Profane, Obscene, and Indecent Speech


     It appears that many Americans have reached the bottom when it comes to profane, obscene, and indecent speech. Many seem to see absolutely no correlation between a person’s speech and the character of the person thus speaking. A number of religious teachings that advocate when God looks at you, he does not see you, but his Son Jesus Christ and how you live is irrelevant to your salvation have been influential in encouraging such thinking as we stand detached from how we live. Notwithstanding, the scriptures clearly indicate the importance of speech. Speech can either justify or condemn. Jesus said, "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12: 37, see addendum 1). It seems that everywhere one looks today, there is a concerted effort to pollute with profanity, obscenity, and indecency. There appears to be a race to see just how corrupt we can make our speech, even movie and television ratings are being determined by just how vile the language is. Such language, I submit, is not innocent and inconsequential, as we shall see. Let us begin our study of profane, obscene, and indecent speech by noticing some common and simple definitions.

     Definitions of our key words. Profane is commonly defined as,: "Characterized by irreverence for God or sacred things" (Random House College Dictionary, p. 1056). Obscene: "Offensive to modesty or decency; indecent; lewd. Causing or intended to cause sexual excitement or lust" (p. 917). A simple definition of indecent is, "Offending against recognized standards of propriety or good taste; vulgar" (p. 675, see addendum 2). There are other classifications of speech, some of which we shall notice in our expansion.

     Profane, obscene, and indecent speech and civil law. In view of the causual way in which many use the sort of language being discussed, one might not think that such language is against the law, but to my knowledge this type of speech is illegal in all states. Needless to say, a violation of these public speech laws is seldom enforced.

     Such may appear laughable today, but it is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours. Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing these laws. The FCC may revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture, or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent, or profane material (Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1464, prohibits the utterance of "any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication.").

     Those who abuse the ability of man to utter words and syntax, one of the abilities that distinguishes man from the lower animals, fall back on, "The First Amendment provides freedom of speech!" Beloved, the First Amendment never was intended to provide profane, obscene, and indecent speech (see addendum 3).

     The Supreme Court in an attempt to define and illustrate what they believe constitutes "obscene broadcasts" has set up a three-pronged test. Indecent speech in connection with the FCC is perhaps the most subjective and situational, yet, even man’s laws and values recognize the impropriety of such language (I am aware of the various circumstances and rulings of the FCC involving, at times, the matter of the nature of the content, the time of the content, and the intended audience of the speech. I am not appealing to the FCC as the standard of the Christian, but to illustrate the universal repulsiveness of such language).

     During December of 2008, there was a discussion on one of the talk shows that airs on radio in my area. These particular talk show hosts had some appreciation of speech and were concerned about "profane," "obscene," and/or "indecent" speech that is becoming so common in our American culture. One caller said, reflecting a too common attitude of parents:

     "I have a nine year old boy and we are allowing, even encouraging him to use whatever language he desires, including all manner of ‘swearing,’ ‘cursing,’ and ‘course references to various body parts and sexual acts.’ They are going to talk this way, regardless. So, you might as well allow such. Yes, my husband and I also use such speech before him."

     Relative to the subject of the kind of public speech used, one said:

"I confess: I'm 17, a junior in religious high school, and I swear a lot.  Everyone always goes on and on how using the swearing words are wrong. But why are they? I mean all they are, are a couple words that don't really mean anything, and the only reason I like using them is because when you can't find a word strong enough to describe how you feel, usually one of the swearing words does the job."

     There are, no doubt, a myriad of influences when it comes to the use and, yea, even popularity of the kind of speech being reviewed. Rap music is at the very head of such a list. Television is a manifest major source of the spread of trashy language as well as Hollywood, the music scene in general, etc. Many, alas, are now desensitized and are not even aware of such language.

     Consider what the scriptures teach: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4: 29). I know that words can and do change their meaning, but in every language man has devised some way to violently condemn others to hell, speak disparagingly of God, invent vile words for body parts and waste, and just in general use language to be repulsive and disgusting.

     I am aware that many speak without thinking. However, such thoughtlessness does not justify heinous speech. Words have meaning and tone and we need to deliberately use speech. Speech has been used to accomplish all manner of things: "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell" (Jas. 3: 6). The human tongue can also involve a lofty use: "Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God" (Jas. 3: 9). On occasion, the same tongue that praises God in one instance is also used to curse man, this is a point James is making. Moreover, notice James’ illustration of the fountain (vs. 11). The water comes from the source and is constant.

     It is common, even popular with some today to take God’s name in vain (profane speech). "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain," the third law in the Ten Commandment Code states, Exodus 20: 7. This law has all the requisite requirements to be considered a moral law, changeless and forever binding on man. The frivolous taking of oaths in which God’s name is invoked is taking God’s name in vain (cp. Matt. 23: 16ff., Matt. 5: 33ff., such expressions as "gee," "good heavens," etc. are what we call euphemisms and constitute oaths and thus used, involved using God’s name in vain).

     Speaking "things which ought not" involves a misuse of the tongue. Regarding certain young widows in a given circumstance, Paul wrote: "And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not" (I Tim. 5:13). Such speech may not necessarily be profane, obscene, and/or indecent, but it can involve inappropriate content and the revealing of private matters to others, what we might call gossip.

     It is high time that America cleans up its speech (see Addendum 2). If we still had the foul mouths to wash their mouths with soap, soap stock no doubt would soar! The way we talk indicates our values, respect for others, and thinking in general. One who loves others will not be cursing them (hatefully condemning them). One who respects womanhood will not be using words that deprecate women. Do not be fooled into thinking that the speech one uses is inconsequential. Our speech reveals who and what we really are. Jesus taught: "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things" (Matt. 12: 33-35).

     The ideal speech is, "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man" (Col. 4: 6). We must avoid profane, obscene, and indecent speech or "corrupt speech" as well as all other speech condemned in the Bible and use speech "…good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4: 29). May we have the attitude and desire of David: "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me" (Ps. 39: 1).

     Addendum 1: Jesus in the context of Matthew 12: 37 has in mind "idle words" (v. 36). "Idle words" contextually involves words of blasphemy or speaking against the Spirit (vs. 22-37). Hence, such words are not simply words lacking substance, but they are words that express evil sentiment, even sinful accusation.

     Addendum 2: Again, these definitions are simple and I realize that there are more expansive, legal definitions. Such is seen in the FCC rulings and laws regulating the public air ways. Relative to such matters, it is ridiculous how common sense in defining and testing speech seems to have vanished in many circles. Disgusting words publicly expressing hatred, irreverence for God, the verbal abuse of females, degradation for sacred acts such as marital acts of procreation and the expression of true love between a husband and wife, vile human excrement, and using vulgar language to reference body parts are now said to be a part of a legitimate vocabulary and even good, emphatic speech. There are now "translations" of God’s word reflecting the so called language of the people. Much of this language is what we call street language, the vocabulary of the ignorant, defiant, and degenerate who have no regard for God or fellow man, tawdry, cheap, and reprehensible words. Words or combinations of words that adversely refer to one’s parentage or mother, even express fornication committed by a son regarding his own mother! Much of this language reflects the ignorance, hatred, and utter bitterness of the speaker as such assertions are usually irrelevant and seldom based on fact, anyway.

     Addendum 3: There are nuances of the subject of speech that I shall not attempt to address in detail. For instance, there is a marked difference between one using speech that one would not commonly use, in an environment of seriousness to teach what not to say and in the flagrant use of such language (I do not necessarily advocate even using gutter speech in this fashion). Also, there is usually a proper way to express matters without resorting to street language, matters such as body parts, human excrement, etc.