Yes, The Words You Use Are A Moral Issue

While we would expect that websites of the same interests would overlap, especially when current events and trending topics are covered. However, last week was unique as I watched, over the course of my normal reading, that there was a common theme that existed across a number of unrelated blogs, news sites, and topical discussions. What theme captured the attention of these independent readers and writers? The increasing use of vulgar language in our society.
Some stories covered the increased use in the culture as a whole, while others tracked the increased used within literature. Each offered statistics and proof that few would, or even could, discredit. The increased use of language that is vulgar and derogatory is no surprise, however, the conclusions reached during the course of these language studies is surprising and provokes us to look deeper at the issues driving this increased use with greater detail.

The Conclusions

One article in particular catches more attention as it highlights the work of San Diego State University psychologist Jean M. Twenge. One conclusion reached is that words are merely changing and those words that were once considered taboo are no longer being designated as such. The reasoning? Those words that were once considered extreme are losing the factor not because the language itself is changing, but because the use of those words is becoming more frequent. This has long been an argument by many trying to rationalize the use of such language, and so the conclusion is predictable. However, it is perhaps the principal conclusion reached by researchers and writers that many would find startling. The report indicates that the reason for increased cussing and vulgarity is not the result of a decline in morals or manners, but rather an increase in individualism and self-expression.

The Reality

While the conclusions are interesting to read, critical thinking suggests that there is more to the story than those mere judgments. First, we look at the concept that the taboo factor is decreasing. The assertion is not out of line to some degree. However, much more is at stake here. First, the article itself asserts that other words that may be considered taboo (although not analyzed in the study) can include “Jesus Christ” or “hell” because they would not be appropriate discussion except in particular contexts and circumstances. What does this tell us then? Not merely that the taboo factor is decreasing on certain words, but the measurement by which the taboo factor is utilized is changing. That measurement is a standard set by preferences and convictions which are forged by the morals and moral influences that one has.
Such an assertion goes against the conclusion that the vulgar language is increasing not because of a decrease in morals. In fact, we can sufficiently argue that individualism is a moral issue in itself. The idea of the self as the only source of direction and conviction has created a culture in compromise as it is. The debates that are dominating our media about what is considered moral and right versus what is not are the result of an individualism that says “I dictate what is right or wrong and cannot be influenced by any outside sources.” Without considering the influence and motivation of God, one can already see that individualism impacts moralism. Therefore, our use of language is a moral issue, despite the conclusions being asserted.

The Principles

As Christians, we look upon this increase in vulgar language with a concern about what this means for Christians. With an increasing use there also comes greater influence, and therefore Christians should desire to be on guard against that influence. Those hedges of protection come from three primary principles:
  1. Out of the Mouth: Paul warns believers in Ephesians 4:29 to guard their mouth using it to build up and edify one another. What comes out of the mouth should be that which has the propensity to be graceful to others.
  2. Into the Mind: Several times throughout the epistles there is a warning about what to put into the mind. In fact, the concept of transformation by the renovation of the mind is developed in the New Testament (cf. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). The Jewish leaders and the Greek philosophers would all agree with an important unstated premise in these passages: what comes out in your life depends upon what goes into the mind. For this reason, it is important to put the things of the Lord into the mind (cf. Colossians 3:1) so that what comes out of one’s mouth fulfills Ephesians 4:29.
  3. Into the Heart: Like the mind, the heart impacts what comes out in the life as well. Consider Matthew 15:18 which states: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart . . . “ Not only is it important to guard what goes into the mind, but also the heart.
In light of the continuing cultural compromise, Christians must be guarded. These three principles act as guides for the Christian in regards to how to protect one’s self from the increasing use of vulgar language and what should be permitted to come out of one’s personal use of language.

Despite the claim, language is a moral issue. The question is what or who dictates the morals that one utilizes when deciding how to use his or her words. Simple use of vulgar language does not take away its vulgarity, but only desensitizes people to its use. For Christians then, it becomes a matter of Christian conscience to be guided by the principles of the Lord’s word when we take in and disperse words. The words we use require caution, consideration, and contemplation because the power they contain.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash