Obscenity and Profanity

by Marc Hinds

I was ten years old in 1982 when I went and saw Steven Spielberg's science-fiction blockbuster, E. T. It was the first time I remember hearing foul language. To make matters worse, it was a teenager in the movie who said it. While I was shocked, my parents were horrified. Over the past 25 years, however, its use has become commonplace.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Every language -- ancient or modern -- has a list of "bad" words. Typically, these are slang terms or racial slurs that are intended to offend and malign. An arsenal of physical gestures is also available to the would-be hurler of insults.

As American culture grows increasingly godless and decadent, public standards have been lowered consistently. It's almost laughable to hear about the firestorm created over Clark Gable's use of a curse word in the final scene of the 1939 movie, Gone With the Wind.

Public airwaves are no longer sacred. When radio talk show host Don Imus was recently fired, it was not because he used vulgar language: the uproar was over who he insulted. Imus in the Morning ran for almost 30 years, during which he frequently used the same kind of terminology. But because the object of his insults was the Rutgers women's basketball team, there was an immediate outcry.

Television fares no better today as all the major networks regularly use foul language during prime time. The last generation's programs have been replaced by sitcoms that push the envelope. Today's plots are packed with promiscuity and perversion. Foul, putrid language flows freely into our hearts and lewd scenes, rather than causing shock, become commonplace.

In order to satisfy the cravings of the masses, private airwaves supply a regular flow of putrescence. Cable networks such as the Home Box Office are home to a whole line of R-rated programs like Sex and the City, the Sopranos, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Howard Stern, the most fined radio personality in broadcast history, moved his show to Sirius satellite radio last year. It is here that he and numerous other disk jockeys (often called "shock jocks" because of the shock effect of their profanity) regularly use coarse and vulgar language.

The hip-hop movement is perhaps the greatest media influence on America's demoralization. Rappers such as Snoop Dog, 50 Cent, and Akon are young men who, while in their 2Os, made millions of dollars by spewing filth-ridden lyrics. They have influenced an entire generation of young people. Their variety of hip-hop-Gangsta rap glorifies profanity, violence, promiscuity, and drug use. Millions of their albums have been sold.

Know That It's Wrong

The Christian is not to use foul language. Because "your life is hidden with Christ," Paul says, you must "put off filthy language out of your mouth" (Colossians 3:1-8). He words this same command regarding our word usage a little differently in Ephesians 4:29 --

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

Words that are putrid (Colossians 3:8) and rotten (Ephesians 4:29; 5:4) are unfit for the mouth of a Christian. Even euphemistic alternatives are unacceptable for those "who profess godliness.

Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). Even an occasional curse word is a peek at a soul that is grappling with serious moral issues. Our appetites form our habits. When we consume verbal and visual garbage, it corrupts our hearts and finds expression in our actions.

Be an Example

The first curse word or obscenity is hard to utter -- but then it gets easier. The snowball effect takes over, reprogramming our conscience with each repeat performance. Eventually, like the Israelites of old, we will forget how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15).

Children first learn from their parents what is right and wrong. It is not enough for us to tell them "adults talk like this, but kids can't" It is not enough to ask them to "do as I say, not as I do.' It is not enough to explain to them, "You know, I only use that word when I get really mad." Your example is too powerful. From you, they learn what is acceptable behavior -- including hypocrisy.

Ever hear someone say, "Please pardon my French" or "excuse my French" and then proceed to use a foul word? Long before French fries, "French" as an adjective was often associated with vulgarities. This euphemistic idiom, which first appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1895, means that "because I'm asking you to excuse my foul language, I can -- just this once -- use it:' It may be only one foul-mouthed person, but take the time to tell them, "No, it's not okay." After all, salt that has lost its flavor is good for nothing (Matthew 5:13).

Check Up on Your Kids

My wife, Melanie, is a schoolteacher. Recently, at a school function, an edited version of a popular song blared through the loudspeakers. But the kids knew the words, and so they sang them anyway. Children as young as 11 and 12 years of age sang their hearts out each time the profane-laden chorus repeated.

Check your child's iPod. Do you know what songs they are downloading and listening to? Check the ring tones on their cell phones, too. If they are keeping company with the likes of Eminem, Ludacris, and Paris Hilton, then they will be corrupted by them (I Corinthians 15:33). And while you're at it, remember to monitor the movies they go see, too.

Spend time with your children. The breakdown in the family is the number one reason for the corruption of American culture. If parents took their children to worship and instructed them from the ethical teachings of God's word, then we wouldn't be in the national predicament we are now. You can't be responsible for everyone else's moral education, but you are responsible for your children's Bible-based upbringing.

Since I Was Ten Years Old ...

I have, unfortunately, heard more foul language. As our society has become increasingly desensitized by popular music, movies, and television, I hear people using foul language every day in places as innocent as Wal-Mart.

My son is now ten. Since he has classmates that casually use profanity, he has already had to learn which words are appropriate and which are not. But while I can't change the world for him, I can teach him that we are living in a world that is not our home. Ultimately, we don't belong here because "our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior" (Philippians 3:20).

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