Guard Against Abusive Speech and Obscene Jesting
IN RECENT years profanity and obscene jesting have become, if not popular, at least the accepted thing in the world. The common expression is that “everyone does it,” thereby implying that there is nothing wrong with vile speech so long as the majority indulge in it. It is well to be on guard against such false reasoning, lest one be ensnared into imitating the riffraff of the world in their use of filthy words, obscene jesting and dirty-joke-telling.—Eph. 4:19; 5:3, 5; Col. 3:5.
Christians, especially, should feel this obligation, because they are called to be lights in a dark world. They are commissioned to hold forth words of life and hope. They are commanded to ‘let their light shine before men, that others may see their fine works and give glory to their Father who is in the heavens.’ (Matt. 5:14, 16) Their speech should, therefore, be of the very highest caliber at all times.
Jesus gave another reason for speech control when he said: “I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36, 37) Therefore, to stand in a favorable position before God, one must guard against using abusive speech, dirty-joke-telling and obscene jesting.
Jesus’ apostle Paul also stressed this point. After counseling Christians against imitating the unprofitable, immoral ways of the world, Paul, showed the need for discarding the old personality for a new personality, one created according to God’s will. After saying this, he says: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be . . . Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you . . . Let fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks. For you know this, recognizing it for yourselves, that no fornicator or unclean person or greedy person—which means being an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God. . . . Therefore do not become partakers with them; for you were once darkness, but you are now light in connection with the Lord. Go on walking as children of light.” (Eph. 4:2–5:8) This is timely advice for this day and age.
This may not always be easy to do, especially so if you have to work with people who are habitually inclined to use filthy speech. But a Christian is encouraged to put up a strong fight for the faith. He must buttress his mind against speech contamination by not excusing profanity, as some do, or even allowing filthy expressions to enter his mind. For example, recently an automobile mechanic reached under the hood of a stalled vehicle to make an adjustment. The wrench slipped. His hand banged against the hot steel block. For the next few moments the air was charged with a flow of rage and profanity, as the repairman raced about spewing out verbal filth. A few onlookers were amused, while others excused the man for his behavior because of what had taken place. But a Christian must not find excuses for language that defames God’s name and debauches creatures, no matter what the reason. There is no excuse for profanity.
Perhaps it would not be half so alarming if all profanity were confined to garages and indulged in only by those who banged their thumbs and hands. But alas! such is not the case. Almost everywhere one hears foul language. In factories and offices, in sports arenas, theaters and college dormitories filthy speech gushes forth day after day. Persons in all classes, from managers, lawyers and congressmen to soldiers, sailors, women, children, church members and preachers, have been guilty of using profanity. It has become just another aspect of the general pattern of this modern age, its profane thinking and profane living. Christians, however, must be no part of it.
Unfortunately some with good religious training have allowed themselves to be swept along with the current of the world. They mimic its “smart” manner of speech, enjoy its dirty jokes and obscene jesting. Others like to imitate “beatniks” and Hollywood “starlets” in their uninhibited and peculiar habits. These persons seem to want to be identified with the world and at the same time be a part of God’s organization. This, of course, can never be. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” Christians are counseled to be “without spot from the world.” (Jas. 4:4; 1:27) The command is: “Touch nothing unclean; . . . keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah.” (Isa. 52:11) This also applies to being clean in one’s speech.
PROFANITY IN LITERATURE
There are persons who would rather be found dead than be caught talking to some barroom tramp. Still, many of these very same people will for hours keep company with a book filled with degenerate characters whose lives and language may be far more degrading than any tramp’s.
There are scores of such trashy books published each year, any one of which, a few decades ago, would have landed the publisher and writer in prison. These publications are frank both in their use of the “four-letter words” and in their description of vice and perversion. Persons responsible for them say they are merely supplying what the public is demanding. They say that if the people do not want such publications, all they have to do is stop buying them and a reformation would be rapid. How true! But alas! as the prophet of old declared: ‘The people love to have it so.’ (Jer. 5:30, 31) The bookshelves reflect the age. At least one critic has maintained that it is “a sign of the changing times.”
But why would a Christian want to keep company with such questionable publications that are admittedly debauching an entire society? There is no good reason why anyone should want to wade in the filth of the world. “‘Quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’ ‘And I shall be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me,’ says Jehovah the Almighty.”—2 Cor. 6:17, 18.
That is not to say that Christians do not appreciate frankness. A certain amount of frankness is refreshing. Jesus was frank in his speech, but he was never vulgar or lewd. The Bible is frank reading, but it is not degrading. To the contrary, it is inspiring and upbuilding. A Christian is called upon to speak out frankly so that hypocrisy and falsehood might be exposed and swept away. But he does not have to resort to filth to accomplish his work. The truth is what sets men free.—Matt. 23:13-36; John 8:32.
PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM SMUT
If your child uses filthy language, ask yourself, “Is the language in the home wholesome and clean?” “Do his friends use decent speech?” “What books does he read?” Children are not born with a vocabulary of curse words. These they learn from their surroundings.
Today, more than ever, young impressionable minds are under attack by a most vicious and subtle enemy—the smut peddler. In 1959 the United States Post Office Department reported that sex-filth peddlers were shipping at least 50,000,000 items of obscene matter through the mails, raking in more than $500,000,000 a year. These peddlers are aiming their wares largely, if not exclusively, at teen-agers! Millions of children, some eight and eleven years old, have been reached with literature described by a Senate subcommittee as “wanton, depraved, nauseating, despicable, demoralizing, destructive and capable of poisoning any mind at any age.” Authorities state that in the United States one school-age child out of every eighteen is the target of the purveyors of such unbelievable filth.
Such printed matter corrupts more than one’s speech. According to J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, there has been a startling rise in juvenile sex crimes since 1955, which, significantly enough, parallels the increase in salacious literature. There has also been a rise in perversions among juveniles and an increase in venereal disease, and over half the cases are among teen-agers and young adults—an unthinkable condition twenty years ago.
Only by guarding the mind can children and adults be protected from such pollution. Speech originates in the mind. It is what fills the mind that ultimately comes out of the mouth. Clean thoughts will produce clean speech; filthy thoughts, filthy speech. People who use obscene speech think obscene things. Their minds are filled with the obscene filth flooding the world. It is as simple as that. For the speech to be clean the mind must be safeguarded against all impure intrusions.
It is becoming to man and woman to regulate their thoughts, words and actions in such a way that they may not think or speak anything concerning God and his purposes but with the greatest sense of appreciation, sobriety and reverence, that in meditating on his words no opinion may be formed that is dishonorable to Him. Such regulated thoughts and expressions are as beautiful as apples of gold in silver carvings. However, when thoughts and speech are not controlled, not only do they become ugly, but death and destruction are often their fruitage.—Prov. 15:4; 25:11; 18:21.
Profanity and obscene jesting cannot be cured for long by emptiness, that is, by simply saying, “I’m not going to swear anymore,” or, “I’m not going to engage in obscene jesting anymore.” Mere negative prohibitions are not enough. Mere censorship of smut literature is not going to shut the doors effectively against infiltration of evil thoughts into the mind. Wrong thinking must be driven out with truth and reason. Truth must take the place where corruption once kept house. Jesus pointed this out in one of his illustrations. He said that a house swept clean of unclean spirits and then left empty will soon become worse than before. The house must be filled with the holy spirit of God as a protection against demonic invasion.—Matt. 12:43-45.
When the mind of a child or an adult is turned to truth as found in the Word of God, the Bible, and is kept tuned in on it by asking, seeking and knocking, it has the active force of God, that is, God’s holy spirit working on it, building it up, making it new. Paul brought this fact to the attention of the Ephesians, saying: “You should be made new in the force actuating your mind.” This would result to those who “heard him [Christ] and were taught by means of him, just as truth is in Jesus.” So it is not just any truth that can supply a protective force against forces that influence the mind. Only those truths embodied in the principles of Christianity can provide that protection.—Eph. 4:20-24.
To fill the mind with these truths, these thoughts of God, means the Bible must be studied. It means its truths must be pondered over, its promises meditated upon. It means getting rid of old-world ideas and making God’s thoughts our thoughts. Paul counsels: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) This can be done, Paul says, if you “keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth.” (Col. 3:2) Also, he says: “Keep walking by spirit and you will carry out no fleshly desire at all.” (Gal. 5:16) Then he admonishes Christians to dwell on virtuous and praiseworthy things. “The things that you learned as well as accepted and heard and saw in connection with me,” he says, “practice these; and the God of peace will be with you.”—Phil. 4:8, 9.
The way to a clean mind and a wholesome tongue begins with truth fed into the mind. It depends on what we read, look at, listen to, dwell on, whether the mind will be affected for good or bad. If we fix in the mind thoughts patterned according to the healthful teachings of God’s Word, then words of life will flow forth.—Jas. 3:1-18.
This means we must watch our associations. Pick good, clean associates, whether they be people in reality, or those on films, characters in novels, or those imagined, because they can drastically affect your thinking. Bad associations will corrupt useful habits and spoil clean speech.—1 Cor. 15:33.
The best of association is that to be enjoyed with God in prayer. When the temptation arises to misuse the tongue, pray. One cannot imagine using foul speech while praying to God. On one occasion Jesus counseled his disciples: “Carry on prayer, that you do not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:40, 46) Pray also when in temptation that you may not succumb. To your Christian conscience may God always be so vividly present that you will never say or do anything that will displease him.—1 Pet. 3:10-12.