Browsing my RSS feed this morning, I happened upon an article that made this argument, that use of profanity in public is both improper and unneighborly.
Thing is, that presupposes that the words are innately improper in public. If someone want to do so, fine, but it’s an assumption, not an objective, incontrovertible fact, and folks who claim it tend to assume that. The assumption may also have a lot to do with how and why some folks miss the point of the “No one was offended” counterargument.
First point to note is that “profanity” has a few meanings, and only one is use is forbidden in Scripture: taking the Lord’s name in vain. All Biblical commands against words refer specifically to word usage rather than specific words in themselves. No word or phrase is innately evil. “I love you” can be used in an an evil way. “Ow” and “huh” are expletives.
Second: Words are tools. Even public profanity is a tool—it repels many Pharisaical toxic types who outright look for reasons to look down on others and who would be unhappy or offended no matter what. One notable verse, I Corinthians 5:11, tells us to not even eat with professing believers who engage in such behavior. (It’s part of “reviling"; modern language would call “reviling” verbal, emotional, and/or psychological abuse.)
Third, expecting others to share your scruples and have the same sense of propriety you do = directly violating the command to love others as we do ourselves.
Here’s why: it’s expecting a level of telepathy and action on others’ behalf towards us that is not returned to them. If you’re going to expect them to be aware of what you do and do not consider proper, then they should be able to expect you to be aware of what they do and do not consider proper, which equalizes the need for respect of each other’s boundaries.
In the post, the writer gave an example of disliking what language coworkers used around him…yet, per what he wrote, he never even asked his coworkers to refrain from using certain words in his hearing. Beside the fact that’s conflating “dislike” and “offense”, he’s expecting his coworkers to have the same values, background, and mindset as he does. That’s expecting telepathy, not engaging in healthy communication.
If you’re going to want someone else to accept and abide by your sense of propriety, then they should have the right to expect you to do the same to them. But their behavior, which holds you to standards consistent to which you want to hold them, is the very thing the blogger protested.
If he politely asked his coworkers to refrain from certain language in his hearing and they dismissed him, that’s one thing. But instead, he protests their failure to respect his scruples and sense of propriety when they had no way of knowing what those scruples were. He also gave the example of Adele using some cussing in one of her concerts, where even though he walked into her turf, in her figurative house, he expected her to abide by his sense of propriety. That’s the logical equivalent of walking into a pagan temple and protesting that there are sacrifices to a pagan god there.
As a final note, contrary to common belief within the modern American Christian subculture? The “bad words” thing is not and never has been ubiquitous, even historically speaking. What terms are assigned as “bad” in any culture or subculture speaks to the culture’s taboos and therefore to blind spots and weak points that are ignored and suppressed, which causes problems in itself.
Whenever something lingers in a particular extreme, a swing to the other side of the pendulum is to be expected. You prevent the swing by moderation, not by trying to erase one side of it. Efforts at erasure only draw attention to and strengthen attention on what is sought to be erased. That’s why martyrdom benefits the side getting martyred.
The “neighborly” argument sounds nice, sure, but if you think through the application of it… It’s expecting special treatment that is not returned on the other person.
My conclusion is that the “unneighborly” argument doesn’t hold water. What about y’all?