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A few weeks ago, as the government swore in the new 116th United States Congress, a freshman congresswoman from Michigan made rather unflattering headlines with her profanity-laced criticism of our current president. At the outset, let me note that the following is not a political tirade or defense of some agenda or party or person. Instead, I would like to note a disturbing trend, of which the above incident is merely one of the latest and more blatant examples. We are rapidly declining into an entire nation of undignified and irreverent potty-mouths. The pandemic is everywhere about us, and very few environs are considered off limits. The entertainment industry has touted and pushed the boundaries of profanity ever since Rhett famously told off Scarlett. Our tendency to ascribe near divinity to athletes and their coaches has resulted in our unopposed acceptance of foul-mouthed interviews and side-line rants. Note the recent self-description of Tom Brady to his teammates ahead of the AFC Championship, and the fact that fans are printing it on t-shirts. Musicians, who have long been prone toward “colorful” language, having increasingly dismissed lyrics that actually make sense and tell a story, opting for what is shocking, profane, and disgusting. Literature. Advertisement. Journalism. Entertainment. Education. Science. Government. It’s literally hard to go through a day anymore where there is any exposure to other people without hearing some kind of profanity. It’s as if “the F-word” has become America’s “go to” term of description. Personally, I’m sick of it.

The acceptance and proliferation of profanity seems to me to be symptomatic of a number of deeper ailments. Profanity is often derisive in nature. Rarely does one person “cuss out” another in a moment of deep adulation, praise, and affection. Rather, it tends to underscore anger, frustration, hatred, and violence. Perhaps it’s simply a product of our increasingly splintered society. Profanity is also sometimes assigned to ignorance or failure of reason. I had a chemistry teacher in high school who had a sign in the front of his room that read something like “Profanity is a sign of a weak vocabulary.” Whether or not science supports that idea, it is certainly true that one cannot rationally discuss some idea or difference when the other party merely spouts off expletives, or efforts to somehow underscore their observation with verbal tripe. But of greater concern is what profanity implies about the concepts of dignity, reverence, and godliness. This observation is anecdotal rather than statistical, but it appears that the frequency of profanity is inversely proportional to a person’s or society’s regard for God.

In Rom.1:18-32, Paul chronicles the impact of godlessness on mankind. As man “did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” he became more animal and less godly. Included in his list of resultant sexual immorality, materialism, and violence are a number of verbal impacts: deceit, malice, gossip, slander, boasting. They are indicative of “a debased mind” (v.28). Such an observation is simply an illustration of the point Jesus makes in Mt.15:18-20, “…those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.” These are the considerations that I find the most alarming and disconcerting. If our speech betrays our heart, and we are increasingly verbalizing what is profane, crude, foul, base, demeaning, hateful, vulgar, shocking, and obscene, then it’s likely that we have departed farther and farther from God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom.3:18) seems an apt deduction.

The impact of the surrounding culture has long been an issue for those serving God, and it is no less for the present generation. And while immorality, dishonesty, violence and such blatant expressions of godlessness can creep into our lives, often we are the more impacted by thoughts, attitudes, perspectives – and words. When Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Cor.15:33, “Evil company corrupts good habits,” he was not warning about idolaters and fornicators, but about those who rejected the concept of bodily resurrection. What goes on in our head is powerful, whether we express it or not, and what we see and hear impacts what’s in our head. When we are exposed to profanity on a regular basis, it gets in. And once it’s in, it’s nigh impossible to get out. A notable preacher once observed that he had, in his youth, used profanity rather commonly, and that even in his advanced age, those words remained in his mind and presented a regular challenge to him.

It is increasingly important that God’s children present no cause for criticism in this age. God expects those who are remade in the image of His Son to be attentive to the words we use. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…” (Eph.4:29). A few verses later, we are reminded that filthiness, foolish talking and coarse jesting “are not fitting” for saints of God (Eph.5:4). These prohibitions are not merely expressions of some arbitrary standard which God has chosen, but are rather intended to produce in us a reflection of God’s character. It is an issue of self-control, not only in expression, but in thought. After all, God is perfectly in control of Himself and His thoughts and His emotions. He treats others with dignity. He is selfless, kind, benevolent, and good. He is not earthy, crude, crass, or profane. And if we are to imitate Him and be people given to what is spiritual, eternal, and divine, then it must be reflected in the most clear expression of our mind – our words. Whether the issue involves some casual and irreverent reference to God (“Oh My God!”), or the most vulgar, profane, and filthy language imaginable, we simply cannot utter such and expect to be lights in the world, walking in His light, and proclaiming His praises.

It is ours, therefore, to censor what goes into our mind – what we watch; what we hear; what we read; those with whom we associate. We will be affected if we do not practice some discretion in those areas. And then it is ours to devote ourselves to a mind given to the Lord, focused upon honoring and glorifying Him and resulting in words that accomplish that end. There simply is no dignity, no reverence – no godliness – in profanity. No matter how common and accepted it is in our world.

— Russ Bowman