I recently happened onto a family dispute unfolding on Facebook wherein a young child, in the course of a seemingly unrelated debate, uttered the words “I think that guy is a fagot”. To which another family member, who happens to live in an openly homosexual lifestyle quickly reprimanded the kid for using offensive language.
I’ve heard this line of reasoning before, but this time I took a minute to ponder what it is that constitutes offensive language.
Is it really any language that we find offensive? Judging from the current politically correct climate, it seems that way.
Our current cultural climate aside, I want to propose what I believe is a more reasonable assessment of what constitutes “offensive language”.
Language is offensive or not based on what it describes, not what it does.
Language that offends my sensibilities is not, itself, offensive. It is only offensive insofar as what it depicts is, itself, offensive. So, for example, pornography is offensive not because it hurts some people’s feelings, but because it is writing about prostitutes, something that is morally wrong.
Likewise, calling someone a “fagot” is offensive, not because it causes people caught up in a homosexual lifestyle any emotional damage. But because what it describes, a homosexual lifestyle, is morally wrong.
I believe this understanding of offensive language was quite normal in times past. The problem is that in our post-modern culture where we have largely bought into the notion of moral relativism, it has become impossible to define what constitutes “offensive language” outside of what it does to a person’s emotional state. Rather than recognizing a word or phrase to depict something that is immoral and then rightly taking offense at the depiction, even negatively, of something immoral we have reversed the process so that anything that offends our subjective and ever changing understanding of right and wrong is then said to be offensive.
In the first instance, offensive language is clearly defined according to an objective moral standard. Therefore, what could be considered to fall under the umbrella of “offensive language” is limited and easily understood.
In the modern interpretation, however, offensive language is defined by the hearer according to their own personal (and highly subjective) moral standard. This means that in the modern understanding, “offensive language” can constitute damn1 near anything.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
- Hell is morally repulsive too, that is why both ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ are justly categorized as offensive language. [↩]