Recently, a horribly raunchy movie made national headlines because it contained over 500 uses of the f-word. Yeah, it was obscenely obscene, and obviously, that level of profanity is unusual. But the fact is, vulgarities are becoming commonplace in music, movies, literature, and everyday language.
This growing trend raises the question— is profanity a sin? Is it morally wrong to use words that are considered to be profane? Let’s examine this issue further.
The first principle is intent. What’s the purpose? For example, if you are furious with someone, and you tell them to go to hell (or worse), your intent is obviously to hurt the other person with your words. This kind of angry speech is always prohibited, even if no profane words are used. Jesus makes this clear when he strongly condemns hateful language: “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” Of course, there are plenty of other motivations for using profanity besides anger, but the point is, examining our motives will help us determine if we are sinning or not.
The second principle is degree. It is well known that some profanities are more offensive than others, such as words that have an obviously crude and sexual connotation. The f-word is undoubtedly considered the most obscene word in the English language, for example, and I don’t see any cases in which its use can be justified. Frequency is also important. If every other word in your vocabulary is a vulgarity, it’s probably a sign of a deeper problem.
The third principle is graciousness. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” says St. Paul— which is pretty funny since “salty language” is a euphemism for profanity. Anyway, we know what the great apostle means. Our speech should literally be grace-full. It should build up the hearer.
Now that we’ve clarified that profanity isn’t always immoral, I will state my personal position on the matter. I strongly believe that obscene or profane speech should be completely avoided. Here are five reasons.
1. It is unnecessary – I haven’t used profanity in about 10 years, and I have yet to be unable to express myself adequately. In fact, there are many people who go their whole lives without using a single obscenity. So why bother?
2. Our words will be judged – Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” That’s a pretty scary thought if you think about how carelessly we talk many times. Do you really want to have to justify to our Lord why you let fly with an f-bomb? Do you really want to defend why you told someone to go to hell? I didn’t think so.
3. It might cause someone to stumble – St. Paul was once asked about whether or not eating certain foods was immoral. He answered that it wasn’t immoral for those who were mature enough to handle it. But he immediately added the caveat that we should never engage in liberties that might cause our brother or sister to fall into sin. Even if you’re a mature Catholic, you must consider the impact of using obscenities in front of someone who might be horrified and scandalized by such talk.
4. It desensitizes us – Back when I was in the habit of using profanity, it took a lot to shock me. I could listen to music or watch movies with the a lot of vulgar language, and it wouldn’t bother me at all. But now, when I hear obscenities, it seems so crude and repulsive. Vulgarity has a way of deadening our soul to things that would normally shock us. And there are some things we simply shouldn’t grow accustomed to.
5. It isn’t classy – Ok, I’ll admit this is the least compelling reason in my case against profanity, but I think it’s valid. If you wouldn’t walk around in public in your pajamas or wear your pants so low your underwear can be seen, why would you say things that are the verbal equivalent?
As Catholic men, we shouldn’t ask how much we can get away with. That’s an immature attitude. Instead, we should ask if our speech is fitting for a follower of Christ.
In writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul exhorts us to guard our speech carefully. “Let no evil talk [sometimes translated “profane speech”] come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” This is the rule that should guide us as we examine our speech.
Men, let’s strive to submit everything in our lives to Christ, including our speech. Rather than seeing how much we can get away with, let’s strive to be full of grace and kindness in our speech. Anything less isn’t fitting for a Catholic gentleman.