I grew up in an educated and religious family. My father held a Doctor of Pharmacy and served as a deacon and later as an elder in his church. Even into his late 80s he taught Bible classes in his congregation, nursing homes, and a residential drug treatment center.
Needless to say, how we used words in our family had significance.
My dad took a very dim view of cursing on two fronts. One, he felt that cursing did not reflect the spirit of Jesus as demonstrated in the Bible. He understood that cursing implied a curse against others. It was insensitive and hurtful. Secondly, he viewed it as a demonstration of ignorance. If one could not use the English language effectively without resorting to curse words, well then one didn’t have a firm grasp of the language. It showed poor education.
Don’t get me wrong, as a teenager I experimented with all the nuances of the English language including the words my father would have disapproved. And, yes, I am ashamed to say, I used all of the words.
Now, as an adult, even mild coarse words still make me feel a little uncomfortable.
But it is the 21st century and what was once considered completely out of line has almost become common and acceptable.
Some argue that the constant use of curse words destroy their impact and dramatic effect. Others see it as the coarsening of culture. Still others suggest the curse words are no longer curse words because of their commonness.
However, I am most concerned how cursing demonstrates a darker side of our culture: violence.
For instance, take the most unacceptable word of them all–the word that guarantees the “R” rating: yes, the “F-word”. It refers to the act of sexual intercourse. And if we seriously consider what people actually say: it is a word of violence.
To pronounce this curse against someone is not to say “have sexual intercourse”. It is actually wishing for someone to force sexual intercourse upon you.
In other words: rape.
“Oh, come on! That’s just an over-reaction,” someone may object—but, really? What are you meaning to say, then with this phrase? (Then why don’t you actually say what you mean instead of using this word?)
The word has a meaning. You are not suggesting the person have a pleasant experience with his or her lover, are you? No, it is a curse: a harmful wish upon another person. It is to treat another person as if he or she is less than human.
If that is not your intent, then why do you use this word? Because it is commonly used? Because it is conveniently dramatic?
At worst, it is a demonstration of contempt, at best: verbal and intellectual laziness.
All curse words are either harmful wishes upon another person or an expression meant to dehumanize. When a woman is referred to as a canine, she is being identified as not-human and therefore worth less than a person. You are saying she’s not even worth a house-hold pet, but you are really referring to her as a used up feral hound. When an African-American is referred to with a contemptuous racist label it brings back memories of when people of color were treated as property and viewed as sub-human. On it goes.
Am I surprised that people in our society use such words? No, why should I be? But if I am a person who is dedicated to developing the mind and attitude of Jesus why in the world would I want to use language that demeans, dehumanizes, and promotes violence in any way? How in the name of the most loving One who seeks to lift us up to our highest potentials would we even want to use such language?
It does not do to say flippantly that the culture determines what is a curse word and therefore since these words are no longer socially unacceptable to a wide group within our culture they cease being curses. After all, words like raca are meaningless in our language. And what about words like stupid and fool?
I would argue “stupid” and “fool” are equally vile when referring to another human being and should be avoided. And the intent of raca is captured by many of our curse words that are becoming “socially acceptable.” (Don’t you have rules in your house for your children not to call each other stupid? Children experiment with words they hear all the time and adults try to help them navigate away from unacceptable usage. If it is so bad for them to use it against each other, then why do we think it is acceptable for adults to use it or any words like it? Is it somehow a demonstration of sophistication and maturity to become infantile?)
I will say it again: Words have meanings. Acceptable or not, would you truly wish rape on someone? Would you truly wish to dehumanize someone who was created in the image of God? Do you wish to demonstrate contempt toward anyone?
If you don’t, then why use these words? If you do, then you have a more serious problem.
Paul argues in Ephesians that we should put away coarse jesting, silly talk, and obscene language because it does not build others up but tears them down.
Followers of Christ, let’s follow his mind and speak only in ways that lift people up rather than tear them down. I would think that positive speech and building others up by refusing to speak contemptuously of another person would be more attractive to people in general.