"Shock for the sake of shock forces the popular culture to accept the darker
side of angry music, which filters into the vernacular of everyday speech and is
absorbed by those who should know better. Rappers black and white revel in the
obscene, the sadistic, the racist and the nihilistic, and they're defended as
mere reflectors of 'authentic experience.' Pop culture has often appealed to our
baser instincts and that doesn't automatically make it bad. But when it is bad
it's important to say so... 'Obscenity has become the preferred weapon of those
willing to do anything to get a rise out of the public,' writes Martha Bayles in
her book Hole in the Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American
Popular Music. That's what Imus and the rappers have in common." -Suzanne
Fields, "T'ain't Funny, Imus" Washington Times Online, April 16, 2007
There has been no shortage of opinions and the expression of opinions concerning the fall of Imus.
Frankly, I've not expressed a lot about the affair. Imus is not a Christ-follower to my knowledge, nor does he appear to be a person who attempts to personify the golden rule or the two greatest commands according to Jesus ("love God and love your neighbor"). He has made a living out of trying to offend and shock people's sensibilities, so pardon my yawn and lack of surprise.
However, the entire situation has given an opportunity for people to pause and consider our discourse both public and private. While I haven't read a lot about the coarsening of discourse in our society, I haven't been living in a vacuum. It has become obvious our language has become more and more obscene (literally "against the senses"), vulgar, and coarse.
At the risk of being labeled a prude, I have to admit I am a little taken back by how coarse our language has become over the past twenty years. Words which were reserved for very private conversation--or even avoided all together, are now used in public speech--even among those who call themselves followers of Christ, especially words used to describe bodily functions. Even some Christian weblogs are filled with invective and obscenity to the point I think the wallpaper background would be more appropriately colored blue.
I can't help but get the idea when I see and hear Christians using curse words it comes off as some little tyke speaking "naughty words" to see just what kind of effect he can get from his listeners. Hardly a mature use of language.
Why do we do this? In the play Inherit the Wind, the character Henry Drummond suggests the English language should be used to its fullest extent, curses and all. I've heard some people suggest the occasional curse rams a point home. Others have said, cursing is all relative to one's culture. There are words used in the UK as common and non-controversial that would be considered horrific here and vice versa.
All of this is true. But are these really appropriate arguments for the wide-spread use of curse words in public discourse?
When cursing becomes common, it no longer rams a point home, does it? There are still boundaries even the most colorful speaker will not cross with language ("well I wouldn't say that in front of her!")--why? What does such reluctance tell us? While language usage is relative according to one's culture, does that mean one should ignore or offend cultural sensitivities?
Those who are Christ-followers claim to give the attitude or mind of Christ as the central authority in ethical behavior. The Bible comes in second as a guide for ethical behavior.
Paul in Ephesians 5:3, 4 says this: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity or greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (NIV).
In Colossians 3:5-8, Paul says something fairly similar:
And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. (The Message)Jesus covers this much more generically when he speaks of treating others the way you wish to be treated and to bless those who curse you. Some how I cannot picture Jesus spewing out a series of four-letter words in order to make a point. He even makes it a point to deal with a curse of contempt in his own day: Whoever says 'Raca' to his brother shall stand condemned before the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the land. (Matthew 5:22)
But is this really that important? What is the big deal with cursing, anyway? It's just a form of communication! Why not use the English language to its full potential? Isn't this the best way to identify with the folks we wish to reach?
No it isn't. Cursing is a form of contempt. Contemptuous language seems out of place for Christ-followers, doesn't it? And when I use the word "curse" I include in it all terms of degradation including racist and sexist terms. Consider the term "curse word." Even it's name means condemnation. By using these words I am cursing another human being. I am demonstrating a lack of compassion for a person, I am being inconsiderate of their concerns and humanity.
I remember taking a couple of adolescent boys to task when standing in line for a theme park. At the time my daughters were ages nine and three. These two guys in front of me began cursing each other in language bad enough to make the screen writers of Good Will Hunting blush. They were offended when I pointed out the presence of my children and my wife. But their entire demeanor and attitude was of such to suggest no one else in line had any rights or concerns worth being considered. Their language was a demonstration of pure disrespect toward others.
Dallas Willard makes this observation in his book The Divine Conspiracy,
Recently cultural observers have noted the overwhelming rise in the use of filthy language, especially among young people. Curiously, few have been able to find any grounds for condemning it other than personal taste. How strange! Can it be that they actually find contempt acceptable, or are unable to recognize it? Filthy language and name calling is always an expression of contempt. The current swarm of filthy language floats upon the sea of contempt in which society is now adrift.Am I suggesting we should always react horrified whenever talking with people who use cursing as their primary language? Am I suggesting we should take every person to task any time they utter some little profanity?
Of course not.
You don't respond to contempt with contempt. Remember, when cursed, bless. My own personal reaction is this: there is line I draw when someone is speaking very abusively (including racist speech) in front of children. I won't sit still for that. This is a matter of protecting the innocent from verbal abuse.
However, when a person "innocently" curses or uses coarse language in my presence my reaction is to be polite. I ignore the language and treat the person with respect.
I learned this from a dear friend of mine, Jim Hastings. Jim eventually was to become the best man at my wedding. When we were in college together I cursed a blue streak. Jim never cursed in my presence. He was a youth minister. I knew this, but it never slowed down my cursing.
One day in the middle of an invective, I stopped and realized the inappropriateness of my words. Jim, who never even seemed to notice or comment on my bad choice of words was standing beside me.
"Jim, does it bother you when I talk this way?" I asked.
"Well, Darryl--not personally. I just let it roll off my back like water off a duck."
Jim's non-judgmental attitude and compassion toward me had the effect of helping me to clean up my language. I was changed by his acceptance of me, not by his participation in my obscene language. Now if Jim had stood there and lectured me about what kind of perverted sinner I was, I doubt I would have given him the time of day.
I think his attitude had something to do with treating someone the way he wanted to be treated. Come to think about it, isn't that the point?
Think about it.