“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” – Romans 12:14, HCSB
“But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.” – Col. 3:8, HCSB
FOREWARD: People who know me well enough know that, with the English language as a hobby of mine, I generally don’t withhold certain words from my speech. And yet, considering the volatile nature of some of the things I suspect I’ll be talking about in this space, I feel like there’s a certain wisdom in not punching people in the face as they’re walking in the door—especially when over half of the people who were invited to the party may not have even shown up because of their experiences with me. As such, it should be noted that I’ll be moderating my own language on this blog. And while I’ll get around to explaining why that is here in a moment, I also want to go ahead and mention that I also won’t be moderating anyone else’s language, as I’m strongly opposed to censorship of any kind. People can reply as they feel led, be it by God, by their own hearts, by their guts, whatever. This is my chance to say some things that might, in other forums, be considered out-of-bounds, and it is my desire that people be able to get in my face about their feelings on my own opinions.
Okay, so back to my initial point: why I’m moderating my own language; this will also give you an idea of the kind of theological discussion I hope to have here. There are a few pieces of Scripture discussing how we talk, and the two verses I listed at the beginning of this article are the nut of it. Somehow, between there and here, this has all evolved into today’s standard of outlawing certain four-letter words. I find it ridiculous, to be wholly honest. Even the term “four-letter word” is a misnomer…some are three, some are five, at least one is seven…whatever. None of it makes any sense if you understand the verses, but then, it’s not really about sinning here, it’s about the perception of sinning, and that’s just as much a problem with which we so-called “liberal Christians” have to deal. So, briefly, just to teach and interpret, I’d like to talk about those two verses, what they mean, and our current social mores surrounding them.
The first verse, from Romans, is one of the most often quoted verses about why we shouldn’t use certain words. It’s also the easiest to shoot down of these arguments, but people who use Romans 12:14 to say you shouldn’t “curse” seem to have no idea what that word means. Cursing, in this sense, is literally the opposite of “blessing.” It means to wish harm on someone else. Like just about everything regarding Scripture, context is king. The “D-word,” in and of itself, isn’t a bad word, but telling someone “D*** you!” is a bad thought. It’s not that we’re forbidden from using the word (we are, in fact, not forbidden from doing much), it’s that we should not wish harm or evil on others (even our enemies!). But somehow, in modern society, we’ve got a list (see: George Carlin) of words designated as “curse words,” and these words are socially unacceptable. I would love to tell you how I feel about that, but “bovine manure” will have to suffice for this space.
The second verse, from Colossians, requires a little more understanding to navigate. The best way I can think to explain it is tell a story from my own experiences. When I was at Southeastern Bible College, as one of our assignments in English Composition, Dr. Gary Greene assigned us this homework where he gave us a list of words like “vulgarity,” “obscenity,” and the like, and told us to look them up and bring it to our next class. Me being me—always with some physical problem—had a migraine the next class and missed what his legitimate point was, which of course left me to my own devices to come to my own conclusions. Now, I am NOT a post-modernist in almost any sense (art is the exception), but looking up these words, you’ll see that, by definition, the word “vulgarity” has its own unique quality…it’s the only word we use in relation to these kinds of alleged “forbidden” subjects that is, by definition, entirely relative to any group. In other words, what is obscene is objectively always obscene (literally, you’re “seeing everything”), but what is vulgar—or filthy, as we say more colloquially—depends on a group of people. A modern example of this would be to compare what is socially acceptable in the United States against what is socially acceptable in Japan (where obscenity is NOT considered vulgar).
Keep in mind that this is also decidedly overlooking the common interpretation that “filthiness” in this sense refers to sexual/sensual sin; in this case, these verses wouldn’t even apply. But I’ve heard people bring it up in reference to our language, so here’s my overall response to it in that case: we’re not being told to not use certain words, but rather to use language that conforms to, or simply does not offend those in, the social settings in which we find ourselves. That is, use language appropriate for your setting. And this just seems like basic wisdom to me. I wouldn’t walk into a church shouting four-letter words. By the same token, if by some miracle I ever found myself hanging out with Metallica, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable saying “golly gee whiz, guys.” And this is why I’m choosing to moderate my own language here. I have no problem whatsoever with any of the “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV.” And what I don’t want is for people to turn me off before they’ve ever heard what I’ve had to say because I wasn’t wise enough to restrict myself from the oh-so-dreaded F-bomb here.
Or think of it this way: can you really imagine the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God being offended by a word—ANY word? Or taking it further, being offended by the thoughts behind them? Did he not create all these things, and for that matter, how are any of them evil? But we’re a smart society! We are SO smart that we’ve corrupted “Jesus” to “geez,” and “God” to “gosh,” and suddenly they’re acceptable, despite being the same thing. We say words in other languages, and they’re suddenly okay. We mess with spellings and words that sound similar and make them okay, all because we can get away with it. If these words were inherently wrong, then I’d argue that it’s the thoughts behind them that make them so, not the words themselves. But somehow “sex” is an okay word, as are “fornicate,” “copulate,” “mess around,” and a dozen others…but oh no, that F-word is a total no-no, And then we wonder why people don’t take us seriously.