This post is about fear. Fear is the driving force behind profanity. It’s also about why we use nasty words for beautiful things. I got to thinking about this after I mentioned the awful euphemisms people use to talk about death. The ones I shared were tasteful compared to some. They all serve as a mask, a cover-up for our fears about dying.
A few days later, I spoke with a friend who is pregnant. If you knew this woman and her husband, knew what great parents they are, you would be horrified to hear the vulgar ways that people talk about her “condition”. To her face. In front of her children. Regardless of her character or her circumstances, no pregnant woman should be spoken to in that way.
It really got me thinking. Nearly all the profanity I can think of involves God’s name, OR it involves words for sex or reproductive organs. At first the two don’t seem to have anything in common. But they have everything to do with one another.
Our bodies are made in God’s image, and sex is an expression of his character. When a husband and wife become one, they are demonstrating one of the most basic principles of who God is. There is perfect unity in God. There is never division, heartache, or miscommunication because God is one. We humans have divided loyalties. We are conflicted and double minded. But some of us are blessed enough to experience transcendent moments where we get a glimpse of what it really means to be one. These moments feel so good because they give us a taste of the intimacy we were created for.
And it is terrifying.
We should all fear sex. We should all be speechless with awe in the presence of pregnant women. We should fear these things in the same sense that we fear God. We should be humble and reverent, admitting that we don’t understand.
Fear usually kicks in when we are confronted with beauty, power, and mystery. It can go in two directions. We can humble ourselves and fear in a reverent way, or we can say something stupid. Crack a joke. But this is still an expression of fear. A fear that mocks God by mocking what he made. Is making a joke about a body part really any different than taking God’s name in vain?
In the ancient Near East, when men made an oath to each other, they didn’t put their hand on a Bible. They put their hands “under the thigh” of the other person to swear the oath. The idea was that this part of the body was so powerful, so holy, that you wouldn’t dare put your hand there and lie. (There is scholarly disagreement about whether the hand actually touched the testicles, or just near them, but this is where we get the words “testimony”, “testament” and “testify”).
So how did we go from taking this stuff so seriously that we would “swear” by it, to using the names of these body parts as “swear words”?
And why are we all so afraid?