Should Catholics Use Profanity and Vulgarity?

No they shouldn’t.

You may stop reading this post and continue with your life. But for those who disagree, or who want to read some justification for my answer, read on!

Profanity and Vulgarity In Society Today

I spent quite a lot of time last year with two friends whose daily conversation always included liberal doses of vulgarity, sexual innuendo, graphic sexual stories, and profanity.

Catholic Vulgarity ProfanityThey knew I was Catholic, but I never acted shocked by their behavior. To me it was all too trite and banal. Whenever I had had enough of it for one day or week, I would tell them knock it off, if not for goodness’ sake, then for the sake of me as their friend. They would manage to do so for an hour or two before starting up again.

These two friends are atheists, and have no compunction about morality or following God or anything like it.

I know all about how they are, because as an atheist I was just like them.

I used profanity, the f-word and all the others, made vulgar sexual references, and couldn’t care less what people thought about it.

During college I roomed with a Christian friend, and I would let fly profanity just to get a rise out of him. He would turn and stare at me and shake his head slowly, deadly serious, and it just made me laugh more. What a prudish dweeb! I thought.

But then I became a Christian. A Southern Baptist Protestant to be precise, who are known of course for their strict guidelines against dancing, drinking alcohol, and using profanity. I didn’t give up alcohol, so that was not a big deal, and truth be told I was never any good at dancing, so that prohibition meant nothing, but the profanity and vulgarity were another thing, something I had to consider.

Impure Speech and the Scriptures

As a new Christian, I read the Bible. And that meant I read passages like these:

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”(Philippians 4:8)

Catholic Vulgarity Profanity“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. We would be liable for every word we uttered.

These divinely inspired directives made an impact on me. I took them seriously because I believed they were God’s commands. I reflected on the use of my speech over my many years as an atheist and realized that, like so many other behaviors in my life, I needed to change.

After converting from atheism, I went through my movie collection and threw out movies that glorified perversion, vulgarity, were pornographic or sexually explicit, or made a joke out of demeaning human life.

I went through my music and cleaned out blasphemous and profanely vulgar albums.

Should it surprise me that, after twenty years of living without God, I should have lots of cleaning out to do, both externally and internally? No. No surprise at all. God showed me all the dark corners in my heart and bade me open the door to let His light cleanse them.

It took years, but I eradicated vulgarity and profanity from my speech (and from my heart as well, as best I could).

Catholics Using Vulgar Speech

Many Catholics I know use vulgar speech (and liberal profanity). When I hear them use such speech I consider that they simply don’t realize that it is wrong. As a Baptist I would have said that they had not been “convicted” about vulgarity.

The defenses given are that profanity is culturally conditioned, that vulgarity is not really wrong, that the Bible uses vulgarity or profanity.

For instance St. Paul, frustrated by the Judaizers, says to the Galatians: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12)

Elsewhere he uses a word to mean excrement.

So are these usages the same as the vulgarity and profanity I hear from my potty-mouth atheist friends and Catholic ones? No, not at all. Catholic Vulgarity and Profanity

The speech I hear from atheist and Catholic friends given to vulgarity is much worse. It is speech that calls to one’s mind the perverse, graphic, or sexually immoral scenes or objects they are speaking about. It is too often gratuitous and explicit.

Now, maybe one is so strong a Christian that such language, no matter how graphic or perverse, never leads one mind to picture the things spoken of. But even if that were the case, St. Paul speaks of being mindful of your weaker brother, so as not to lead him to sin.

I could given several recent examples from my own friends’ mouths of such speech, but in doing so it would do the very thing I counsel them against. So I won’t reproduce their words, but they describe gravely immoral sexual actions.

Puritan! Purity Prude!

In response to my objections against vulgar speech, those who employ it accuse me of being a Puritan, or a prude, or a Purity Snob. This is unfortunate, as if there are only two options: either use vulgarity and profanity or be a Purity Snob. False dichotomy.

The virtue of purity is something good, and it sits between the two vices on either side of crudeness and prudishness. We should all strive to be pure, and one of the things that means is to think and speak on things that are true, noble, good, and beautiful.

God gave us speech so we could communicate with each other, to edify one another, to express love and enter communion together. This is what the Bible says many times. We misuse the gift of our speech when we, among other things, speak vulgarities. More often than not nowadays, the vulgarity debases human sexuality.

pure1When my friend used vulgarity at a social event, I gently rebuked him for it. Not in a mean way, but in a “c’mon man, you can do better than that” way. He was a bit taken aback by my remonstrance, and we talked a little about it. Since then I have not seen a decrease in his use of vulgarity, but as a friend and Catholic brother I will continue exhorting him on the subject.

I’m Being Real and Authentic

The last defense I hear from Catholics using vulgarity is that they are being “authentic and real” and that they are reaching people that Puritan Catholics like me could never reach.

First, there is nothing authentic and real about being vulgar. No more than it is authentic to be lustful or to binge on alcohol. These are not virtuous actions.

Can you imagine Our Lady speaking in such a vulgar way or doing these other things? Of course not. Who does act that way? Pagan atheists. That should clue you in that there is something wrong with the behavior. Imitate the saints, not the heathens.

Second, there are many ways to reach people. You can reach people without using profanity and vulgarity. In ridding it from your lexicon, you will actually be even more authentic, even more who God made you to be, and if that is indeed what they are drawn to–the authentic you–then they will be even more drawn to you.

Let’s think and speak on things that are noble and pure, holy and edifying!

Having trouble cleansing your speech from vulgarity? You might want to try praying a novena! This post has been brought to you by Pray: the Catholic Novena app, available now in the Apple App Store.

6 thoughts on “Should Catholics Use Profanity and Vulgarity?”

  1. A broader question might be, should anyone use vulgar language. Your fine points aside, I think the answer would be no.

    Not that I always do a good job with that, or have in the past. Over time I’ve noticed that societal tolerance and incorporation of such language has grown enormously. I think a lot of people don’t even realize what is and is not vulgar, so widely accepted it has become. Our ability to use English, a language that has an amazingly large vocabulary, has in fact become quite stunted, sadly enough.

  2. Thanks for this article. I’ve noticed, particularly online, that Catholics often casually use language that even my atheist / agnostic / pagan friends generally don’t use unless they’re ANGRY. I’ve often found this baffling. Such language is also effectively a kind of anti-apologetic to Baptists and our other holiness oriented non-Catholic friends. Remember, when St. Dominic debated the Cathars, he chose clergy who lived a life of holiness at least as pure as the people he was trying to convert.

  3. You neither addressed nor refuted this objection:
    “profanity is culturally conditioned”
    I would like to see your refutation.

    1. Mike yes I realized I didn’t get to that objection. One reason is that I wanted to focus on what I see as the main problem, vulgarity or vulgar (especially sexually oriented) profanity, which I see often even from Catholics. Certainly there is an issue of intent and also the cultural norms of that area or people for profanity specifically.

    2. Culture conditions us to many things, the least of which is our language. There’s no need to refute a given. The challenge, clearly spelled out in this article, is why we are called to rise above that. Language is a great place to start and a springboard to evaluate other norms and values derived from the culture, not our Creator, that we hold on to.

  4. Thanks for this post. I’ve been trying my hardest to stop swearing, I never thought to do a novena. Thank you! This time, God willing, I might be successful!

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