Thursday, March 24, 2011

Frankly, Darling, I Don't Give a ...

Photo credit stockicide on Flickr
My parents were pastors.  My grandparents were pastors.  My parents in law were pastors.  It is safe to say that profanity is not a regular occurrence around our house.  Even euphemisms were strongly condemned when I was growing up, so not only do I not typically use profane words, most of the time I don't even use the G-rated version (although it amuses me at times to use Biblical euphemisms). 

Recently, though, I have seen a number of comments from moms talking about how they are working to eliminate profanity, or how they feel bad about cussing in the heat of the moment.  I want to be respectful of their convictions and if they believe that they are genuinely doing something wrong, I certainly don't want to cause them to stumble.  But the truth is, I don't get why much of it is considered morally wrong. 

I worship God.  I believe His name is holy.  And, because I love Him, it does bother me when people use His name in a disrespectful way.  I would feel the same way if people used the names of my husband or children as expletives.  But most four letter words don't bother me a bit.  If it stinks like poop and you want to express that, I am not going to be offended because you chose the strongest word for poop that you can find.  More likely, I would be nodding along with you in appreciation of your verbal accuracy.

I have a friend whose almost-mother-in-law was aghast that my friend used the exclamation, "Heavens!" once.  Not Hell.  Heaven.  From a 25 year old.  She was very upset and insisted that my friend never use that word where her teenage daughter might possibly hear it.  (Yeah, um, that relationship didn't work out.)  I have other friends who swear like sailors should the occasion require, and often when it doesn't.

There is also a bit of a cultural component at play.  Even in English, the potency of certain words varies from one group to another.  "Butt" was not allowed in my house growing up, only "bottom".  Yet for many people, "butt" doesn't raise an eyebrow at all.  (I generally use "bum" with my kidlets, but won't be offended by other terms).  In Spanish, conservative Christians regularly use God's name as an exclamation, which would be considered "taking it in vain" here.  And I won't even get into the way some words that are perfectly polite in one country are flat-out obscene in another.

The Bible does have several passages that seem to condemn obscenities, and dirty jokes.  I am not sure exactly what it means, to be honest.  I've read commentaries that suggest that any kind of joking is wrong for a believer, because the issues of eternity are far too serious for Christians to express levity of any kind.  Are you kidding me?   That just begs for all kinds of puns, and I have never actually met a person who believed that. 

I think God created us with a sense of humor, and that laughter is healthy.  So I tend to interpret those passages back to the intent and effect.  Is the joke hurting someone?  I have found some supposedly innocent little jokes about a man's wife to be far more offensive than dropping the f-bomb, when they are really meant as subtle humiliation.

That is hard for me, because I really, really enjoy and appreciate satire and witty word play.  I like seeing someone whom I disagree with chopped down with a few well-chosen words.  I find it funny.  And while I am confessing, I may as well add that sexual innuendo doesn't bother me, either, unless it is done in a degrading way.  I don't think that all sharp or pointed humor is wrong, but when it serves only to tear others down, it is.   It is something that I have been convicted of, and an area of my heart that needs to change. 

I believe as a follower of Jesus that what He cares about is the intent of our words and their effect on others.  I think words that are hurtful, shaming, and meant to tear down others are far worse than many that would be spelled with asterisks.

I am not suggesting that we should pepper our conversations with profanity.  What I am suggesting is that the attitude behind it and the result upon the hearers is far more important than the number of letters it has.

Instead of focusing on a surprised exclamation as taking the Lord's name in vain, let's search our hearts as believers.  Have we taken the name of Christ in vain by calling ourselves Christians when we don't demonstrate His love?  Do we use our words to wound and tear others down, either through jokes or through blatant shaming?  That is far more obscene than a profane word over a smashed thumb.  It all comes back to speaking truth in love, doesn't it?  And that is much, much more difficult, and much, much more important than censoring a single word here and there. 


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the cultural component. I lived in France for a year and despite how vulgar the French words actually translate, it just doesn't have the same sort of connotation in French, if that makes any sense.

The occasional profanity (or sexual innuendo) doesn't bother me, but sometimes I wonder if it should. I'm not saying be judgmental and legalistic and get all hyped up about it, but I do think we as Christians are called to be different. Sometimes our speech is one of the simplest, most obvious aspects of our lives that non-believers notice.

dulce de leche said...

It is so interesting to hear about the connotation difference in French. I think that how our words are perceived is often as big a part of communication as the dictionary definitions.

Your point about being set apart is a good one. I like what you said about not over reacting to it in others without using it ourselves. That is kind of where I am at right now.

CatholicMommy said...

My husband and I have talked about this a lot. I am bothered by profanity; he uses it all the time with his friends. Notably, I have heard him swear twice in the six years I've known him. He doesn't swear around me because he knows it bothers me.
I guess that is another aspect to consider... If you're at all unsure how your audience will receive it, better to err on the side of caution and not use it. (Not causing one to stumble, etc.) But for situations where everyone uses it, like my husband with his friends, I'm not sure if there is a clear-cut answer.
I agree with you both that calling someone out about it is pointless. I never scold my husband's friends when they swear around me. :-)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, CatholicMommy! I am glad that your husband is considerate and respectful of your convictions. <3 That is definitely important. Deliberately using profanity in your presence would be even more hurtful and offensive than the words themselves to me.

GrammyK said...

Around our house my kids are very sensitive to "negative" language and won't even say "hate" (like "I hate vegetables") or call people names like "jerk". Ironically they will say "I H-word vegetables" or "Don't be such a J". Too funny! I think it's because they don't want the littles to repeat "bad stuff". So our bad words are just kind of "code" bad words! Ha Ha!!

I'm not bothered by sexual innuendo or occasional mild profanity but I think that our speech should be such that if we turned around and found that Jesus were physically present we wouldn't be ashamed of what we had said.

Yes, I think our motives and heart attitudes are the most important. I have a hard time with innocently popping off with a remark that turns out more hurtful than I intended. Open mouth insert foot!! This is an area that has caused me a lot of grief in my life. I am a lot better than I used to be--but sometimes my mouth operates faster than my brain! :-(

dulce de leche said...

:) GrammyK, when I was small, we were never allowed to use hate to refer to another person, only to things like veggies. I looked up the dictionary definition of hate and began to use that. Stupid and Shut up were also forbidden. I thought it was silly then, but now those words make me cringe as being very hurtful and disrespectful. I don't allow my kidlets to use them! It sounds like your sweeties grasped that a lot sooner than I did. <3