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Article on swearing

A Discussion on Swearing From a Christian Perspective

Considering the title, one would most likely expect to read a diatribe condemning swearing in all its forms. However, one would’ve expected wrong. Instead, in the following, the issue of swearing shall be investigated, with a final conclusion on whether it is sinful or not made at the end.
Firstly, what is swearing? When used correctly, swear words merely add emphasis and convey powerful emotion and/or harshness to the reader; they are simply emphasis words. However, society – people, NOT God – have turned swear words into something obscene through the way they have been used gratuitously and incorrectly, out of context. This, however, does not make the words sinful. Just because society promotes fornication (a sin, as per Galatians 5:19-21), does this mean sex is wrong, when used as God made it to be used, inside of marriage? No, of course not. On the same token, swearing is not wrong. Just because society has abused it and turned it into something it is not, does not mean that it is sinful when used correctly.
Now, what about Biblical verses that condemn swearing or cursing? Unfortunately, some people fail to make the distinction that these verses refer to swearing oaths, placing curses on others, and the like. They are NOT referring to swearing as in saying words such as ‘sh-t’ and ‘f-ck’. Therefore, such verses are completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Next, what about those verses that say that we should not tear others down with our speech? Doesn’t this mean we shouldn’t swear? Not at all! When used PROPERLY, swearing does not tear others down or insult them, but, as stated before, conveys emphasis and power to the listener or reader. To add to this point, it doesn’t matter if someone insults another by calling them a ‘f-ckwit’ or a ‘Pacific Ocean’, the INTENT is exactly the same and it’s still tearing another down. The word has nothing to do with it. Also, it doesn’t matter if someone refers to an event as ‘f-cking terrible’ or ‘newspaper terrible’, because, just like in the previous example, the INTENT is exactly the same, but, this time, the intent is not sinful.
It must now be noted that a word by itself, in isolation, simply cannot be sinful. Even in isolation, murder is sinful. Even in isolation, lying is sinful. But in isolation, a word cannot be sinful, because it’s just ink on paper, pixels on a computer screen, or sounds made by the voicebox. It means absolutely nothing and cannot be sinful. Christians and others attempt to attach a sinful or otherwise bad stigma to these words, but that does not change the fact that, in isolation, they are not wrong and simply cannot be. They are merely elements of language, and to claim they are sinful is ludicrous. Why would Christ condemn elements of a language, particularly elements of a language that did not exist until well AFTER He came? He wouldn’t. There is no Biblical passage in which elements of language or words are condemned. Therefore, we can draw only one conclusion: swearing is not sinful. It can be used in a sinful manner, but, by and of itself, it is not sinful. (The point must be made here that almost anything can be used in a sinful manner, so swearing isn’t an isolated example)
Some specific objections to swearing shall now be answered.

Educated people in the past did not swear. Only members of lower, poor classes did.

Firstly, the person making this statement wasn’t there, so how do they know if people of education swore or not? Sure, history textbooks may indicate they didn’t, but they don’t record every word or even every educated person, so such a generalisation is ludicrous.
Secondly, such an allegation can be shown to be false by a passage of Henry V by Shakespeare. Intended to be an accurate depiction of Henry V’s life, Shakespeare would not have put words in the mouths of characters that they never would’ve said. The quote is as follows;

The Duke of Bourbon, in the presence of the French King, the Dauphin, and other French Dukes and nobility/aristocracy: "Normans, but bastard Normans, Norman bastards!" (Act 3, Scene 6, Line 10)

There is no reaction from the assembled crowd; this is taken as normal speech. Considering the time in which this play was originally written and performed, had such a line been seen as unrealistic, inaccurate, coarse, vulgar, or inappropriate, it never would've seen the light of day or Shakespeare would've been on the receiving end of a severe backlash. Such a thing never happened. Swearing such as this occurred back in Shakespeare's time.
While on the topic of Henry V, one point must be made now because a relevant quote is from this play, and this point is that swear words come and go. In Shakespeare's time, I do not believe the word 'f-ck' even existed. However, in Act 3 Scene 7 of the same play, the character Pistol is described to leave the scene while shouting an obscene insult, and this is 'fico' (line 48) and 'The fig of Spain!' (line 50). Such terms nowadays are not offensive, or obscene; indeed, they are non-existent. Swear words come and go. Terms that were offensive 500 years ago do not exist now, terms offensive now such as 'f-ck' and 'b-tch' may not exist in another 500 years. Why would God condemn something that comes and goes? Fornication doesn't come and go, idolatry doesn't come and go, blasphemy doesn't come and go; it's always the same thing, easily identifiable - a blasphemous remark from 1000 AD would still be a blasphemous remark today. But 'fig of Spain' was an obscene remark 500 years ago but meaningless today. How could that possibly be condemned?

Movies never used to have swearing because people used to think it was wrong, but they have it now.

One must have an understanding of the time and period in which these movies were made, first. Back in the 1950s and earlier, the word 'sex' was taboo. It simply was not mentioned. Even in the Bible it was omitted; 'Adam knew Eve' rather than 'Adam had sex with Eve'. Does that make the word 'sex' wrong? No, of course not. 'Sex' was omitted for the same reason as swear words. So why is it that 'sex' is not wrong but swear words are? The argument doesn't stack up; it's self-contradictory.

I think it’s best not to say swear words than walk right up to the line of sin, because, if you keep a distance from the line, you won’t fall over it when you slip up.

Firstly, the points made earlier make a conclusive case for swearing not being sinful, so by swearing you are not walking up to any ‘line of sin’.
Secondly, this logic sounds a bit ‘Jewish’. The Jewish law – not that set down by God, but the additional laws they set up – was to stop them coming close to breaking God’s law, but in the end, it just became very legalistic. This leads on to the important issue that debates over issues such as swearing are dragging Christianity down a similar path. Christians are constantly building up walls to stop them even approaching sin (or what they perceive to be sinful but isn’t really), and it’s making Christianity into a legalistic religion, not a loving relationship. Many Christians today seem to be very good at completely missing the point. Christianity isn't about legalism, it isn't about strictly adhering to any code, and most importantly, it's not about fearing sin. It's about grace and redemption and God's love, it's about knowing that we are pathetic humans who really should be in Hell at this very moment but have been saved by God's amazing love. Turning it into a big thing about "This is a sin and that's a sin and oh wait, don't do that because you may just sin" is not right. Of course, this is not to play down sin, but some Christians make it the focal point of their existence. They make pointing out sins, condemning sins, and the like such an important issue, they miss the entire point of Christianity: God's love, grace, salvation, et cetera.
So, to conclude, swearing is not sinful. It has been made such an issue in Christianity that people are completely missing the point: words in isolation cannot be sinful, these swear words come and go, and, correctly used, they add emphasis and power. The word is not sinful, but the intent behind it CAN be at times. The swear word is merely an element of language, and no condemnation can be found of it in the Bible. Unfortunately, disputes over it have led to legalism and missing the point, which is that, when you investigate the issue, swearing simply is not sinful.

Australia, 10/08/03

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