(just stuff I happen to be thinking about)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

High School Valedictorian Plagiarizes Twilight

The valedictorian at Prague High School in Oklahoma plagiarized her graduation speech from a graduation speech in the Twilight movies, but that is not why she is in trouble with the school. The trouble is because she said the phrase "How the hell do I know?" during the speech. I find the plagiarism and its source more troubling, but is the school arguing a valid point? They have refused to give her her diploma, though that is mostly symbolic since she is still a graduate of the high school. This should not prevent her from entering college this fall, just from hanging up the paper in her dorm room.

Is "Hell" a bad word to say? I have run into people, not only children but even grown adults, who were shocked to hear me freely say the word in a discussion of the afterlife. Clearly, the sensibilities of some people are different from my own. I generally avoid using it as a simple "swear", but that is because I believe that profanity lowers the tone of any sentence, just a cheap thrill that is quickly worn out. The sentence above could have been said better in any number of ways, e.g. "How can you expect me to know that?"

But is it a sin to say "Hell"? No. It is not a name or word referencing God, which we are not to take in vain. There is teaching in the Bible against evil speech, but including a cast off "hell" as a verbal intensifier does not really rise to that level. St. Paul even used profane language at times to get his point across.

The school is asking the girl to write a letter of apology, which she will not write because she believes that she has done nothing wrong. This is always a difficult question: when should we apologize? There is the principle of the thing, which can be worth fighting for; here I suppose that it is freedom of speech and freedom from excessive censorship and refusing to be bullied by a worked-up school administrator, but there is also the peace that can be had by simply apologizing. As far as the world goes, the girl has come off pretty well, with TV appearances and nationwide support, making her persecutors look like fools, but the Christian response would be to, if at all possible, apologize in order to restore peace. When we disagree with another, even if we were only 10% wrong and they were 90% wrong, we should take our 10% and apologize to make peace. It will not win the esteem of the world, but God is aware of how hard it was for us to do it, and his esteem is worth more.

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