Speech becomes more corrupted in our culture with every passing day. You would think we might get used to some of it, but I confess to you that I still am shocked by some of the things I hear on public airwaves or see written or get sent to me in digital form. The new speech of so many people in our culture, whether it is in sounds or digital forms or signs, is vulgar, demeaning, degrading, improper, often gross, uncouth, nasty, locker room-ish, and even gutter talk.
Speech is powerful thing. In fact, the wise man of the Old Testament, Solomon, said life and death is in the power of the tongue. Today, with all the speech outlets we have, we can spread a lot of trash quickly and easily. It is taking place everywhere — in the schools; on the streets; in the newspapers; over the television and radio; and especially in social media. It is a part of many of our leaders as they deal with each other and even deal with us. The wrong kind of speech patterns and words are used to get attention and do harm and be dramatic. I have even heard from some pulpits words that, when used when I was in school, got folks sent to the principal’s office. Yet they have become acceptable norms for many people.
Where did all this come from? To whom can it be attributed? Interestingly enough, some people trace it back to the first time a curse word was used on the national scene in the grand production of a movie called, Gone with the Wind. You know the famous quote where Clark Gable, the leading man, remarks at the end of the film, “Frankly, my dear, I really don’t care.” No, of course, he didn’t say that. He said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t…,” and I can’t remember the rest of the quote. I’m not being a Puritan or squeamish about all this language stuff, but to trace it back to there is to say there was a door opened that allowed people to feel they could repeat what was said on the big screen during a popular hit movie of the time.
There are things we say that we wouldn’t say, but we’re willing to quote somebody else saying it as if that makes it okay. It’s not really okay, but that’s the world we live in. The things that were said across the nation in the recent U.S. presidential campaign — the things the candidates said to each other, about each other, and behind each other’s backs — helped move us down the line to new and lower levels away from gracious, thoughtful, and pure speech.
In recent days, the nationwide and international women’s marches had offensive signs and speakers whose speech we need to guard children and young people from hearing. I didn’t care about hearing it myself and though the women said they wanted to be equal with the men, I’m afraid that in fact they’re getting there but they have had to take a long step down to get there.
Speech has become such a strange thing in the newly-developing parts of social media that at times I think I’m living on the edge of the Tower of Babel. There are things said or shown that I don’t even know what they’re talking about and when I ask what it’s about, I wish I hadn’t been told what it means.
It is disturbing. It is shocking, and with a few smirks and quirks it becomes a part of our national framework for speaking. It is not good. If you think that sounds old fashioned and out of touch with today’s world, well, count me in. I do believe the Bible has something to say about how we speak and what it portrays and where it comes from in our lives. Proverbs 16:27 says, “An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.” The next verse says, “A forward
Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:34 that it is out of the abundance of our hearts that words and expressions come from our mouths. The words you say, the information you give, the expressions of your life, come out of the condition of your heart. The New Testament book of James has more to say about our speech and our tongues and lips, per verse, than any other book of the Bible. James warns us that we should not give our speech, our lips, our communication, to the things that are damning and damaging and hurtful and hateful.
I understand James knew nothing about computers or blogs or tweets or emails. He knew nothing about all the electronic stuff that can be instantly sent around the world, even anonymously, but what he did know was that the tongue is a powerful weapon and what you say can do great damage. His word was shaped like this, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:5-6). Pretty descriptive stuff to help us understand the warped speech of our world today is not because of great intellectual advancements, but due to moral degradation that finds its way into our corrupt hearts and then exits through our mouths.
Can we change all of this in our world? Maybe not, but you and I can change it in our own lives and in relationships and in the way we go about expressing ourselves publicly, privately, to friends and family, and to people we don’t even know. We can let the Lord shape and bless a communication that will be laced with love and redemptive in nature to help those around us.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.