Crude Language, Coarse Culture: We Need to Do Better

At the least, we can call on our public leaders to restrain themselves.

White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks with the media outside the White House in Washington, DC on July 25, 2017.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on July 31, 2017

Since when did sick language go mainstream?

The hateful, obscenity-heavy remarks new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci reported in The New Yorker are only the most recent example of a cultural phenomenon. Namely, our acceptance of, or at least indifference to, foul language.

The White House called Scaramucci’s bizarre outburst “colorful.” That is correct. Only this kind of color tarnishes.

In a previous generation, Scaramucci would have been fired. Today, his comments produce surprise, bemusement, even disgust. But no loss of employment, let alone political standing.

Mainstream Cursing

However, Scaramucci is hardly unique. In 2011, CNN carried a story on the “Top 16 Foul-Mouthed Politicians.” Included in the list were Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, Nixon, Johnson, and Truman. Vice-Presidents Cheney and Biden were both known as men ready to wax obscene.

Nobody wakes up one morning and decides to use foul language as a habit. It’s the result of many smaller decisions.

Coarse language has become commonplace. In a 2014 article, Canada’s National Post asks, “Are swear (words) becoming so common they aren’t even profanity anymore?” The author, Tristan Hopper, notes that “Expletives, once absolutely banned in public discourse, are now increasingly turning up in literature, television, the news media and even political speech.”

Crumbling Moral Walls

Why? One reason is as old as humankind. Nobody wakes up one morning and decides to use foul language as a habit. It’s the result of many smaller decisions. Watching profanity-laced television shows. Reading books with “contemporary” language. Associating with people who use obscenity with ease, and never challenging them. One’s moral wall begins to crumble and then, one day, it’s breached.

Modeling Good Behavior

Another reason is the absence of strong parents who punish children with dirty mouths and who model clean language themselves. Children imitate what they hear. And that might mean pulling them out of a school where their friends season their speech with filth, at least until they’re old enough to have built-in their own moral filters.

No Accountability

Perhaps the most significant reason is that we’ve turned from a belief in accountability to God. If no personal and final authority exists, the doors are unbarred and we can make choices to suit our own selfishness. 

Popular culture doesn’t help much. For example, the recent hit film The Wolf of Wall Street contained 544 uses of the “f-word.” For a teenage mind, especially, this kind of thing conditions the brain both to accept and imitate what is heard.

Foul language is like a sledgehammer to the soul. “Profane words have a direct line to our emotions,” writes Benjamin Bergen of the University of California-San Diego’s Department of Cognitive Science. “In short, bad words are powerful — emotionally, physiologically, psychologically and socially.”

Immorality in personal practice and popular culture has become so “normal” that its absence is more surprising than not.

What Does Scripture Say?

Scripture has much to say about the power of our words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” writes Solomon (Proverbs 18:21). Jesus said that it is “out of the abundance of (the) heart (that) the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). 

The tongue can be a verbal flame-thrower. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness,” the apostle James tells us (3:6). “The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”

It is as though James is straining to be graphic to get his point across. The tongue can destroy. And one of its most effective and aggressive weapons is crude language.

A Topsy Turvy World

“Over the past generation,” wrote the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1993, “we have been redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.”

In the ensuing 24 years, things haven’t gotten better. And as we harden ourselves in one area, we begin to lose our moral sense in others. Cruelty becomes entertaining. Sex becomes casual and more loveless. Violence becomes more routine.

This goes beyond profanity, the now-accepted commonness of which is only a symptom. Immorality in personal practice and popular culture has become so “normal” that its absence is more surprising than not.

But we can’t live this way in practical terms. The institutions we still cherish celebrate honor, loyalty, sacrifice, duty, and truth. We are disgusted by reports of crooked politicians, dishonest cops, adulterous pastors, and so forth.

At the least, we can call on our public leaders to restrain themselves. Our country deserves better.

Yet as the culture declines, will that disgust be replaced increasingly by a shrug?

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise,” wrote C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943).  “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Put less elegantly, we belittle virtue but are saddened and surprised when its loss becomes evident.

America Deserves Better

Back to crude language. At the least, we can call on our public leaders to restrain themselves. Our country deserves better. And by keeping their language purer, they might inspire a bit less callousing of our society at large.

“Profanity … seemingly has infiltrated our culture, and created this crazy circus of vulgarity now marked as normal,” writes Kelly Powell in her article, “Generation F-Bomb: Profanity Goes Mainstream.” “This compels me to use another 4-letter word for all those profanity lovers in our society: STOP!”

Amen, Kelly. Amen.

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  • Wayne Cook

    Rob, welcome to the world.

  • BroFrank

    I agree, it is time to STOP . . . and pray.

    The apostle Paul notes that because humankind did not want to keep God front-and-center (in their minds) He gave them up to corrupt thinking, thus allowing themselves to be violated (a very loose paraphrase of Romans 1:28). The first century Church took Paul’s challenge seriously, and eventually pulled the Roman world out of the “swamp” into which it had descended.

    Mr. Trump, “God’s wrecking ball,” appears to be doing more than merely clearing out the debris of a corrupt society. Mr. Scaramucci’s comments are symptomatic of a problem far deeper than culture drift. Short of miraculous intervention (read that “revival” or an “awakening”) our culture and world is certainly heading towards divine judgment.

    And [Antichrist] was given a mouth speaking great things and
    blasphemies, . . . Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against

    God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell
    in heaven. (Revelation 13:5-6)

    It is time to get down on our knees and pray. It is GOD who has given us breathing room
    through the election of our President: now it is time for us to redouble our efforts to get the ball down field, to the positive goal post, for revival. The call to prayer (elsewhere on this site, by Bro. Robinson) is not trivial. This is a life or death matter for our society and world.

  • Linda

    He’s as unfit for public office as the guy who hired him…and all of you who support these people are complicit in the destruction and havoc they are wreaking.

    • Hannah

      You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

      The destruction? Havoc? Are you referring to the $22b in regulations that he’s slashed in his first five months in office, $3b of which Obama implemented in the same amount of time? Or perhaps the stock market numbers that keep breaking record highs despite the media shrieking that doomsday is upon us? How about our renewed relations with the world, no longer an “Apology Tour” but a Tour de Strength that’s echoed across the nations and resulted in the EU taking a surprising stance against the Congress’s desire to initiate war with Russia? And that’s just what I can pull from the top of my head before clocking on to work.

      He may be abrasive, but I’d rather have his brute strength paving the way for a better America than a limp-wristed politician who’s been bought and paid for by some shadow corporation like the Clintons or some of their ilk. It’s high time we had a real man in office who doesn’t have a price tag and genuinely cares about this nation and her peoples; so far, I’m getting what I voted for. I’m excited to see what happens.

      • John Connor

        Trumpy has made the presidency of the US a laughingstock

        • Hannah

          *Obama

          FTFY

    • Paul

      For a moment there I thought you were referring to Obama, his media and minions. Silly me.

  • Jim Walker

    In order to drain the sewer, you need people from the outside who does not have a vibe of PC in them.
    Anthony is the hired plumber and a very good one.

  • tz1

    We deserve what we have gotten.
    Abortion is probably more serious, but Microsoft, Google, and Apple all support planned parenthood. Whose software are you running to read or comment? If you can’t bring yourself to suffer the inconvenience for life? (e.g. a linux laptop).
    We don’t vote in primaries or in the general election.
    We don’t vote with our feet from profaneville to decentcity.
    We dont vote with our dollars – well Target is suffering, but that seems an exception.

    Amazon won’t tolerate the confederate flag, but they will tolerate profanity and pornography in their music and video streaming, much less their books.

    We tolerate them. We don’t even speak out.

    This post was nice and abstract. Where is the call to action? And what action?

    • Andrew Mason

      Is it that we tolerate such actions by companies, or we are ignorant andor forget such corporate stances?

      As for using a Linux laptop, the problem is the learning curve. Until Linux is user friendly, or taught in schools, it’ll remain niche.

  • Andrew Mason

    I’d suggest not only is profanity being normalised, but normal language is increasingly being deemed offensive, or redefined to mean something else.

  • Wayne Cook

    “In a previous generation, Scaramucci would have been fired” not true. Clintons were famous for their profanity as well as letting the WH staff indulge it.

    Mainstream literature for the last 200 years has been laced with prurient language and behavior.

    To say otherwise is not only inaccurate but spreads the same thinking from the conservative side.

    Do I like it? No. We live in a fallen world and people forget that prurience has been mainstream for thousands of years.

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