread with human dung mixed in it (Ezek. 4:9–12), in order to communicate to the people “Thus will the sons of Israel eat their bread unclean among the nations where I will banish them” (Ezek. 4:13). God used excrement to symbolize sin: “make them eat their own presuppositions.” When Ezekiel pleaded with God, God mercifully allowed him to substitute cow’s dung for human dung in the bread (Ezek. 4:15).
Other prophets used the same image. Through Zephaniah God said he would destroy the people and leave their flesh as dung (1:17), and through Malachi He denounced the corrupt priests saying, “Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it” (Mal. 2:3).
Isaiah used another revolting image of ritual uncleanness, describing the people’s best attempts at righteousness as “menstrual rags” (Isa. 64:6). None of our popular English translations has the guts to be literal here: “filthy rags,” “polluted garment,” etc. Not even Young’s Literal Translation is literal: “garment passing away.” Even The Message—sensing the need to transcend mediocrity, yet still not having the guts to offend our modern cloaks of piety—only ventures, “grease-stained rags.” One wonders where Mr. Peterson thinks the ancient Hebrews got their petroleum. Alas, only St. Jerome had both the critical eye and the nerve: pannes menstruate. You do the Latin.
All said and done, the law and prophets had no problem at all crossing the line of decorum into the realm of vulgarity when the situation called for it. In order to make points about sin and corruption, foolishness and vanity, idolatry and judgment, they had no problem with crude imagery, crude language, or the shock that such communications brought.
This is why it seems so unbiblical to me for Christians to get upset over “the S-word.” It doesn’t, mind you, seem strange to me, but rather unbiblical. It doesn’t seem strange because our Christian culture is one of pietism and taboos—just the kind of outward, fig-leaf religion that demonizes dancin’ and drinkin’ but couldn’t recite more than four of the Ten Commandments, and those not in order. Let alone actually apply the commandments to society—family, church, and state—at large. We have been trained in a sissified, neutered, and whitewashed opinion of human life, especially as it concerns our interactions with fallen human nature. We prefer to ignore it, avoid it, look the other way. We even refuse to translate God’s own Word properly in order to pretend our Christianity is spotless when in reality it is just gutless and spineless.
It is most unfortunate that today, more Christians will get offended over that one word than a whole list of worse and more pervasive evils, probably in their own lives. They could sit and watch the whole Collision DVD, watch the debates, imbibe 90 minutes of atheistic arguments and denunciations of our faith, and yet get offended at once turn of phrase from the Christians. They’ll commit a hoard of other evils, send their children through the dung-factory of public schools, ignore the poor in their own churches, support socialistic government, gossip, church-hop, etc., etc., and yet be up in arms over one word another man says. That’s like mixing dung with your corn flakes and then complaining that the coffee’s too strong.
We have been called to have our hands and feet planted firmly in the soil of this earth, not fearing it will defile us in some way, but working in God’s power to redeem it from its corruption. Doug Wilson knows this. He does not fear this world, he confronts it. He even ventures to show it its own foolishness, using its own foolishness. He speaks the truth to it. That he does so in its own language shakes the heart of the unbeliever. It rattles his cage, and shows him he’s in a cage. Then he shows the way out.
For those Christians who believe in actually talking to the world outside, trying to build bridges, or who would accept a God Who in His Word does not shy from comparing disobedience to human feces—in short, for those Christians who can accept Christianity as it really is—I highly recommend the new DVD Collision as a wonderful example of how these things are done. Doug builds a relationship with atheist Christopher Hitchens, gaining his respect and admiration along the way, yet never failing to confront him for the flaws inherent in atheism. I dare to suspect that from that particular talk in that particular tavern, a few skeptics walked away really questioning their skepticism. Once they consider that things don’t just “happen”—that purpose infuses everything in the universe—then they must consider that the first part of that two-word sentence ain’t so universally true either. To accept or deny either word, either way, requires you to be consistent. Either “God decrees what happens, and whatever happens is God’s purpose,” or “Shit happens, and whatever happens is shit.” I suspect even the most reactionary and mindless Christian, were he an atheist, could figure it out after that. Thanks, Doug. And God bless your work.
 Earl S. Kalland, “galal,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols., eds. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:162–164.
 Earl S. Kalland, “galal,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1:163.