Mel Gibson is in the news again and it is not good. Audio tapes and transcripts of angry, threatening, racist, and profanity-laced phone calls are spreading like wildfire on the internet. In one tape, it appears Gibson admits to striking Oksana Grigorieva and breaking two of her teeth. Nevertheless, Fox News raises a question: “Why Isn’t Hollywood Outraged Over Mel Gibson’s Racist, Sexist Rants?”
I will ask a question that even Fox News might not ask. Why isn’t Hollywood outraged at Mel Gibson, a professing Christian, when he repeatedly takes the Lord’s name in vain? The answer is obvious. Hollywood a long time ago quit caring about such things. More importantly, are all the Christians that flocked to Mel Gibson’s 2004 flick, The Passion of the Christ, outraged?
Back in the mid-1980s, I subscribed to Don Wildmon’s American Family Association monthly newsletter. One section detailed the vulgarity-laced programs broadcast on prime-time network television the previous month. When I began to see in print the “F**R-L*T*ER” words used in television shows I had entertained myself with, I was perplexed. I didn’t remember hearing most of that bad language. But like so many Christians, I had heard it; it just hadn’t registered with me. In fact, I might have even defended myself that way: I can watch that stuff; it won’t affect me.
But if listening to people blaspheme God didn’t bother me, I had a serious problem. I had become de-sensitized to attacks upon decency, marriage, my faith, and even the Lord Himself. It was clear I must make a significant and habitual change in my viewing habits. When I finally did break myself from these shows, I noticed that I could no longer even read the AFA newsletter; the partially-obscured profanity in print was more than I could take.
What is Profanity?
The early Latin origin of the English word profane (c1350-1400 AD) indicates the pre-fix “pro” means outside or before, and the root “fano” means temple. The Temple was the “holy place” of God in ancient Israel; anything outside was common or “profane”. Modern usage is a bit different. It is now associated, not so much with the secular or common, but the irreverent or blasphemous. It is easy to see, however, how the word developed into its present meaning. The translators of the English KJV of Scripture use the word in this manner:
Leviticus 22:2,32: Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, and that they profane not my holy name in those things which they hallow unto me: I am the LORD…Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the LORD which hallow you.
Profanity, as viewed today, can be understood by its use concerning the temple. It is actually rather simple. God forbad the carriage of unholy (unsanctified) things into His temple, because He is Holy. To mix the Holy with the profane is to blur the distinction between God and man. At the roof of profanity then, is speaking of God and His Things, without regard to his intrinsic Holiness or the holiness of the things He has sanctified.
Profanity itself can be broken down into categories. In Part One, I will examine the all-too-common practice of taking the Lord’s Holy Name in vain. In Part Two, I will look at other kinds of profanity and the true meaning behind them (they are an attack upon God’s Holy Things). In Part Three, I will take account of the usage of mild profanities and euphemisms, and then consider how a narrow but bright line might be drawn between holiness and censoriousness.
It is important to point out that profanity is not simply to use God’s name. There have been those who to this day avoid saying God’s name directly in order to avoid violating the 3rd commandment, but “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” [italics added]. I can say the name of Jesus Christ. I can speak of Almighty God or the LORD Jehovah (Yahweh). However, the attitude of my heart, my intent, and the context in which I use it would determine whether any of God’s many names has been taken in vain. To use them in anger or as a “cuss” (curse) words, or without due reverence is to use profanity and violate the 3rd Commandment. A fit example of the latter would be the use of God’s name to rhyme with forty in a birthday announcement.
Every use of this kind of profanity is an attack upon the Holiness of God. It is to treat Him as common or worse. It is no wonder that God warns us He will not hold guiltless those who take His name in vain.
Our Lord also says “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh”. Even the outpouring of God’s judgments cannot change the profane heart and lips:
Revelation 16:9, 10: And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
We ought to cringe when we hear others take His Name in vain, and repent immediately when we in a moment of weakness do the same. If it is a habit of ours, we should consider our condition before the Holy One of Israel.
Oh Lord, give me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.
David is currently an adjunct instructor of Composition and Speech at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. His wife and he have also owned a business selling antique and collectible postcards on eBay since 1999. David was an activist with Operation Rescue in the early 1990s. He is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, Iowa.
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