Shut the front door because we need to get real about our speech.
This isn’t a flippant or unnecessary discussion about language. We are living in a time of dangerous persecution and wars, so it seems like this topic may not be as important, but our words are always needed and used, so it remains an important topic.
Vulgarity is the norm in much of music and movies today, and this isn’t exactly a new concept. There has likely always been a set of phrases and words that have been labeled as distasteful or offensive in every language across cultures throughout history. As commonplace as it has become in our society, there are questions to be addressed about whether or not its a wrong or even sinful to use words that can be considered profane.
Words aren’t actions, how can they be immoral?
First, we need to clarify that it would be difficult to apply a blanket statement that classifies all use of profane words as immoral. Although, for the most part, profanity is labeled and used with an intended purpose, and it’s not positive. Usually, vulgar words are directed to insult, demean, or hurt others.
We also have to be honest about how much words really do mean to us. Words are the vehicle of our communication as humanity and make our thoughts, ideas, and intentions known to others. We can also be certain that they hold important meaning in the eyes of God because they are necessary in the vows and response of every sacrament. On the human level, it would be difficult to keep marriage to any standard without the vows shared and given publicly.
As Christians, we understand that we are responsible even the thoughts we choose to be our focus. Words even more so, because we understand that words are capable of hurting deeper than sticks and stones.
“No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”
– Ephesians 4:29
Are there any specific words that should always be avoided?
I think we could all agree that there are different levels of profanity. As vulgar as the f-word can be, its limit stops at insult. There are certain phrases that reach the level of curse whenever words are used to ask for God’s condemnation, damnation, and sending someone or something to Hell. We will be held accountable for our words and judgments like these condemn us instead of the recipient.
Then there is blasphemy. It’s more than irreverence, God directly condemns the profaning of His name in the 10 Commandments. There is power in the name of Jesus, and we commit a grave injustice if we treat it like it means nothing or worse get, using His name in degrading a situation. Profanation of His name is always blasphemous.
“Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment… The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ’s Church, the saints, and sacred things… [and] is in itself a grave sin”
– CCC 2148
Are there situations when cussing is permissible?
There is a wide selection of words that are not about blasphemy or condemnation – they are simply vulgar. There could be a case that certain situations excuse or possibly necessitate their use, but that would be uncommon. St Josemaria Escriva had some words to say about this.
“What conversations! What vulgarity and what dirt! And you have to associate with them, in the office, in the university, in the operating-theatre…, in the world.
Ask them if they wouldn’t mind stopping, and they laugh at you. Look annoyed, and they get worse. Leave them, and they continue.
This is the solution: first pray for them, and offer up some sacrifice; then face them like a man and make use of the ‘strong language apostolate’. — The next time we meet I’ll tell you — in a whisper — a few useful words.”
– The Way – 850
It is possible that there may be select instances when it facilitates a specific situation like a cop speaking with someone that only speaks that way. Even in these very select situations, there are likely ways to avoid it, and that path should be the preference.
“Let not your mouth form the habit of swearing, or becoming too familiar with the Holy Name…[O]ne who swears continually by the Holy Name will not remain free from sin.”
– Sirach 23:9
Here’s a concluding thought. Repetition forms tendencies and those become habits. Our habits often lead us to act upon them without evening thinking about their meaning. This desensitization could lead to unfortunate situations of speaking crudely in very inappropriate situations. Worse still, in the case that your death comes through an act of sudden shock, they could be the last words you speak out of vice.
There are many reasons why we shouldn’t use vulgar words in an attempt to live a virtuous life, but in the end, the choice is up to you. We were given the freedom to use the same tongue that receives our Lord in the Eucharist to speak as we choose. I hope we all choose wisely.
“It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes him impure; it is what comes out of his mouth… Do you not see that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is discharged into the latrine, but what comes out of the mouth originates in the mind? It is things like these that make a man impure”
– Matthew 15:11, 17-18