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Swearing and Cursing

(This is the post I promised Alison I would write. How does it relate to “Becoming”? I believe we need to take responsibility for understanding and choosing what we say and do – not allowing others to make those decisions for us.)

The Bible provides the following admonitions regarding swearing:

“Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” (Deut. 6:13)

“he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16)

“But I say unto you, Swear not at all;” (Matthew 5:34)

Also, our scriptures include the following references to cursing:

“And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17)

“Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” (Exodus 22:28)

“Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind,” (Lev. 19:14)

“His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.” (Psalms 10:7)

“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” (James 3:9)

There are dozens of other references to swearing and cursing, and all of them deal with swearing as a way of making a solemn promise (including taking the Lord’s name in vain) and cursing as pronouncing punishment. I chose the verses quoted above because they provide an interesting insight into the way that the original, scriptural meaning of these words has mutated radically since the initial pronouncements – coming to mean something now that simply was not included or intended in the scriptural admonitions.

It is interesting that neither term (“swear” or “curse”) is defined in the Bible Dictionary. I take this as a sign that those who compiled this resource didn’t feel it was necessary to do so – that the scriptural usage was so consistent and obvious that no further commentary was necessary. Given that situation, the following definitions come straight from the dictionary:

“to swear” = “to make a solemn declaration or affirmation by some sacred being or object, as a deity or the Bible – to bind oneself by oath.” (There are 10 definitions; 9 fit this general meaning.)

“to swear” = “to use profane oaths or language” (This is the only exception to the general rule.

“to curse” = “to express a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person, group, etc. – to invoke a formula or charm intended to cause such misfortune to another.” (again, the majority of definitions)

“to curse” = “to use a profane oath or curse word; to swear at” (one definition)

It is interesting and instructive to note that the second definitions (profane language and profane oaths) do NOT appear in our scriptures. Every instance of “swearing” and “cursing” throughout our canon involves the first definitions. What does this mean?

First, it is apparent that “swearing” means making a solemn oath or promise. (“I swear it shall be done.”) In the OT, as a token of their status as The Chosen People, Israel was allowed (even encouraged) to make these sacred promises in the name of God – to swear by His name. However, one of the aspects of the Law of Moses that was fulfilled by Jesus was this practice. In its place, Jesus commanded to “swear not at all”.

Obviously, He did not command that we stop making solemn promises, since His new admonition was the following:

“But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:37)

By ending the Old Testament practice of swearing by God, and by shifting the responsibility to us – an individuals – to restrict our promises to “Yea, yea; Nay, nay”, He put the responsibility for keeping those promises squarely on us – as individuals. There no longer was the excuse that, “God just didn’t do it;” it was replaced by the only possible statement, “I just didn’t do it.” I see this move as one more example of the move from institutional responsibility to personal responsibility. Jesus said, essentially, “It’s up to you, so don’t even imply that it was someone else’s decision or is someone else’s responsibility.”

So, how did we get from the original pronouncements of Jesus – the great societal paradigm shift – to where we are now? The Puritan and Victorian societies of the past few hundred years simply took this basic shift and rejected it – returning to the old Law of Moses mentality and expanding the meaning of “swear” and “curse” even beyond where it had been anciently. Just as the ancient Jewish leaders expanded the original commandments by adding many prohibitions not included in the original law, modern Christians added layers of meaning to these ancient prohibitions and turned them into restrictions they never were intended to be.

Now, in our society, people have returned to “swearing by some sacred being or object”, but they also have created a completely new definition / category of swearing. Now, it includes “using unacceptable words” – words defined by the educated elite to distinguish those who are cultured and those who are not. They have changed the original meaning from “making promises for God” to “saying words that show you are more ignorant than us“. That is a radical and divisive change.

These same people have taken “cursing” from a statement of malicious intent and desire to cause harm to the same generic “saying bad words” – also a radical and prideful change.

***For those of you who do not want to read specific examples, please skip ahead to the paragraph that begins: “Please understand, I do not advocate “swearing and cursing” as they are defined in our day and age.”***

***I mean it. The next few paragraphs include some words that some might find offensive. I do not use any of the examples that I think would cause the most severe reaction, but I spell out completely those I do use.***

Here are just a couple of examples, using the most tame words I feel comfortable using here:

“Hell” is a proper noun that designates a location and/or condition. It is used in our scriptures hundreds of times, at least. It is sung in our hymns of worship. When used as a proper noun (“come hell or high water”), and not within a true curse, there is absolutely nothing bad or wrong with the word itself. Yet, “hell” is forbidden by many people as a “swear word”.

“Damn” is a noun meaning “something of little value”. A good example of this is, “That isn’t worth a damn” – meaning it is worthless. Otoh, “to damn” means to enact a curse – to cause someone to become of no worth, figuratively casting someone to Hell (the place where they are of no worth). Therefore, “Damn you,” is exactly what is forbidden in scriptures, for two reasons:

1) It incorrectly places the one who “curses” another in the place of God, the only one who can be the Judge and validly make such a pronouncement; and
2) it invokes that status in opposition to Jesus’ command to “swear not at all” – since invoking such a curse is, in effect, stating one’s authority to “promise in the name of God” that it will happen.

There are some examples that never were part of religion, but only came to be seen that way as a result of the elite division I mentioned earlier. “Bastard” simply means child born out of wedlock, so “bastardize” meant to make illegitimate or corrupt. “Bitch” means female dog – no worse or better in its original meaning than “ewe” or “doe” or any other name for a female animal. It was the application of the word to “those who act like a female dog” that pushed it into the category of unacceptable “swear words” – and it was the fact that such a usage was employed almost exclusively by the uneducated, unwashed masses as a “gutter term” that led to its classification. Rich, educated, elite people found other ways of saying the same thing in an acceptable manner. That is an incredibly important point, but it is not understood by the vast majority of people when considering “swear words”. (What’s the difference between a one syllable word and a five syllable word if they mean exactly the same thing? Why is one forbidden and one allowed?)

Please understand, I do not advocate “swearing and cursing” as they are defined in our day and age. I try to avoid placing intentional offense in front of people, even when I feel that such offense is misguided and somewhat immature. (Hence, my warning within this post.) I teach my children that “swearing and cursing”, as defined in our modern times, are NOT violations of religious command but, rather, violations of societal expectations – but I also advise them to follow that expectation. In this case, not putting a stumblingblock in front of others is more important than doing something just because it’s not wrong. It is a personal sacrifice for the overall harmony of the community, exactly as someone who would never abuse alcohol abstains anyway in order to help those who might. I teach them that the proper definition of “swearing” and using “curse words” in our time should be “using certain words *out of original meaning* as *expletives* (or words with no inherent meaning as used in the new context).” In this context, it is perfectly acceptable to use an alternate term for manure, as long as you are referring to manure, but NOT within the expression, “Oh, ____!”

I just wish people would stop telling other people they will be damned to Hell for swearing and cursing according to our modern interpretation. That simply isn’t scriptural. Remember, it is God Himself and His prophets who use the word “Damn” in our scriptures exponentially more than anyone else.

{ 46 comments… add one }

  • Michelle D April 4, 2008, 10:23 pm

    I caught your movie reference. I can hear the inflection of the sentence, as if I was watching the movie right now! And I expected you to use an additional example of cultural swearing, given that you grew up in the country with your father’s and grandfather’s influence! :wink:

    I appreciate the way you laid this out through the use of scriptures and definitions. It is important background in making distinctions between what is “right” or “wrong,” both spiritually and culturally.

  • Ray April 4, 2008, 11:03 pm

    Yeah, manure can be called by lots of names, and that one has all kinds of legitimate meanings – as well as being a prime example of a word being forbidden simply because it was considered “gutter trash” language.

  • facethemusic April 5, 2008, 6:50 pm

    Very interesting, Ray. I knew the Bibical definitions of swearing and cursing because of seminary, but I had no idea about the history behind the more modern use of swear/curse words as a divisionary method between the elite and others.
    So how does one become “educated in the history of swearing” anyway? English major??

  • nanacarol April 5, 2008, 8:56 pm

    This is going to date me but here goes. Remember back when, and I think they came from some church resourse, cards you could hand to people that said-Ten reasons not to swear or it was Ten reason to swear. It really made you think about swearing. However, if you handed one to someone today you would probably get your head blown off!! People would not take it kindly. Will have to go into the files and see if I still had one. I use to carry it everywhere!

  • Ray April 5, 2008, 9:03 pm

    ftm, History major and Social Studies teacher. You can take the history teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the history teacher out of the person.

  • Ray April 5, 2008, 9:09 pm

    nanacarol, I don’t remember those, but to me it’s simply a matter of consistency and accuracy. As I said, I don’t swear (which I completely forgot to mention in modern times should be defined as using these words OUT OF CONTEXT as EXPLETIVES – or words with no inherent meaning as used), and I don’t curse (meaning the exact same thing); I just want people to realize it’s not a scriptural standard but rather a cultural standard. I don’t abstain from swearing in order to honor some religious, moral code; I abstain from swearing in order to maintain a social standard and avoid offense.

    I edited the original post to add that modern meaning that I prefer.

  • jendoop April 6, 2008, 1:37 pm

    I’m wondering where the words of modern prophets figure into your ideas, their words about the subject are more pertanent to our understanding of the commandment than the ancient pronouncements.

    Sorry if I misunderstand but if the largest reason you don’t swear is for modern day face value what happens when the modern trend changes? There was a recent study that promoted swearing in the workplace saying it “boosts team spirit and eases stress” (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,302528,00.html). Under that understanding we should swear more. It is becoming more and more prevalent for even those well educated to use less than intelligent language.

    This quote sums up one of the many reasons that makes sense to my brain (beyond the fact it is a commandment not to do it so I don’t)

    Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about
    where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is
    the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it’s worth considering
    how often one really wants one’s audience to be reminded of excrement, urine,
    and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the
    listener’s attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs
    in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener, and a confession by the
    speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending
    to. It’s all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing
    their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English
    lexicon.

    The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. Steven Pinker. Viking. 2007

  • Ray April 6, 2008, 4:49 pm

    jendoop, Pardon me for saying it this way, but the quote you provide bolsters my point – that we should abstain from using words that our society labels as offensive or “swear words” even if we are doing so in the proper context. I jsut disagree adamantly about the motivation.

    For example, the following:

    “They are annoying to the listener, and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to.”

    That says exactly what I was criticizing – that using “swear words” has come to be a sign of intellectual weakness – a way to distinguish the elite, educated, sophisticated people from the common, uneducated, uncouth people who just don’t know any better. Please pardon this example, as I refrained from using it earlier, but “feces” is nothing more than “shit” when both are used in their proper, original linguistic context. The only difference is the person using them. Period.

    Most farmers among whom I was raised (religiously active, God-fearing, humble, wonderful, temple-attending men) would never dream that calling it “horse shit” or “chicken shit” somehow made them less worthy than someone else who called it “manure” or “cow pies” or “chicken droppings” or just “feces”. Again, I abstain from using those terms in general conversations, but I don’t do so thinking that my wonderful father’s use of them is because he is too ignorant to “think of (an)other way to make his words worth attending to.” That is horribly insulting to my father, who is the most selfless, Christ-like man I have ever known.

    I used some words in this thread to make a point, but I generally don’t use them in non-controlled situations. That’s not out of a sense of superiority, but just out of common decency and a desire to avoid giving unintended offense. It’s like Paul’s admonition to abstain from eating meat in front of vegetarians – a focus of respect, not condescension.

  • nanacarol April 6, 2008, 5:04 pm

    I agree with alot that is being said here. In my opinion, whoever swears is in the wrong!!! It really degrades the person doing it. Have I done it-Yes-and I feel bad. Am I trying to stop Yes. Because I know that I am being watched at every move I make sometimes. I want to set a good example. I hate it when I slip and there are times I really beat myself up for it. I will be better and try harder!!! This has been an enlightnigh subject. Swearing at any time and any place is wrong and we all know it. I wish my words were coming out better. I know what is going on in my head but my mind to my hands is two differant things!!!

  • Ray April 6, 2008, 6:00 pm

    Alison, how do I respond to nanacarol – or do I just let it go?

  • jendoop April 9, 2008, 8:06 am

    I’m picking up this thread after being away for a while, DH was on a business trip and the kids didn’t allow for much free time. It gave me time to think… (forgive my poor use of quote tools and etc. still trying to figure out all those buttons up there)

    Ray, My quote may have bolstered your opinion, I guess I was trying to elicit some charity in your words, to help you realize how I feel when I hear cursing, intended innocently or not. We aren’t charitable or kind to one another when we use offensive words.

    Those words you listed are mostly used as expletives in our modern society. Therefore when a person hears them the first inclination is to assume they are being used as expletives, only after consideration of the conversation and person do we then realize it was not being used as an expletive. I would even suggest that this is the reason you remember so well your father using expletives, that they were not the norm and caught you off guard, your Christ-like father using those words. I pass no judgement on your father I believe that he is a Christ-like selfless man who happens to swear now and then. If he knows the gospel surely he has heard the council not to swear and thus made a decision that it isn’t something he wants to focus on now in his spiritual progression. (No one is perfect, we all work on our perfection one step at a time)

    You said:

    the original, scriptural meaning of these words has mutated radically since the initial pronouncements – coming to mean something now that simply was not included or intended in the scriptural admonitions.

    I don’t think you can conclusively say what was intended in the scriptures.

    You said:

    Every instance of swearing ? and cursing ? throughout our canon involves the first definitions.

    Our canon of scripture includes the following scriptures and also modern day revelation.

    Matt 15:11,17-20
    “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
    Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
    But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adultries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”

    Mosiah 4:29-30
    “And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”

    Matt 5:22 (also appears in 3 Ne 12:22, part of the sermon on the mount and important enough for the Savior to repeat it)
    “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

    Lev 19:12
    “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.”

    James 3:3 ?5, 7 ?10
    “Behold, we put bits in the horses ? mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. ?
    For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. ?

    You said:

    I teach my children that swearing and cursing ?, as defined in our modern times, are NOT violations of religious command but, rather, violations of societal expectations

    Swearing and cursing are in fact violations of religious command evidenced by these additional modern day commands:

    A person who is striving to pattern his or her life after that of the Savior will be pure in thought and action. His or her speech will then be clean, dignified, and worshipful ? (Henry D. Taylor, in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, p. 90; or Improvement Era, June 1964, p. 494).

    “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 Ne. 27:7.)”(Boyd K. Packer, The Clean Voice of Youth, ? New Era, Jan 1976, 5)

    “Profane, vulgar, or crude language or gestures, as well as jokes about immoral actions, are offensive to the Lord and to others. Foul language harms your spirit and degrades you. Do not let others influence you to use it.” ( Language, ? For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God, 22)

  • Ray April 9, 2008, 9:00 am

    jendoop, Let me repeat something first, then address your quotes.

    First, I do NOT encourage my children to swear or curse **according to what those terms now mean** – specifically because others find them offensive. I almost never use the words I did in this post – for the exact same reason. They have been defined in our culture to be “swear words” or “cursing” – even though, used as simple nouns or verbs to convey their original linguistic meaning, they are not “swearing” or “cursing” in the original, scriptural meaning (“promising” and “pronouncing a curse”).

    Second, your characterization of my father’s use of the words I mentioned and my remembrance of them, frankly, is 100% incorrect. He used them explicitly because **they were not considered taboo in the culture in which he was raised**. Iow, the people where he was raised did not consider them to be “swear words” or “vulgar” or “profane” – unless used as expletives. He never used them as expletives; he only used them as nouns or adjectives in their original meaning. I remember the usage because of how others **outside his culture** characterized that usage. Iow, I didn’t think anything of it when I heard it; it was only when others implied he was a low-life for using such words that it “jarred” with me.

    Third, it would take forever to go verse by verse and quote by quote, but not one of the verses or quotes you listed specifically prohibits the words I mentioned here from being used. Every single one of them talks of a principle ***with which I agree fully*** - namely, that what we say tells a lot about us and can defile us. I believe that wholeheartedly.

    Let me use another example:

    The scriptures use the word “whore” numerous times, yet it is a word that jars our modern sensibilities. I don’t use it; it seems crass, and there are other words that are available when I mean someone who sells their body for money. However, there is nothing wrong with the word itself – when used to mean someone who sells their body for money. It was used by prophets of God. It only jars now **because of the culture in which we live** – just as the word my father used for “feces” only jars now because of the culture in which we live now.

    That, really, is the only point I am making – that each age and each culture defines what words “defileth a man” and are vulgar and profane – but even that decision is not what the scriptures mean when they use the words “swear” and “curse”. What I am saying is that there is a HUGE difference between “swearing and cursing” and “profanity and vulgarity”. The first is religious to the core, with a principle that never changes; the second is cultural, with specific taboos that change all the time – both among cultures and within the same culture.

    If we are going to accept prohibitions on using certain words, fine. I just want people to understand that we are speaking of profanity and vulgarity (and all that those terms entail) – not swearing and cursing.

    I hope that clarifies my point better.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 9, 2008, 6:02 pm

    I teach my children that swearing and cursing ?, as defined in our modern times, are NOT violations of religious command but, rather, violations of societal expectations

    Great point.

    I just wish people would stop telling other people they will be damned to Hell for swearing and cursing

    Could not stop giggling at that sentence!

  • jendoop April 10, 2008, 5:55 am

    Ray, At the foundation of our discussion seems to be the idea that words have power. Either to curse, swear, profane or to uplift, inspire and speak truth. We agree on that. I do agree with you that there is a difference between the modern day idea of what “swearing” or “cursing” means compared to the biblical definition.

    My concern with your post was that someone may take it as justification for being profane. You fully explored the history and context of swearing and cursing but not the history and context of profane and vulgar language.

    You cannot separate the person from their culture, we are in it and it is in us therefore we will be judged by God according to our own societal ideas of profanity, not by another culture or time. But then we can’t excuse sin either by saying it is part of our culture. That would be an interesting study, to compare how culture is interwoven throughout all of our commandments yet the ways some commandments don’t change. Maybe blacks receiving the priesthood is an example of this? In principle it seems blacks should have been able to hold the priesthood all along but because of society, cultural norms at the time they weren’t allowed until a specific revelation was given.

    Did we find some common ground or do I still misunderstand?

  • facethemusic April 10, 2008, 6:03 am

    What I am saying is that there is a HUGE difference between “swearing and cursing” and “profanity and vulgarity”. The first is religious to the core, with a principle that never changes; the second is cultural, with specific taboos that change all the time

    It’s amazing how word choice an phrasing makes such a difference. Those two sentences clarify the whole thing. Well spoken, Ray.

    I think your both right. And I think what Jendoop is saying– and I think Ray agrees, is that since our current culture has made certain words, which were not originally considered “profane or vulgar”, to now BE profane or vulgar, we would be wise to choose different words, if even only to respect others’ sensitivities.

  • jennycherie April 10, 2008, 6:51 am

    Posted By: facethemusicwe would be wise to choose different words, if even only to respect others’ sensitivities.

    AND, it’s still a good idea NOT to overreact when the RS president or EQ president let’s out a bad word in front of the crowd. . .:crazy:

  • facethemusic April 10, 2008, 7:17 am

    Did I miss something in RS Jenn?

  • jennycherie April 10, 2008, 9:06 am

    hmmm, maybe you have. . . but it happens fairly regularly – - nothing extreme just a “D” or an “H” every now and then :shocked:

  • Alison Moore Smith April 10, 2008, 9:47 am

    Posted By: jendoopwe will be judged by God according to our own societal ideas of profanity, not by another culture or time. But then we can’t excuse sin either by saying it is part of our culture. That would be an interesting study, to compare how culture is interwoven throughout all of our commandments yet the ways some commandments don’t change.

    jendoop, you bring up some very interesting ideas. I must do the karate run now, but I’ll be thinking about this. My first question is to what extent we really will be “judged by God according to our societal ideas.” Interesting.

  • davidson April 10, 2008, 12:10 pm

    I agree. Interesting discussion. It’s been fun to watch it unfold. I tend to think Jendoop is right about being judged by God according to our societal ideas. (And by the way, I think it’s great that this discussion has remained courteous.) Hair length, beards, and mustaches are other examples.
    Jesus wore long hair and a beard and a mustache, at least according to most artist’s conceptions, and He fit into His society perfectly well. He also wore sandals and a DRESS (if you count a long robe that doesn’t have pant legs as a dress), like the other men around him. Suppose Thomas S. Monson had appeared at the recent General Conference with shoulder length hair, a beard and mustache, wearing a DRESS? (I feel disrespectful even saying it.) Would he be judged by God as acting unrighteously? Boy, we could toss this back and forth all day. I think of prophets of the past. Joseph F. Smith comes to mind, with his long pointed beard. Not a single General Authority today has a long pointed beard, and if he did suddenly sprout one, it would be seen almost certainly as a sign of rebellion. Some customs aren’t inherently good or bad. We take our clues from authorized leaders of our time. I thought it was interesting that Spencer W. Kimball advised, in his usual loving but blunt way, that single women who wanted to be married and weren’t should carefully consider if their dresses were too short or too long, their habits of speech too blunt or too quiet, or if they had made themselves too different from the norm in other unacceptable ways. He indicated that unmarried women aren’t always entirely faultless. He said we have an obligation to find our quirks and work on them, if we want to be considered acceptable in society. If that is true of unmarried women, it is probably true of all of us. “I am what I am! Deal with it!” doesn’t seem to have a place in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Modify”, modesty” and “moderate” all have the same root.

    I’m a firm believer that when a principle or a doctrine isn’t spelled out for us clearly, or if we refuse to recognize it as such when it IS spelled out clearly, we can’t go wrong making the decision to follow the Brethren. Would a General Authority do it? Well, they say “hell” and “damn” all the time–but they say hell to warn us about the possibility of our going to a certain undesirable place, and they say damn to indicate the cessation of progress that going there would entail. They don’t, however, say, “Damn you” or “Go to hell” when they are angry. I doubt a single one of them, even the ones raised on farms, calls animal feces “chicken shit” or “horse shit.” Feces is a euphemism; shit isn’t. I don’t know why one is acceptable and one isn’t, but I guess we have to have SOME word to refer to it, and feces seems to be a more acceptable, respectable term. I don’t buy into the idea, “Well, I grew up with it, and men with testimonies whom I admire still say it.” That isn’t a good enough reason, IMO, to continue an unrighteous tradition. If it gives offense, it is wrong. Period. It seems to me it is the antithesis of charity, to purposefully give offense in order to please ourselves or allow ourselves to be comfortable. It is a kind of selfishness, I think. We may have the freedom of speech, but we don’t have the freedom of consequences of our speech, and some people think the two are inseparable.

    That said, I understand perfectly where you’re coming from. I grew up with a wonderful father who could cuss a blue streak. Kind of like the father of Ralphie in The Christmas Story. “He worked in profanity like an artist might work in oils or some other medium.” Those words were constantly in my head when I was growing up. My mother NEVER swore. My father ALWAYS did. By the time I was twelve, I had a terrible swearing problem. Through the Spirit, I felt it was wrong. I worked hard to overcome it, and it wasn’t easy. (I feel for you, Nanacarol.) It is kind of an addiction, I think, and I had as hard a time giving up my cuss words as a smoker might have giving up his cigarettes. I don’t swear any more, and I don’t enjoy hearing other people swear. My dad said he could never smell cigarette smoke when he was a smoker. He had to give it up for health reasons, and he said that now the smell of cigarette smoke is so strong to him that it makes him physically ill. Maybe swearing wouldn’t bother me if I hadn’t had to work so hard to overcome it. That said, I continue to love all of my relatives and friends who swear, and I never correct them. I’m not certain why I made an attempt to protest it here, except for that we discuss our thoughts pretty freely here. I figure we all work on different gospel lines, and we get there when the Spirit prompts us to concentrate on a particular thing. We are all works in progress. I don’t feel more strongly about it than that. My husband and I go home teaching to a wonderful, loving inactive couple. Recently they have started swearing when we sit and visit with them. I take it as a good sign! They are getting more comfortable with us, and that is the way they typically speak. They almost seem to be daring us to make a protest. We don’t. When they quit swearing around us, I want it to be because they love us and respect us and worry about giving offense. Until that time, I am content to listen and love them. Heaven knows they tolerate our inadequacies.

    This is my OPINION. Notice that I carefully labeled it as such. Swearing is a childish thing. It is akin to throwing tantrums and overeating and smoking and other instances of lack of self-control. It is evidence of a simple immaturity. It is something to overcome. The person who indulges in those things isn’t a bad human being, he is a good human becoming. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Ray has already mentioned how he exercises self-control in that vein, in spite of his feelings about specific words, and he teaches his children to do the same. I admire that.

    And for those who want to swear, go at it! You know how I feel, and I won’t give any more protests.
    Make yourselves comfortable.

  • Ray April 10, 2008, 12:13 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, jendoop. We probably do differ a bit in how we see this, but that difference is slight – “statistically insignificant”, I’d say. :cool:

    Imo, there are cultural aspects to many of our “rules”, but there are few cultural aspects to most (if not all) core commandments and principles. The principles are used within cultures to create the specific “rules” that buffer the commandments – simply because our “natural (wo)man” can’t help it. We just have to complicate simple things. At the most fundamental and personal level, I don’t care one whit for “rules” – as long as I am applying the principles and obeying the commandments. However, whenever certain “rules” are necessary within a given culture, I adhere to those rules – as long as they are not destructive in nature.

    White shirts in church is a good example. I will wear pretty much any color shirt in church, when I attend as a regular member. When I attend in my official calling, I wear a white shirt, suit and tie – since I have been asked to do so as a part of our leadership culture. When I attend Stake Council meetings of various kinds, I often wear my work clothes (polo and slacks), since it is not a “public meeting” and my direct Priesthood leader has not told me not to do so. I wish there were few “rules”, but I understand their necessity. I just bristle sometimes when I think they are imposed without being necessary – as if they actually were commandments.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 10, 2008, 2:02 pm

    I agree that there is a great deal of culture inculcated in our model of righteousness. Anything dealing with modesty is evidence of that.

    Posted By: Raybut there are few cultural aspects to most (if not all) core commandments and principles.

    Maybe that’s a place to start. What ARE the “core commandments and principles” as opposed to the policies, practices, etc. I wonder if we’d even all agree on that. For example, where does the Word of Wisdom fit?

    I just bristle sometimes when I think they are imposed without being necessary – as if they actually were commandments.

    Ah, good man. I’m wondering if you ever read The Prayer Thing that was discussed “before your time”? Personally, I think the misrepresentation of practice as doctrine is a major source of difficulty in the church.

  • jendoop April 10, 2008, 5:35 pm

    I’m so glad we’ve been able to discuss and find understanding while respecting our differences of opinion. :)

    This was one of my encounters with culture/commandment. While serving in a RS presidency I was told that the week the stake RS presidency visits we should wear nylons. (I loathe nylons and seldom wear them) I questioned the gospel principle behind it and was given no better reason than the stake RS president has a real problem with bare legs. It became a joke between myself and a few friends, one even gave me a gift of black and green fishnet stockings. So what did I wear on stake RS presidency Sunday? A long skirt with long boots, no one could see a speck of my legs to determine hose or not :)

    Our current stake president talks about ‘the unwritten law of the church’, he uses as an example the way a bishopric sits on the stand. It isn’t in any handbook, but that is the way it is done. He said there is a talk by Pres Packer on the subject but I couldn’t find it. I think Ray’s example of what he wears to different meetings falls under that category.

    So who is going to write a great post about culture/commandment/principle?

  • jennycherie April 10, 2008, 6:13 pm

    jendoop – that talk is very hard to find! It’s called “The Unwritten Order of Things” and I believe it was a speech he gave at BYU in 1996. I have it in a PDF file if you would like me to send it to you by email. I don’t remember how I ran into the talk or how I ended up with it in a PDF file but it answered many questions I have had while serving in various callings.

    Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

    “I will be speaking about what I call the
    unwritten order of things. ? My lesson might
    be entitled The Ordinary Things about the
    Church Which Every Member Should Know. ?
    Although they are very ordinary things, they
    are, nevertheless, very important! We somehow
    assume that everybody knows all the
    ordinary things already. If you do know them,
    you must have learned them through observation
    and experience, for they are not written
    anywhere and they are not taught in classes.”

    so true! As a new member, it took me a while, but every now and then I would call the sister missionaries and ask, “is it my imagination or is no one else wearing pants? Is it just because they don’t like pants or is there a reason? . . . is it my imagination or is no one wearing sleeveless dresses?, etc.” There were some things I did not learn until years later. . .like, when someone in the pew behind us corrected one of our children when they used their left hand to take the sacrament. That was a news flash to me! I’m still not sure I get that one. . .

    “The things I am going to tell you about are
    not so rigid that the Church will fall apart if
    they are not strictly observed all the time. But
    they do set a tone, a standard, of dignity and
    order and will improve our meetings and classwork;
    they will improve the activities. If you
    know them and understand them, they will
    greatly improve your life.”

    “There are many things I could say about
    such matters as wearing Sunday best. Do you
    know what Sunday best ? means? It used to
    be the case. Now we see ever more informal,
    even slouchy, clothing in our meetings, even in
    sacrament meeting, that leads to informal and
    slouchy conduct.”

  • davidson April 10, 2008, 6:46 pm

    I’d love to hear his “unwritten law of the church” speech, Jendoop. I think it is interesting to see how the brethren are unified about the “unwritten law of the church.” Someone or something is giving them direction in that respect. They are like-minded. As is the General Relief Society Presidency. They come to the same conclusion together on most things concerning what is appropriate and what is not. I doubt they even discuss it. Things like what they wear to meetings, what they say in casual conversation, stuff like that.

    And what is a handbook, if not a list of directions used to regulate affairs of the Church concerning the practical application of things that may or may not be principles or commandments? I don’t view a handbook as scripture. I do look at it as a list of suggestions from our General Authorities about the way they’d like to see things done, and I respect that list! because I love them and want to support them. They are seeking to create unity in the Church, as the Savior directed. We can see it as mind control, or we can see it as a list of suggestions for the orderly regulating of the Church, and comply because we WANT to. Nothing wrong with that.

    I’ll never forget an evening we had with Monte Brough, now a General Authority emeritus, (not because of his age but because of his Parkinson’s disease. He is someone very special to us because he is related.) (Although that matters not one whit in the scheme of things.) He had requested that we gather at my husband’s aunt’s home to have a family home evening. He wanted the extended family to put it together, and we were delighted to do it. He was wearing a nice polo shirt and slacks. At the conclusion of our family home evening, my husband’s uncle requested that Elder Brough ordain him a high priest, since he was ready to receive that ordination. Elder Brough got such a worried look on his face, and he seemed reluctant. He then said slowly and kindly, “I don’t believe I am dressed appropriately to function in that capacity.” Then he said, “But maybe the Lord would understand, since I can’t be here to do it when I AM dressed appropriately.” He was flying out that evening. He gave the uncle a beautiful blessing along with his ordination. But I will never forget that, his heart-felt desire to approach the Lord appropriately, his reluctance to offend, even in a home among his family.

    Another time he gathered his cousins together for a cousin night at my mother-in-law’s home, which is one of their traditions. (My mother-in-law is his first cousin.) They had done that since the time they were teenagers. At the gathering, some of the cousins began to tell suggestive stories and laugh about them (something they had also done when they were teenagers.) Monte looked like he was going to cry. He was so deeply disappointed. He loved his cousins and loved being with them, but he was very sorry they hadn’t outgrown that particular youthful aspect of their relationship. It put him in a really awkward position. He didn’t want to correct them, and he didn’t want to sit and listen to it. He finally said something, but it made him really, really sad. And I know, once again, he was worried about offending Heavenly Father, even more than he was worried about offending his beloved cousins.

    Well, maybe that’s neither here nor there. It seems to me that if we love the Lord, we anxiously look for ways to please Him and to avoid offending Him or His Holy Spirit.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 10, 2008, 9:25 pm

    The Unwritten Order of Things (it’s on about 200 web sites) is one of the classic drives-me-nuts talks because it’s used as a club to justify making up pretty much anything you want.

    It’s like the Toddler’s Creed. If you’ve ever seen it, heard about it, watched it, or thought about it, you can call it doctrine.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 10, 2008, 9:33 pm

    Oh, and right hand sacrament thing makes me crazy, too. (Notice that lots of things make me crazy?) I was also taught this as a child BUT:

    It is not taught in the missionary discussions
    It is not taught in Gospel Principles
    It is not in ANY current church manual
    It is not in the handbook

    First, I don’t think it’s just coincidence that every reference to it disappeared and, second, if it is so important, it SHOULD be written down. “Enforcing” (or correcting someone about) an unspoken tradition is, as Caleb would say, “just so wude!”

    Now, let’s talk about the proposition of ONLY passing the sacrament tray with the right hand AND only taking the sacrament itself with the right hand WHILE holding a newborn and a wiggly toddler and managing two additional young kids BECAUSE your husband is on the stand with the bishopric–all of whom are pretending to be deep in thought about the atonement whilst really sleeping.

  • jennycherie April 10, 2008, 9:44 pm

    Posted By: Alison Moore Smith(it’s on about 200 web sites)

    I guess if I’d thought to google it, I would have found the 200 websites, but I only ever considered searching lds.org because I didn’t realize (previously, the first time I looked for it) that talks from general authorities would be posted anywhere else.

    Posted By: Alison Moore Smithone of the classic drives-me-nuts talks because it’s used as a club to justify making up pretty much anything you want.

    I guess I haven’t experienced that so I am surprised to hear it. In the wrong frame of mind, any talk could be used that way, I suppose. I converted when I was 21 and found myself constantly paranoid about offending or making a mistep because there was so much that was *not* taught that seemed to be so important–like not wearing pants, not wearing sleeveless dresses to church, not wearing short skirts–and so offensive to other members. How do I know when I am observing something important and purposeful (like dressing modestly) and not just observing a coincidence (that the women at church just happen to dress modestly because they are all self conscious about their figures)? Even now, as a member of 13 years, I still worry when I teach that I will inadvertently teach false doctrine or make some social gaff (like taking the sacrament with my left hand–why exactly does anyone pay attention to what hand someone else is using anyway?) in front of the whole ward.

  • Ray April 11, 2008, 12:17 am

    Amen, Alison. AMEN!

    Culture becomes habit becomes seen as command. Does anyone *really* want to suggest that someone whose right arm has been amputated can’t partake of the sacrament correctly – that his situation is allowable as an “alternative” to the “right way”? Does anyone *really* want to suggest that God watches us and gets upset when I pass the sacrament without tucking my left hand behind my back? Do we really think he cares exactly how the deacons line up at the sacrament table? Would he be happier if they lined up in order of height or by age or coordinated by hair color? That last question was obviously stupid, but how is it ANY different than the left arm tuck rule? It’s not.

    My general rule of thumb: If a practice appears to have no other motivation beside conformity – no spiritual benefit or symbolic significance – it nearly always, if not always, is culture and not doctrinal. If it really is vital for our salvation, it will be recorded. “Unwritten Order” means multiplicity of interpretation – just like the game where you go around the circle and what is said at the beginning is completely different by the time it gets all the way around that circle. It is ain’t written, it ain’t real and shouldn’t be enforced, imho.

  • Ray April 11, 2008, 12:18 am

    “If it ain’t written, it ain’t real.” Wow, that was a doozy.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 11, 2008, 1:01 am

    Posted By: jennycherieI guess I haven’t experienced that so I am surprised to hear it…. I converted when I was 21 and found myself constantly paranoid about offending or making a mistep because there was so much that was *not* taught that seemed to be so important–like not wearing pants, not wearing sleeveless dresses to church, not wearing short skirts–and so offensive to other members.

    You have experienced it, jennycherie! Members should NOT find lack of compliance to tradition “so offensive.” They can only get their knickers in a twist IF they’ve decided that things like wearing hose or wearing dresses are important enough to get excited about. And if they do decided they are “that important” it is by basing undue importance to things that aren’t even important enough to write down, generally in the name of “that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

    Modesty IS written down. One pair of earrings is written down. Wearing hose is not. Abstaining from denim is not. Tablecloths in RS is not. etc. etc. :smile:

  • jennycherie April 11, 2008, 4:01 am

    Posted By: Alison Moore Smithsecond, if it is so important, it SHOULD be written down. “Enforcing” (or correcting someone about) an unspoken tradition is, as Caleb would say, “just so wude!”

    I had the same thought when my kiddo was corrected. . . I’d been a member for, I think, 10 years at that point and I was thinking, “this is so important that my children are corrected by someone outside of our family and yet I’ve NEVER even heard a mention of it in a single lesson or talk in TEN YEARS??”

    Posted By: Alison Moore Smith
    You have experienced it, jennycherie! Members should NOT find lack of compliance to tradition “so offensive.”

    okay, good point – - I guess I was just thinking of the “using the talk as a club” but I guess I have seen that done with other talks. Really, anytime a person gets to focused on one minute bit of the gospel (be it doctrine or culture), it tends to used as a club!

    Posted By: Alison Moore SmithTablecloths in RS is not.

    now THAT is good news I am relieved to hear! My table decorating and displaying skills are woefully inadequate and when it was left up to me, the table was usually bare!

  • Tinkerbell April 11, 2008, 9:09 am

    Now, let’s talk about the proposition of ONLY passing the sacrament tray with the right hand AND only taking the sacrament itself with the right hand WHILE holding a newborn and a wiggly toddler and managing two additional young kids BECAUSE your husband is on the stand with the bishopric–all of whom are pretending to be deep in thought about the atonement whilst really sleeping.

    Yeah, we have way too much in common . .

  • Tinkerbell April 11, 2008, 9:09 am

    Dang it (yikes – is that offensive?) Why can’t I get my block quotes to work? What am I doing wrong?

  • Alison Moore Smith April 11, 2008, 12:29 pm

    Kindred spirits, jenny and tink. :smile:

    To get the blockquotes to work, you have to click the Html radio button that is just below the comment box (above the Vanillacons button).

  • jendoop April 11, 2008, 12:49 pm

    .

  • jendoop April 11, 2008, 12:50 pm

    …still trying

  • jendoop April 11, 2008, 12:50 pm

    and yet again…
    Tink, its too funny that you started your comment with:

    Dang it (yikes – is that offensive?)

    on in the swearing and cursing discussion.
    Yes, eventually the newbies will get the hang of it.

  • agardner April 11, 2008, 1:57 pm

    Tablecloths in relief society may not be doctrinal, but I’m pretty sure handouts, artwork and/or sculptures are. :-)

  • Tinkerbell April 11, 2008, 2:48 pm

    Yes, sculptures are my personal favorite.

  • davidson April 11, 2008, 3:23 pm

    Maybe we can start something new. Maybe we can hand out live lizards. Dare ya.

  • Tinkerbell April 11, 2008, 3:34 pm

    Ew, no thanks! Why, oh why do I have four boys? I nearly threw up when my husband took the dead fish out of the fish bowl last night. Handouts, artwork and sculptures sound just fine to me. No more complaining here.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 11, 2008, 3:43 pm

    Posted By: agardnerTablecloths in relief society may not be doctrinal, but I’m pretty sure handouts, artwork and/or sculptures are.

    You are mistaken. But refrigerator magnets with authoritative sayings are.

  • Ray April 11, 2008, 4:09 pm

    I’m off my meds today, Alison?!

  • davidson April 11, 2008, 4:19 pm

    So many zingers flying around here, you’d think this was a Hostess Factory!

  • Ray April 11, 2008, 4:58 pm

    :wink:Nice, davidson. Very nice. I concede defeat and will return after I take my meds.

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