Should Catholics Cuss?

Recently, a horribly raunchy movie made national headlines because it contained over 500 uses of the f-word. Yeah, it was obscenely obscene, and obviously, that level of profanity is unusual. But the fact is, vulgarities are becoming commonplace in music, movies, literature, and everyday language.

This growing trend raises the question— is profanity a sin? Is it morally wrong to use words that are considered to be profane? Let’s examine this issue further.

Guiding principles

I’ll come right out and say it: Profanity isn’t always a sin—but it easily can be. But how are we supposed to know? Here are three principles I see in judging the morality of our speech.

The first principle is intent. What’s the purpose? For example, if you are furious with someone, and you tell them to go to hell (or worse), your intent is obviously to hurt the other person with your words. This kind of angry speech is always prohibited, even if no profane words are used. Jesus makes this clear when he strongly condemns hateful language: “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” Of course, there are plenty of other motivations for using profanity besides anger, but the point is, examining our motives will help us determine if we are sinning or not.

The second principle is degree. It is well known that some profanities are more offensive than others, such as words that have an obviously crude and sexual connotation. The f-word is undoubtedly considered the most obscene word in the English language, for example, and I don’t see any cases in which its use can be justified. Frequency is also important. If every other word in your vocabulary is a vulgarity, it’s probably a sign of a deeper problem.

The third principle is graciousness. ”Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” says St. Paul— which is pretty funny since “salty language” is a euphemism for profanity. Anyway, we know what the great apostle means. Our speech should literally be grace-full. It should build up the hearer.

My take

Now that we’ve clarified that profanity isn’t always immoral, I will state my personal position on the matter. I strongly believe that obscene or profane speech should be completely avoided. Here are five reasons.

1. It is unnecessary - I haven’t used profanity in about 10 years, and I have yet to be unable to express myself adequately. In fact, there are many people who go their whole lives without using a single obscenity. So why bother?

2. Our words will be judged - Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” That’s a pretty scary thought if you think about how carelessly we talk many times. Do you really want to have to justify to our Lord why you let fly with an f-bomb? Do you really want to defend why you told someone to go to hell? I didn’t think so.

3. It might cause someone to stumble - St. Paul was once asked about whether or not eating certain foods was immoral. He answered that it wasn’t immoral for those who were mature enough to handle it. But he immediately added the caveat that we should never engage in liberties that might cause our brother or sister to fall into sin. Even if you’re a mature Catholic, you must consider the impact of using obscenities in front of someone who might be horrified and scandalized by such talk.

4. It desensitizes us - Back when I was in the habit of using profanity, it took a lot to shock me. I could listen to music or watch movies with the a lot of vulgar language, and it wouldn’t bother me at all. But now, when I hear obscenities, it seems so crude and repulsive. Vulgarity has a way of deadening our soul to things that would normally shock us. And there are some things we simply shouldn’t grow accustomed to.

5. It isn’t classy – Ok, I’ll admit this is the least compelling reason in my case against profanity, but I think it’s valid. If you wouldn’t walk around in public in your pajamas or wear your pants so low your underwear can be seen, why would you say things that are the verbal equivalent?

As Catholic men, we shouldn’t ask how much we can get away with. That’s an immature attitude. Instead, we should ask if our speech is fitting for a follower of Christ.

Conclusion

In writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul exhorts us to guard our speech carefully. “Let no evil talk [sometimes translated "profane speech"] come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” This is the rule that should guide us as we examine our speech.

Men, let’s strive to submit everything in our lives to Christ, including our speech. Rather than seeing how much we can get away with, let’s strive to be full of grace and kindness in our speech. Anything less isn’t fitting for a Catholic gentleman.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at The Catholic Gentleman.

By

Sam Guzman is an author and editor of The Catholic Gentleman whose work has appeared in several publications. He resides in Wisconsin with his wife and two small boys where he is also the Communications Director for Pro-Life Wisconsin.

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  • Aargh_I_said_it_again

    No, we shouldn’t. That the Church does not want us to do it is good enough not to do it. But I’m always doing it. And always making up for it afterwards. And later confessing it. Sigh.

  • Howard

    Above all, PRIESTS should not. My dad, who is basically a nonobservant Protestant, played golf with his local priest on a fairly regular basis. He liked the priest, and he helped the priest move when he was later assigned to a different parish. The problem is that the priest’s cussing on the course robbed him of my dad’s respect. My dad already had the stereotypical view of Catholics characteristic of Southern Protestants of his generation. The priest could have helped him overcome that; instead, he convinced my dad all the more that he was a genial fraud.

  • Randall Ward

    God cusses in the OT, but I don’t know if we are supposed to. I really don’t think it is that big of a deal.

  • Randall Ward

    Was your dad a Baptist? I know Baptists put a lot of stock on the meaningless outward signs of sin, when the heart condition is ignored sometimes.

  • Howard

    My mom and my dad’s mom were Baptists or Bible Church members. My dad attended church mostly because of my mom, who passed away 15 years ago.

    My dad has a lot of flaws, but the problem here is with the priest. Being a priest is a full-time job, even if he’s on the golf course.

  • Howard

    Go cusses in the OT? I don’t think so. There is an aspect of flippancy to cussing. God does curse in the Old Testament — and in the New Testament (Mark 11:12-25, for a mild example) — but He no more cusses than He sneaks a smoke behind the dumpsters.

  • Guy McClung

    First I must confess that for decades I cussed, cursed, and use raunchy language to profane God’s creation and His people. Then one day while returning from Holy Communion, I realized that the place of Jesus’s temporary tabernacle was my mouth and His temporary throne was my tongue -which I used/misused with my terrible language. Then I thought of blessing my lips at the Gospel-with the sign of the Cross-the Cross on which he suffered and died for all my sins, including those of my tongue and my voice. I am trying to think of my personal tabernacle, personal throne for Jesus, and lips that should utter blessings instead of curses. Guy McClung, San Antonio

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