Of Coarse

I read an article that got me thinking about a trend in our culture that is bleeding into the People of Jesus. A coarsening of language. “Swearing” is nothing even remotely new to the human condition and society. What is changing is our view and acceptance of it. How this has changed is less about some arbitrary behavioral standard or attempt to “act good” and much more an outward manifestation of our inward values, both as indivuals and as a culture.

There are a few different words in English that we use to describe “bad” words. Each one has a particular meaning, although in common usage, most people don’t diffentiate. For fun, let’s consider them though.

  • Obscenity: This holds the idea of something repulsive, normally concerning things bodily or especially sexual. Many of our modern swear words come from this. Words describing body-parts/functions and sex-acts. No need to list them, I think we know what we’re talking about.
  • Profanity: From profane which means to take something holy (special) and make it unholy (common). These stopped being considered overly taboo by the general culture a long time ago, but are still sometimes considered swearing by more conservative religious people. “Holy Cow!” “Heavens to Betsy!” etc, are no longer considered taboo by most in even our churches, but a subset of profanity, Blasphemy, the profaning of God Himself, taking His name in vain still has greater pushback. Using “God” or “Jesus” as exclamations, or linking them with other words (g-d–) is generally avoided by those seeking to follow Christ.

You used to not be able to say pretty much any of these things on TV, then not on TV except late at night. Then cable and satellite came along, and it became more normal. At the same time more language became ok for PG movies instead of getting you an “R” rating. Now, it is part of our discourse, or perhaps I should say discoarse. The president, and now many of the next presidential candidates feel free to not only use such language, but to feature it. This is not about just a shifting set of language norms, but a reflection something greater.

The reason words become Taboo is because we don’t like the misuse things we value. The way we treat the names of the things, show how much we value those things. Our culture as a whole stopped being worried about “holy” things quite a long time ago, and as a result, those words stopped being “bad.” Now in today’s culture, sexual and bodily things are no longer special but common and open to mockery. So, the words that go with those things are now fair game. At the same time, our culture has started to embrace what was formerly considered crude as now a mark of “authenticity” since watching your words and being careful, respectful, and pure are probably just acts that no one really does. If it is all an act, than being crude, sexual, edgy, must be a sign that you are real.

To a point that is probably true, because there have always been plenty of people whose purity and character was an act. However, that is not always the case, and the failures of character shouldn’t become the new rule. That is what the world has done, and too often people who call themselves Christians have conformed to this world on this point.

Jesus calls us to something else, something better. It is not about just “watching your mouth.” It is about letting your words have value and valuing what God values. There are implications that might make us as Christians uncomfortable.

  • I don’t joke about mother-inlaws and how bad they are because I love and value my mother-inlaw.
  • You will never hear me joke about my wife in a disrespectful way (“the old ball & chain”, “my old lady” etc.) because I love and value her and would never want to give a different impression.
  • I don’t use either profane or obscene language, not because I’m trying to keep some rule, but because I love and value both my God, and human sexuality as given to us by God.

Your values WILL be reflected in your language, and people end up literally “telling” on themselves as they let loose. Jesus, in His Word, encouraged us to a different spirit that then will show up in our words. Let’s close our discussion with some words in red and take some time to consider what is proceeding out of our mouths.

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
(Matthew 15:18-19)

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
(Matthew 12:34)

This is the article the sparked my thoughts today:


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