Is Using Foul Language a Sin?

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Dear Catholic Exchange:

Is there anyone who can help me with a dilemma? I appreciate all that each of you do to keep this wonderful site up and running! Keep up the GODly work!

As a conservative, practicing Catholic family who have been blessed by one of the most wonderful sons we could imagine, we have hit a wall on one issue and I am at a loss for words as to how to guide him.

Our son Kyle loves his faith, loves and fears God, behaves wonderfully at all times… BUT…he turned 18 last week and we are (naturally) facing some growing and stretching of wings.

Kyle understands and happily agrees that cursing is a sin and using God’s name in vain is a sin. He does think that all other bad language is simply a choice to use or not, a cultural issue. He argues that it is up to one's interpretation if it is offensive or not. He feels that in certain situations, with people that would not be offended, that a rude/crude word is fine. He feels that cursing God's name is unacceptable, but other than that, he feels God would not be offended by other choices.

He has looked it up in Bible and Catechism and finds nothing contrary to his point. He is one who has a great sense of honor &#0151 he wants to be a Marine or a firefighter. This only adds to our bewilderment.

Please direct me as best you can.

Thanking you in advance,

Mrs. Obranovich

Dear Mrs. Obranovich,

Peace in Christ! St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil talk 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.” Encourage your son to consider that the purpose of speech is to edify and to ask himself whether his view on foul language accords with the notion of edifying others.

Also, Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” Some translations say “every idle word.” This came right after Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings for good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” Speech reflects the content of the heart. Does carelessly using foul language represent what is in his heart? Is that the picture of his heart he wishes to convey to others?

Beyond what one’s speech does to others and what it represents about the person speaking, what does it say about one’s love for God. Profanity — i.e., the profaning of speech — takes what is good and holy and treats it irreverently. Profanity takes what God intended to be clean (language) and defiles it. As such, your son should ask himself whether the “rude/crude word” is in keeping with a claim to loving God or does it defile the gift of language God has given?

Also, words serve as signifiers. When one speaks or writes the word “tree,” the word is not a tree; the word signifies something outside of or beyond itself — i.e., the tree. Thus, when one profanes speech, the thing signified by the speech is encompassed in the profanation. The use of foul language is to speak irreverently with respect to creation, which is, in God’s word, “good.”

Ultimately, as your son makes the passage of young adulthood into maturity, he will have to form his conscience in wisdom and try to make sound decisions about how to conduct himself. Sometimes, young people get the idea that the use of certain language is an outward declaration that they are no longer children. It’s really a way that they are saying to themselves that they are adults. The next step to maturity is realizing that being able to use profanity is not what makes a person an adult, but the ability to govern oneself — including one’s speech — according to virtue.

United in the Faith,

David E. Utsler

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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