Profanity

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Cursing, swearing, taking the name of God in vain, foul language and bad language are all synonyms for profanity. In a world where these words are becoming all-too-common, is profanity really that bad?

Profanity is Irreverence for That Which is Most Sacred

Mormonism no profanity

Profanity is, by definition, blasphemous or obscene language. Blasphemy is irreverence and disrespect for Deity. Obscenities are words or gestures that are crude in a sexual way. Both mock that which is most sacred—the procreative powers and the Most High God. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—members are warned to avoid profanity in all of its forms. President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

Many movies and television shows portray behavior which is in direct opposition to the laws of God. Do not subject yourself to the innuendo and outright filth which are so often found there. The lyrics in much of today’s music fall in the same category. The profanity so prevalent around us today would never have been tolerated in the not-too-distant past. Sadly, the Lord’s name is taken in vain over and over again. … I am sorry that any of us is subjected to profane language, and I plead with you not to use it. I implore you not to say or to do anything of which you cannot be proud.[1]

Elder Boyd K. Packer, a member of theQuorum of the Twelve Apostles—with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ—said:

There are words we would rather not say. They describe things that we would rather not think about. But you [young people] are inescapably exposed to temptations in connection with fornication, adultery, pornography, prostitution, perversion, lust, abuse, the unnatural, and all that grows from them.
Only with difficulty can you escape the degrading profanity and wicked, joking humor that accompanies them. It is all paraded before you in unworthy entertainment—music, print, drama, film, television, and, of course, the Internet.[2]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, taught:

Indecent and vulgar expressions pollute the air around us. Relations that are sacred between husband and wife are branded with coarse expressions that degrade what is intimate in marriage and make commonplace what is forbidden outside it. Moral sins that should be unspeakable are in the common vernacular. Human conduct plunging downward from the merely immodest to the utterly revolting is written on the walls and shouted in the streets. Twentieth-century men and women of sensitivity can easily understand how Lot, a fugitive from the actions and speech of Sodom and Gomorrah, could have been “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7).[3]

Profanity Invokes the Name of God In Vain—or Uselessly

Profane and blasphemous language is offensive to Deity because it is disrespectful, irreverent and mocking of members of the Godhead. In addition, it invokes the name and power of God in vain—in other words, uselessly. Elder Packer taught:

There is a compelling reason beyond courtesy or propriety or culture for breaking such a habit. Profanity is more than just untidy language, for when we profane we relate to low and vulgar words the most sacred of all names. I wince when I hear the name of the Lord so used, called upon in anger, in frustration, in hatred.
This is more than just a name we deal with. This relates to spiritual authority and power and lies at the very center of Christian doctrine. The Lord said, “Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name” (3 Nephi 27:7).
In the church that Jesus Christ established, all things are done in His name: prayers are said, children are blessed, … sermons preached, ordinances performed, … the infirm anointed, and graves are dedicated. What a mockery it then becomes when we use that sacred name profanely.[4]

Profanity Reflects Poorly on the One Profaning

In the world today, foul and profane language is becoming increasingly common. Words and expressions that would never have been used in “mixed company”—or groups in which women and/or children were present—are now heard almost everywhere. But far from being an impressive display, this behavior shows a lack of sensitivity, culture and even knowledge of the modern language. Elder Oaks explained:

Profane and vulgar expressions are public evidence of a speaker’s ignorance, inadequacy, or immaturity. A speaker who profanes must be ignorant or indifferent to God’s stern command that his name must be treated with reverence and not used in vain.
A speaker who mouths profanity or vulgarity to punctuate or emphasize speech confesses inadequacy in his or her own language skills. Properly used, modern languages require no such artificial boosters.
A speaker who employs profanity or vulgarity to catch someone’s attention with shock effect engages in a babyish device that is inexcusable as juvenile or adult behavior. Such language is morally bankrupt. It also progressively self-defeating, since shock diminishes with familiarity and the user can only maintain its effect by escalating its excess.[5]

President Monson counseled:

How you speak and the words you use tell much about the image you choose to portray. Use language to build and uplift those around you. Profane, vulgar, or crude language and inappropriate or off-color jokes are offensive to the Lord.[6]

Profanity is Damaging to One’s Spirit

The Spirit of the Lord cannot dwell in unclean tabernacles.[7] When a person uses profanity in any form, the Spirit of the Lord—which is the Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead—will withdraw. President Henry B. Eyring, the first counselor in the First Presidency, taught:

Vulgarity and profanity offend the Spirit. Just as immodesty seems to be more common, so does vulgar and profane language. It used to be that only in certain places and with certain groups would we hear the name of the Lord taken in vain or hear vulgar words and crude humor. Now it seems to be everywhere and, for many, socially acceptable, where once it was not.[8]

Elder Oaks taught:

Profanity is profoundly offensive to those who worship the God whose name is desecrated…. The words we speak are important. The Savior taught that men will be held to account for “every idle word” in the day of judgment. ..
Profanity also takes its toll on the one who uses it. As we read in Proverbs, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4.) The Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost, testifies of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. (See 2 Nephi 31:18.) When those names are dishonored, that Spirit, which “doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Helaman 4:24), is offended and withdraws. For this reason, those who profane the name of God inevitably relinquish the companionship of his Spirit….
Let us recognize profanity and vulgarity for what they are. They are sins that separate us from God and cripple our spiritual defenses by causing the Holy Ghost to withdraw from us.[9]

What Can A Person Do About the Profanity of Others?

Profanity and obscenities are so common in today’s world that one might wonder what—if anything—can be done. Modern prophets and apostles have suggestions. President Eyring said:

You can decide—and you must—to change what you say even when you can’t control what others say. But I know from my own experience that even in such a terrible situation you can count on God’s help. Years ago I was an air force officer serving for two years in an office with a marine colonel, an army colonel, and a grizzled navy commander. They had learned to speak in war and in peace in a way which offended me, and I know it repelled the Holy Ghost. ... It was very hard. I was only a lieutenant. They were very senior to me. I had no way of changing their language. But I prayed for help. I don’t know how God did it, but in time their language changed. Slowly the profanity disappeared and then the vulgarity. Only when they drank liquor did it come back, but that was in the evenings, so I could excuse myself….[10]

Elder Oaks taught:

We should abstain and we should teach our children to abstain from all such expressions.
We can also encourage our associates to do likewise. Where we have the courage to make a friendly request, … we will often receive a respectful and cooperative reply. Our married daughter who lives in Illinois had such an experience. As she took her turn carpooling the twelve-year-olds home from the soccer game, her noisy passengers filled the air with profanity. Firmly, but with good humor, she told the boys, “In our family we only use that name when we worship, so we ask you, please don’t say that name disrespectfully in our car.” The boys immediately complied, and, what is even more surprising, most of them still remembered the next time it was her turn to drive.
We obviously cannot control all that goes on in our presence. … Sometimes we can remove ourselves from language that is profane or vulgar. If this is not possible, we can at least register an objection so that others cannot conclude that our silence means approval or acquiescence.[11]

References:

  1. Thomas S. Monson, "Priesthood Power," General Conference, April 2011.
  2. Boyd K. Packer, "The Standard of Truth Has Been Erected," General Conference, October 2003.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, "Reverent and Clean," General Conference, April 1986.
  4. Boyd K. Packer, "The Clean Voice of Youth," New Era, Jan. 1976.
  5. Dallin H. Oaks, "Reverent and Clean," General Conference, April 1986.
  6. Thomas S. Monson, "Preparation Brings Blessings," General Conference, April 2010.
  7. See Isaiah 52:11.
  8. Henry B. Eyring, "God Helps the Faithful Priesthood Holder," General Conference, October 2007.
  9. Dallin H. Oaks, "Reverent and Clean," General Conference, April 1986.
  10. Henry B. Eyring, "God Helps the Faithful Priesthood Holder," General Conference, October 2007.
  11. Dallin H. Oaks, "Reverent and Clean," General Conference, April 1986.