This week I received an email from a friend who is working on a position paper about profanity–he’s against it. 🙂 As he wrote to me, he said that a friend had told him, “it is possible to write about murder, and to read about murder, without committing the sin of murder. However, one can neither write nor read profanities without committing the sin (or, at the very least, being coarsened).”
I wrote back to him . . . and here’s what I said.
Warning: plain talk ahead.
If you’ll allow me to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment–
Yes, we can read about murder without committing murder, but if we harbor the thought of murder, and how delicious it might be to kill someone we hate, then we have committed a sin . . . Jesus said if we hate our brother, we are as guilty as if we had murdered him.
And we CAN read a profane word without using that word. It’s if we allow that word to linger in our thoughts and begin to use it, that we fall into the sin of using corrupt language. But simply reading (or hearing) a profane or ugly word is not sin–if it were, we would have to wear earplugs and lock ourselves away from the world. While some Christians might love to do that, it goes completely against Jesus’ prayer in John 17 when he prayed, “I pray not that you take them OUT of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one . . .”
We must also realize that words are only symbols of the things they represent. The word “God” is not actually God’s name, it is a symbol for Him (and is still considered holy and worthy of respect just as we realize that a flag is not America, but a symbol of America, and must be accorded respect. I love the orthodox Jewish practice of spelling “God” G-d. An obvious sign of respect and honor.)
But when referring to, for instance, feces, who can say that “poop” is less representative than the s-word? Yet all young mothers find some euphemism to teach their children when potty training. It’s not less representative, it’s less vulgar. And who sets that defining standard? Society.
(I have been chided by readers for using the word “anal-retentive,” and it becomes obvious that they don’t understand that it’s a legitimate psychological term, not a vulgarity. Makes me wonder if they’d object to “asinine” because it sounds like “ass.” )
On the other hand, I completely dislike the word “suck” to mean “bad” because when I was growing up, it meant something usually described on the walls of bathroom stalls. Today’s young adults, however, frequently use it to mean “that’s bad.” Societal standards do change, no matter what connotations we dinosaurs bring along with us.
Bottom line: Jesus said it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him. The evil that proceeds out of our hearts and mouths.
That’s why, as a Christian writer, I don’t feel coarsened by reading profanity or hearing it–I don’t dwell on it or mimic it. But I cannot in good conscience use words in speech or in writing that I know most of my readers will find offensive (according to the standards society has set). I do this for their sakes, not because I think certain words are sinful in nature. 🙂 They’re just words. I do it to obey the Lord’s admonition not to use corrupt communication, which also extends to gossip, lying, criticism, etc. And why are we not to use corrupt language? Because it hurts other people, and we are commanded to love.
In other words–words, in themselves, are harmless symbols. But they are so closely tied to the things they represent that the average person does not disassociate the two. So we Christians need to watch our speech and make sure that it is grace-filled and honorable, even when we are writing or talking about bad things.
Have you heard the story about (insert name of preacher here)? This is pure hearsay, but I heard that once he stood up at a preacher’s convention or something similar and talked about starving children in Africa. Then he said, “How many of you give a s***?”
Then, as the audience gasped, he said, “Why are you so much more alarmed about my saying the s-word than you are about the starving children in Africa?”
I get his point–and it’s powerful–but I’d have been just as shocked if he had unfurled a portrait of a Playboy bunny or stabbed a visiting preacher. Sin is sin, and need is need. So often we find it easier to focus on eradicating the former instead of the latter.
And so–(and goodness, I didn’t mean to write a position paper!) — while it is good to point out that many believers are losing focus on holy living, we also need to be reminded that the world doesn’t always notice if we don’t cuss. What they DO notice is if we love, give, and reach out to others.
I’ll hush up now.