Profanity and the Gospel

Profanity is becoming more and more mainstream, but its constant use defiles us more than most people realize. Cursing only has one practical use. The act of being boorish has a way of waking people up when they have stopped paying attention. Using a swear word does have the effect of making people snap out of it and take notice. The problem is that it only works for a short time. If cursing becomes common, that utility is no longer viable, for the cursing itself will be tuned out. This truth is why much of today’s profanity is meaningless.

As Christians, how we communicate is of the utmost importance, and using the Lord’s name in vain is always off-limits. However, when it comes to slang, the rules are not as hard and fast. Outside of using the Lord’s name in vain, profanity involves various modes. One is taking something vulgar and applying it to things that are not. Scatological terms come to mind here. This could also include the slang used to describe a promiscuous woman or an overbearing man. Another form is taking something that is not necessarily crude, like the term used for a female dog or donkey and applying it to something more dignified like a human. Both are attempts to degrade or shock. A third use usually involves using obscenities as an expression of fear, wonder, or other emotion.

One of the most common words is the one that denotes violent sexual activity. I will leave it to your Christian liberty to determine if it is ever appropriate to use that word, but in almost every case, using it reveals more about our lack of character than the thing we desire to shame. In the case of using it to curse someone who offends us, it is almost as if we are allowing them to win twice. Not only have they hurt us or those we love, but we are allowing their wrong to settle so deeply into our soul that it causes us to act in a way that also decays our virtue. If we want to express righteous indignation, it seems counter-intuitive to use profanity.

The determination of whether there is any problem with vulgarity comes down to what we think it means to be human and to have dignity. I am aware that many people, maybe even most, who read this will think it is the writing of a prude. The worldview of many is secularism, which cannot establish an objective standard for how we ought to behave. This lack of an objective standard for morality includes the inability to determine what constitutes profanity. Profanity in the secular worldview is nothing more than a social construct that has no basis in objective truth. A worldview that is unable to define cursing has also lost the ability to bless. When you lose one, you lose the other, which is a significant step backward for mankind made in the image of God.

For Christians, who are called to communicate the good news of the gospel, the greatest blessing of all, it seems absurd to be constantly cursing. Am I overthinking this? I might be, but as Jesus said, it is not what goes into our mouth, but what comes out of our mouth that defiles us (Matthew 15:11). In light of those words, a closer look never hurts.

-D. Eaton

6 thoughts on “Profanity and the Gospel

  1. Honest question – how do you feel about substitute profanities? They are the words that sound similar to the vulgar options but they are not the actual recognized vulgar word (dang it, flippin’, etc.). Do they also qualify as undignified? Do they also fit in the same category as “real” profanities?

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  2. Curse means to drop or let go. Bless means to hold up. The language of alienation (curse) or the opposite: hospitality defines our inner qualities. As we are sanctified and become like Jesus our language shifts to supporting and holding up others around us. We are less likely to do something to someone else that we would not want done to us.

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