Don Quixote tilted at windmills.
The Rev. William Wingo has taken on profanity.
"You can't be serious!" I exclaimed, for we seem to live in a hopelessly profane world.
"Of course I'm serious!" said Wingo fiercely.
"But it's too late," I cried. "Everybody's cursing now. Cartoon characters curse. People curse in G-rated movies and on pop recordings. Parents and grandparents and little children sit cursing at each other at the dinner table."
Wingo gripped my hand in both of his in a hold I call the "Reverend's Grip."
"It's not too late as far as I'm concerned," he said earnestly. "You've got to start somewhere. Otherwise, you just throw up your hands and say, 'It's all downhill from here.'"
"But it is all downhill from here," I insisted.
"Listen," Wingo continued, still gripping my hand, "what if Martin Luther King had said it was too late to fight for civil rights? What if people had decided it was too late to try to get people to stop smoking and drinking?
"We have a whole lot of negative people out there, brother," said Wingo. "We have a whole lot of people who have given up, who have decided that nothing can change. But somebody has got to take a stand, brother. Somebody has got to take the lead."
Wingo, founder of Don't CUSS Inc., had set up an information booth at last week's lackluster City Fair.
One sign at his booth explained that CUSS stood for Christians United to Stop Swearing.
Another sign proclaimed, "Don't Swear, It Pollutes the Air."
A flier quoted Ephesians 4:29: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the edifying that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
And the display worked. While exhibitors at other booths at the fair completed crossword puzzles or stared blankly into space, Wingo appeared to be quite a celebrity. Mothers pushed their strollers up to his table to take a flier. Grandparents rushed up to shake his hand. Teen-agers signed on as volunteers.
"I'm not alone in this," Wingo said. "The media has convinced people that swearing is all right, that it is part of life. It is all part of this permissive age we live in, and so they are afraid to speak out. But it is time the silent people spoke up and said, 'Listen, I don't want to hear this kind of talk anymore.'"
"So what's so bad about cursing?" I asked. "What do you say to people who claim profanity is harmless?"
"Cussing is derogatory and demeaning," Wingo answered passionately.
"It is spiritually degrading to the person who speaks it and it is spiritually degrading to the person who has to hear it.
"When I go to speak at schools and churches," he said, "I ask young people if they know what all these words really mean. Most of the time, they don't. They only know they are 'bad words' and that it is supposed to be exciting or adult to use them.
"So I talk about the meanings of some of these words," Wingo continued, "and I talk about concepts such as self-respect. The way you express yourself defines how you think of yourself. I don't think our young people realize that they are judging and being judged every time they open their mouths. For that matter, I don't think a lot of adults realize that."
I might note here that Wingo is a tall, broad-shouldered man. He lives in Baltimore and is pastor of the Mount Zoar African Methodist Episcopal Church in Conowingo. He is well-spoken, of course, gentle and courteous in his demeanor. He is 41 years old and the father of four.
And yes, he convinced me that he is a good man fighting for a good cause.
"I bet you're poor, right?" I asked.
"There's no money in it," he confessed, "but then, this is not the sort of thing you do for money. You do this because you believe in yourself, and in people, especially young people. You believe that they can be so much better than they are now.
"Right now, Don't CUSS Inc. is a very small organization, mostly with volunteers," he conceded of his 2-year-old crusade. "There are a lot of things I'd like to do that we can't do. But I hope that once the word gets out, people will really start to support us."
The tragedy is that if Wingo had spent the last two years fouling the air with obscenities, he'd be a rich man today. Just ask 2 Live Crew.
But thank goodness there are still men out there who are willing to throw their lives away in pursuit of what's right.