“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”
It’s said that Tony Campolo would often begin speeches with the previous quote, and it’s a great example of how certain people get offended by the wrong things.
People all over the world, even the western world, are being persecuted solely on the basis of who they happen to be sexually attracted to. Much of the time this persecution is perpetuated by those claiming to follow Christ. People in the US are going into debt because they had the gall to get sick or be injured and require medical care, and many of the people insisting this debt should continue to be forced upon them are also Christians. Children and adults alike are going hungry all over the world, even in America, while there’s more than enough food in the world to feed every single one of them. Many women, often while they’re still just children, are forced to be sex slaves, even here in the west. People are arrested and thrown into prison every day for the crime of ingesting (or even simply possessing) a plant that God created, while actually harmful drugs are allowed to be created by greedy companies and sold to us in order to make these rich men even richer. And politicians continue to create unjust and harmful laws all over the world, again, even here in the west; and what’s worse, a large majority of people often actually support these laws because they think their deity will bless them if these rules are created and obeyed.
Most of us have become desensitized to these tragic everyday realities. Honestly, most of us really just don’t care (if we cared we’d do something about it). Yet, while these horrible things don’t phase most Christians anymore, some still get terribly offended when they hear certain sounds or read specific combinations of letters. And, let’s be honest, that’s all swearing or profanity really is.
I’m not going to exegete all the passages in the Bible about language, though I will quickly point out that saying “oh my God” isn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain since “God” isn’t even close to being the Lord’s name in Scripture (and the commandment isn’t talking about profanity either anyway; it’s basically referring to perjury after swearing not to while using the Lord’s name in your oath). Instead I’ll point out the hypocrisy, not to mention haughtiness, of having trouble with profanity.
All profanity means is “outside the temple,” ie., anything that isn’t sacred. I won’t get into the problems with the secular/sacred dualism most Christians hold to, but technically anything non-religious is “profane,” not just certain words. However, pretending for a moment that certain words are more profane than others, the idea that words can be bad in the first place quickly becomes comical when you begin to deconstruct the idea.
Let’s break it down. Is it the particular combination of letters, or the specific sound the word makes when spoken, that makes a word wrong to use? It’s obviously ridiculous to think so, otherwise the words “damn,” “hell,” and “ass” shouldn’t be read in the KJV Bible, or said in a homily, as they’d be just as inherently bad in Scripture or sermon as when spoken in everyday parlance.
Is it the meaning behind the word? If so, simply saying “sexual intercourse” (or “rats” or “ouch” any other number of euphemisms) would be just as bad as saying “fuck;” and “crap” or “faeces” would be just as bad as saying “shit.”
Is it the intent behind the words? For instance, is it okay to say fuck if you’re referring to sex, or just using it as a playful adjective, but wrong to use in anger against another person? I’m okay with this, but only as much as I am with the idea that we shouldn’t be saying anything with the intention of hurting another person (whether in anger or not), regardless of what words we’re using.
When it comes right down to it, getting offended by these “vulgar” words implies that you think you’re too good to hear everyday, common language, and that you probably need to be brought down a peg or two.
Honestly, the old childhood saying about sticks and stones is true, and words can only hurt you if you let them. But, if you really insist on being offended by certain words, how about choosing to be offended by those words intended to hurt people who don’t happen to share your particular values or preferences instead of words that simply add a bit of colour to everyday speech.
But I’ll make a compromise. Get offended by the many injustices and atrocities being committed not only around the world but even in your own backyard, and I mean offended enough to actually do something about it, and I’ll try to pretend you’re not a snob when you turn up your nose at everyday language. And I won’t even say the word uterus around you if that helps.