A Cursory View at Profanity and Cussing

Is cussing (known also as using profanity) ungodly or unrighteous?  Is it wrong for a Christian to cus?  What is wrong with profanity? After all, you can find these words in the dictionary and they actually have real meanings. Many Christians will tell you that profanity is ungodly speech. Few of them will actually know definitely what the word profanity, thus profane, means. What does the word profane and profanity really mean?

Profane means: "To treat something sacred with abuse, irreverence, or contempt: desecrate, to debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use." It also means "Not concerned with religion or religious purposes: secular, not holy because not consecrated, impure, or defiled: unsanctified."

So profanity is "the quality or state of being profane, the use of profane language."

Now you can see right away that profane language has little to do with cuss (swearing) words. Many people confuse cuss words with profane language though the two are not the same. It is possible to use a cuss word and not be profane at all in the absolute sense. Please note that I am not getting at that it is OK for Christians to cuss. My point will be made clear at the end. A simple look at the etymology of the so-called cuss words will shine much light on their meaning. A history of these words will also give us a clue as to why we consider them profane, cuss words, or bad language. As a matter of fact, bad language is probably the best definition to use here since bad (and good) is relative terms. We’ll see why later.

We see that it is possible to use profane language without using cuss words just as easy as it is to cuss without being profane (in an absolute sense). All so-called cuss words have real meanings. However, they have an extreme taboo associated with them and are therefore deemed forbidden or bad language or even profane by our own society.

Let’s look at a scripture that was used in an article to show that Christians should not use profanity (cuss words or swearing).

(Titus 2:7-8 KJV) In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, {8} Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

If you look up the key words in this verse in the Strong's concordance (dictionary) then you can easily come to the NIV's rendering, which is:

(Titus 2:7-8 NIV) In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness {8} and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

In actuality, these verses have nothing to do with profanity--or do they? The issue at hand isn't whether you cuss or not--or is it? How can we get from this verse to an admonishment of profanity? The key is to understand the principle and not the rule. It is easy to say that profanity is not Christ-like. However, that is mere religion or self-righteousness and not living by the Spirit (in an absolute sense). We must consider our knowledge of the word profanity. For example the British consider the word "bloody" as a type of cuss or swear word. They may say you "bloody moron" for example and to them it is swearing. Americans however don’t consider it a cuss word. In Australia "bloody" is a common all-purpose adjective. (from etymology of "bad words")

What this tells us is that cussing or ‘bad language" is particular to a land, culture, or people. What one group considers offensive may not be offensive at all to another group of people. Therefore, we cannot say that Christians should not use this word or that. It is safe to say that Christians should not cuss (swear) use bad language because of the taboo associated with these. For example, if you hang around drunks then you may be labeled a drunk. If you hang around hoodlums then you may be perceived as a hoodlum. If you cuss all of the time, then you will be perceived as a profane and ungodly person. Not because of any Biblical rule but because of associations established by our society.

I am going to say something that may seem really extreme. In an absolute sense, that is, pure Bible doctrine, it is not wrong to say cuss words. That is, God is not going to strike you with lightening or put an X by your name if you cuss. However, there is another principle that encourages or even forbids Christian not to cuss (whatever cussing is in your society). Basically it is the association or taboo of certain words or more precisely language that discourages us from using "bad" words (I like that phrase better than profanity). Swearing (cussing) is "bad" for a Christian because our society says it is bad thus imposing a taboo on these words and phrases and we don’t want to be associated with "bad" rather God and godliness. What would you think if your pastor or ministry leader swore all of the time. It would have a very negative impact on your relationship with or respect of him or her.

Back to the previous scripture quoted above. We have to look at the phrase "soundness of speech" to get an idea of what the previous scripture is really saying. First of all, soundness of speech does not mean cussing specifically. Soundness means pure, fit, and sure. So soundness of speech means to have a speech that is pure and undefiled. This is not speaking of individual words that you say. It is more concerned with the type of language you use and the messages that come from your mouth. A better scripture to use regarding bad language is:

(Ephesians 4:29 KJV) Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Corruption tears down and defiles. Therefore, what comes out of our mouth should edify instead of spreading corruption.

Profanity is not the same as corruption. Cussing is not the same as profanity. All of these are separate issues that Christians should be aware of when confronted by people of the world. It is not enough to say that Christians should swear or swearing is bad for example. We must be ready to defend (explain) what we believe.

Now let us take another look at profanity. Profanity is not a language though language can be used to be profane. Profanity is to treat a godly thing with contempt or disrespect. It would be like spitting on the floors of the church pulpit or speaking gossip against the man or women of God. Profanity is treating anything that is holy (sacred, set apart) for God’s use with contempt as though it means nothing. We can do this by gestures, actions, and speech. We can be profane without one cuss word.

Why should a Christian avoid profanity including profane language? Because the Christian should respect those things that are holy. How can we love, obey, and live for God if we treat him with contempt? The book of Malachi deals with this issue. Profanity (in language, action, deed, or even thought) shows disrespect for God and what belongs to him and what is holy to him. Therefore, a Christian should not be profane since profanity shows division within. The division exists because by saying we are a Christian, we confess to being holy and being of God. Profanity on the other hand states that we don’t care about holy things.

Why shouldn’t a Christian Cuss (swear)? Swearing has a bad association. It is taboo. Therefore, a Christian shouldn’t swear because it would associate us with that which is considered taboo, forbidden, of just bad. Christians want to be associated with those things that are good. Both of these must be lined up with the Bible in matters of what is good and what is bad.

I did all this to clear up the following excerpt from an article I read.

Profanity has become acceptable in almost every setting. It's commonplace, and it's not limited to less-educated people. Profanity indicates a lack of self-control, good
taste, and a limited vocabulary. Make sure you are not a participant. This kind of talk is off-limits for Christian. No one you work with should ever be able to remember
hearing a profane word from you.

Read Titus 2:7-8.

This is a blanket statement that isn’t precise enough to be very useful in the real world of thinking human beings. The statement above makes a presupposition that profanity is associated primarily with less-educated people. This is far from the truth. All have been profane at one time or another. Profanity is not a lack of self-control, good taste or a limited vocabulary. Cussing, as it appears these statements are referring to, in many instances is an expression of emotional content and nothing more. Think of the guy who just whacked his head on something and then begins to cuss in pain. However, since it is taboo it is considered bad for Christians and "moral" people alike.

Please note that I am not saying that we should blindly conform to the socially accepted things. Society itself is not godly so we can’t conform blindly to it. However, God is over all and God influences society. We must also note that "good" and "bad" are relative terms. What society says is good may not be good according to God’s word. What society says is bad may not be an issue in God’s word. Sometimes Christians as a whole and individuals are left out or ostracized because they refuse to conform to what society says is acceptable. Their decision is based on their interpretation and understanding of God’s word in the Bible. Therefore, they judge what is right or acceptable and what is wrong or unacceptable according to the Bible’s teaching and not society.

With that said we see that we can’t just say that we won’t use profanity because as society changes and our culture changes the application of profanity changes. The word of God should be the final judge and not merely society. It is not politically correct to be just politically correct depending on whose politics you use. Remember when certain words would never have been allowed on a record or television show. Now, since society has changed, sex, foul language, vulgarity, and more are typical components on radio, television, and in entertainment. This shows how society changes and even is degrading.  Profanity is therefore an idea and not a definite thing. It is a social protocol or the breaking of such. These protocols change as we change, however, God’s word doesn’t change and that is what gives us stability.

Now we can ask ourselves when was the last time we were profane. When was the last time we treated the holy thing with contempt? Just because you haven't cussed or used foul language doesn't mean you weren't profane.  Alas. Profanity takes on a whole new meaning when we think about it and discover what it really means. The cussing protocol is relatively easy to follow. Just don’t say the socially unaccepted words. However, profanity is more precise and more significant.

What is the principle of all of this? The principle is that of being godly instead of simply practicing a form of godliness or being religious. Being godly is simply to live according to the Spirit of God. Practicing religion is simply to abide by the religious rules set before us. This is unacceptable for a lifestyle of true godliness. Some of the most religious people are some of the most ungodly in that they don’t show forth the love of God or the attributes of the Spirit of God.

In application, it is not enough to say that Christians shouldn’t cuss or swear. Being holy will eliminate such things. Also, we may find that a lot of things we are told are not completely understood by those who tell us. This is a very important thing because when we minister to people we MUST know what we believe and why. Without that we can be twisted, confused, and whipped by the logic of men.

So know why you believe what you believe and don't just regurgitate stuff that you were told.

As a final note I must say that Christians, in my opinion, should not cuss or swear.   The taboo on these type of words is so strong that they would corrupt any life giving words that you may give to someone.  How can you minister to Jesus if you are swearing.