Campaign 2020 question: Do Christians see a difference between cussing and profanity?


A four-letter topic raised by campaign 2020: What does Christianity teach about cussing?


The vulgar lingo associated with military barracks, so tiresome and over-used in movies, cable TV shows and pop music, is filtering into U.S. politics.

Several candidates this campaign have gone potty-mouth, but it’s a specialty of “Beto” O’Rourke. He dropped the f-bomb in his Texas Senate concession speech last November and promised to “keep it clean” when a perturbed voter complained, only to backslide. His staff has made this a proud trademark, selling $30 T-shirts that display the expletive. Muslim Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib then imitated T-shirt sales to broadcast her own four-syllable obscenity.  O’Rourke also remarked of Donald Trump, “Jesus Christ, of course he’s racist.”

Contra Tlaib, is there a sexist double standard at work? Indiana University’s Michael Adams, the author of “In Praise of Profanity,” thinks filth that may possibly give male candidates a populist appeal will count against female candidates.

O’Rourke emulates Mr. Trump himself, who boasted in 2016 that he never uses the f-word though videotapes tell a different story. Last February, the President reportedly hurled three f-bombs at the nation’s leading Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, during a White House meeting, and later apologized.

A la O’Rourke, the latest Trump hubbub involves the name of God. Most media coverage of a North Carolina rally focused on the President for not lamenting the crowd’s racially tinged “send her back” chants against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Muslim immigrant. But some of the religious voters he relies upon were upset that he twice uttered “g–d—“ during that appearance. Soon after, he  uttered the same phrase in a talk to all House Republicans.

The Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer picked up the theme and noted correctly that “American culture tends to consider obscenities to be more taboo. An f-bomb sounds much more crude to most listeners than ‘hell’ or ‘goddamn’ or an exclamation of ‘Jesus Christ’.”  And abuse of the names of God or Jesus has become commonplace in TV news panels and dramas.

As Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior told Zauzmer, “theologically, that’s backwards. According to the Ten Commandments, protection of God’s honor and name are a priority item.”  She observed that taboos show what a culture values and does not value.

The Christian religion, allied with unambiguous Jewish tradition, is insistent that God and thus his name must always be held in honor, as prescribed in the familiar commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

The Catholic catechism extends this prohibition to language that demeans  the Virgin Mary, saints, the church, and “sacred things” otherwise. Christian writers on this agree that scriptural holiness rules out trifling with eternity or condemning people that God has created, which is the problem with saying “hell,” “damn,” and most especially “g–d—.”

There are national variations. In British tradition, as the new “Downton Abbey” movie indicates, “bloody” is not to be used in polite company, though those speaking this rarely consider what are thought to be underlying references to biblical kosher law or Christ’s Crucifixion.

The Bible is full of admonitions against verbiage with abuse of God, contempt toward people, or perversion. The folks at list 39 scriptural texts counseling propriety in language. Among these, Jesus warns that at the Last Judgment all people will need to account for “every careless word they utter” (Matthew 12:36), a scary thought.

What about blue language on sexual and bodily functions as opposed to abuse of God, for example Joe Biden’s famous whispered but clearly audible effing adjective  at the ceremony that celebrated passage of Obamacare?

Continue reading, “Campaign 2020 raises this one: What does Christianity teach about cussing?”, by Richard Ostling.

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