Living the Christian mandate of no coarse talk in today’s f-ing discourseApril 17, 2019
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. – Ephesians 5:4
…references are many…
So how do Christians participate in the discourse of a culture of coarse talk?
One way is to become linguistic gymnasts. This week, in the Supreme Court of the United States, the Justices did their dead level best not to say the word. The Justices were hearing oral arguments in a First Amendment cast involving a clothing line called FUCT. Desiring not to go there, we hear the Justices use tortured verbal constructions including:
- Chief Justice John Roberts described it as the “vulgar word at the heart of the case”
- Justice Samuel Alito called it “the word your client wants to use”
- Justice Stephen Breyer called it “the word at issue”
At issue is whether or not the government can restrict certain speech as “scandalous” or “immoral” by refusing trademark protection to companies like FUCT. Arguing on behalf of the government, Malcolm Stewart went to great lengths to not say the word calling it “the equivalent of the profane past participle form of a well-known word of profanity and perhaps the paradigmatic word of profanity in our language.”
But the word is ubiquitous in the culture today which leads us to ask whether or not it is any longer scandalous.
Presidential candidates don’t seem to think so and neither do those consuming much of what passes for entertainment today. Democratic Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke employs the f-word freely and characterizes it as evidence of his unscripted authenticity.
Earlier this week in a New York magazine cover story about Mayor Pete Buttigieg, also a 2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful, Olivia Nuzzi writes, “I asked Buttigieg if he was afraid he would [eff] this up.” He replied: “Anytime you’re in a position of responsibility, you’re afraid of [effing] it up.”
Let’s pause there for a moment.
A journalist asked and a Presidential candidate responded – using the word she used – and no one here seems to recognize a civil boundary has been breached. No one is pausing to consider the coarse talk. No one including the candidate who publicly touts his Christian bona fides.
Back in December, Slate asked: “Why Are There So Many F**king Best-sellers Right Now With F**k in the Title?” Among those was a picture book entitled, “Go the F**k to Sleep” and a book that is now in its 121st week on the NY Times bestseller list for advice entitled, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.” Blogger Mark Manson is the author and his message is, “Not giving a [f—] does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.” Suffice it to say, the f-word appears prominently throughout.
In the culture, the f-word is impossible to avoid. From the bestseller list to the Supreme Court to the 2020 Presidential campaign trail, journalists (and the rest of us) try to figure out how to maintain our ethics while all the world is using a word we’re committed to never say.
So what? You may ask. Why care? Because it tells us something about our culture when the ultimate epithet becomes a part of everyday discourse. When our words become coarse it is evidence of what’s taking place in our heads and hearts. Here’s the real question for Christians: How do we converse with others when the discourse has not only coarsened but become downright vulgar?
This is a worldview conversation and here we recognize the moral change is accompanied by change in language. Words that once meant one thing, now mean another. The process of normalization of behaviors and practices once considered anathema get rationalized and then euphamised. Consider the process of rebranding abortion (it’s not murder, its healthcare) or euthanasia (its not murder and its not suicide, it’s death with dignity), or fornication and adultery (those aren’t violations against God or your spouse or marriage itself, its just hooking up). What you call something actually matters. Moral change requires a change in language and as the cultural discourse coarsens, we should see in that evidence of a hardening of hearts as the truth about sin is exchanged for euphemistic lies.
Don’t see it? Start looking. Listen and look this week for words euphemistically substituted for sin. You will see and hear that which is morally wrong described as inappropriate, an oversight, alternative, or progressive. That which the Bible clearly reveals as sin from God’s perspective, is considered a part of the array of options available to morally autonomous people today. We have reached the place where it seems nothing is morally out of bounds and, as the book of Judges describes, everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes – and you better not judge that!
As Christians, we know better. In fact, as Christians we actually know Good. So, use good words, bear good witness, be good and do good – that the culture might pause and see the strangeness of people who refuse to engage in coarse talk.