IBL03: Third Commandment (Craig Press)

Swearing and Revolution


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:01 Exodus 20:7, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain for the Lord will not him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” This is the third commandment. Perhaps the most neglected of the commandments nowadays. There is so little mention of it that one book Rand’s Digest of the Divine Law, which is a study of the Mosaic law, does not even mention the third commandment other than to list it in the 10.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:50 However, when we go to the other side, we find that there is no lack of attention to taking the name of the Lord in vain, and in fact, a great deal of championing of false swearing and of profanity by various modern scholars. As evidence of the great interest in this area, I refer you to the tremendous controversy a few years ago as people worked night and day to introduce a particular book into the public schools, The Dictionary of American Slang, which was actually a dictionary of more than American slang, it was a dictionary of American profanity. Then again, a very important and very readable book, which champions the same sort of thing written by Ashley Montagu, a very prominent anthropology, “The Anatomy of Swearing,” published in 1967.

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:55 There is thus a great deal of interest today in profanity on the opposite side of the fence. As we analyze the subject, perhaps it is helpful to cite a statement at the very beginning of this anthropologist’s book. Ashley Montagu begins his work by saying, and I quote, “Swearing serves clearly definable social as well as personal purposes. A social purpose? But has not swearing always been socially condemned and proscribed? It has. And that is precisely the point because the early forms of swearing were often in a nature regarded as subversive of social and religious institutions, as when the names of the God’s were profanely invoked.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 02:57 What we shall do this morning is to lay the groundwork then next week consider exactly why Montagu makes this statement, which is an accurate one. Why was swearing, or we would say more accurately, false swearing regarded as subversive? The question is extremely important, and especially urgently important in our day because it brings the focus of great many things under the surface that we are not aware of that some of these people are clearly aware of.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:37 Now, Montagu, as he deals with the subject classifies the various forms of swearing classifies the various forms of swearing. And first of all, we will go through his classification and then analyze its weaknesses.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:55 First, he says, swearing is the act of verbally expressing the feeling of aggressiveness that follows upon frustration of words possessing strong emotional association.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:08 Second, cursing, often used as a synonym for swearing, is a form of swearing, distinguished by the fact that it invokes or calls down some evil upon its object.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:20 Third, profanity, often used as a synonym for swearing and cursing, is the form of swearing in which the names or attributes of the figures or objects of religious veneration are uttered.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:34 Fourth, blasphemy, often identified with cursing and profanity, is the act of vilifying or ridiculing the figures or objects of religious veneration.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:45 Fifth, obscenity, a form of swearing that makes use of indecent words and phrases.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:52 Sixth, vulgarity, a form of swearing that makes use of crude words, such as “bloody.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:58 And seventh, euphemistic swearing, a form of swearing in which mild, vague, or corrupted expressions are substituted for the original strong one.

R.J. Rushdoony: 05:11 Now, this classification is interesting, but it isn’t very helpful, and it certainly is not Biblical in orientation. And as we analyze Montagu’s classification, which is that of an anthropologist, we must say, first of all that the Bible does not forbid swearing in general, only false swearing. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Certain types of swearing are not only not forbidden, but as we shall see next week, socially, absolutely necessary.

R.J. Rushdoony: 06:01 Second, he classifies profanity as a special classification. But all false swearing or cursing is profane; so that profanity is not a separate category. It is important to understand the meaning of the word profane. It comes from two Latin words: ‘pro’ meaning before and sometimes outside. If you are before something, you’re not in there so when it is used in a certain context it means outside. ‘Fane’ in profane comes from fanus (temple) or fanum. Now, fanum (temple). Pro-fanum means before or outside of the temple. Or, more literally, outside of God. What is profanity then? It is language which is outside of God or hostile to Him. Therefore, all language, all action or living which is outside the temple, that is outside God, is from the Biblical point of view, profane. A group of people can be standing around and having a thoroughly polite and socially acceptable conversation, but if that conversation is outside God, outside His Law, no matter how courteous and polite it may be, it is profane. It is outside God. It is living as though God does not exist. It is talking as though there is no God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:57 Then we must say, third, with respect to Montagu’s classification, that cursing is indeed invoking God’s judgment, not simply wishing evil. It is invoking judgment on evil-doers. But there is one kind of cursing in the Bible, which no matter how deserved, is forbidden. In cursing, a man can invoke God’s judgment on all and any kind of evil-doer, save his father and mother. However evil one’s parent’s may be, a curse upon then is strictly forbidden. And Exodus 21:17 says, “He that curseth his Father or his Mother shall surely be put to death.” We shall deal with that law when we come to the fifth commandment in my detail.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:11 Suffice it to say not that honor to parents is so fundamental to social order in the Biblical scheme of things that while adults are not required to obey their parents, when they are adults, they honor them. They cannot even, no matter how great the evil they are involved in, ever curse them.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:40 Then fourth, with regard to Montagu’s classification, we must say that blasphemy is more than taking God’s name profanely. It is defamatory, wicked and rebellious language directed at God. It is rebellion against God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:05 Naboth, as we recall, was falsely accused of swearing and charged against Jesus was blasphemy. Now, the background of law in the Western world being Biblical declared all false swearing and profane language to be illegal. And according to the law books in England and the United States, profanity and false swearing is still against the law, but these bits of legislation are a dead letter. They have become so in particular since World War I. Since World War II, the newest trend, although it developed after World War I, has been an increasing amount of profanity among women. This is especially true in urban communities. It is still not true by and large in smaller towns. It reached the point of acceptability, especially in World War II, in many, many circles. In one World War II aircraft plant here in the United States, in one section where women were mostly employed, it became necessary for the management to post a sign, “No swearing. There may be gentleman about.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:39 Now, to analyze a few basic facts with regard to false swearing. First of all, false swearing, as well as legitimate swearing is essentially and necessarily linked to religion. It is profanity. It is outside God and against God. When it uses God’s name in vain, it is an illicit, a hostile use of God’s name. But this form of swearing is increasingly passe. Modern swearing, as Montagu points out, is increasingly oriented to sexual and excremental themes. Now, this is an important fact. We pointed out that swearing is essentially a religious act.

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:42 What does it mean when it turns to excremental and sexual themes? It means, secondly, that there is a religious change in society. Godly oath-taking, when a man swears on the witness stand, he is looking to confirmation of what he says from above. He is staking his word that what he says is true and calling upon God to sustain him. He declares that even as God’s Word stands, so His Word he shall abide by.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:33 Now, Godly oath-taking looks to confirmation and strength from above. Ungodly oath-taking looks to strength from below. In other words, what you have here is the religion of revolution. What is it that men look to for strength nowadays? What do they look to for vitality? It is that which is in the unconscious, that which comes from the primitive, the evolutionary past.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:09 A very interest recent book on the modern dance has statement of belief by some of the prominent modern dancers. And the point is made in the introduction that when the modern dance began at the beginning of the century, the early champions of the modern dance like Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Dennis believed in a kind of dance which was imbued always with the vision of the good and the beautiful.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:46 Now, their interpretation of what the good and beautiful is, we would not agree with. Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Dennis were concerned with the good and the beautiful in their dance. But, the introduction says, in the late 20’s, however, the nature of the outlook was utterly changed. When two renegades from [Dennis-shawn 00:15:12], Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey rejected the sweetness and light approach of their predecessors.

R.J. Rushdoony: 15:20 How did they recreate dancing? They looked to the past but to a more distant past, to the era of pre-history, to the time when man, uninhibited by arbitrary codes of mores, uninhibited by morality, had expressed the full range of his primitive instincts. Now, how do you become a great dancer or a great artist? This is what one of the so-called great modern dancers, Anna [Se-phe-la 00:15:57] said, and she titles her article, “The Rebel and the Bourgeois.” “The trouble,” she says, “with the modern dance now is that it is trying to be respectable. The founders of the modern dance were rebels, their followers were bourgeois. The younger generation is too anxious to please. Too eager to accept. For art, this is death. To young dancers I want to say, ‘Do what you feel you are, not what you think you ought to be. Go ahead and be a bastard. Then, you can be an artist.'”

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:37 Now what does this mean, “strength comes from below?” It is sterile to be respectable. It is sterile to be moral. Vitality comes from below. So when you swear now, you do not take the name of the Lord in vain, you reach does increasingly in modern swearing to that which is forbidden, to the unconscious, to sex, to excrement. To everything that is ugly and evil, because here is strength. There is thus a religious progression in profanity. And as you study the history of swearing, and Montagu documents this in detail, there is a religious progression. It moves religiously from a defiance of God and a misuse of God’s name to an affirmation of grace from below, a demonic kind of power.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:47 Montagu points out that the most popular new swear word, which came into great use after World War II came from negro sources and refers to incest. And at the time, other very popular swear words which have a tremendous vogue among the hippie element and similar circles have reference to homosexuality. There is, thus, a progression downward.

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:30 Thus we must say next that profanity is a barometer. It indicates that a revolution is in process. Society is shifting it’s foundation from above, from a foundation upon God and upon the Law of God to a foundation downward to the unconscious, to the primitive, to the evil, to everything that is profane.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:01 This is why there was such a religious fervor in getting the Dictionary of American Slang into the schools. It was a religious act. Their feeling was that it was necessary for these young people, if they were properly educated, to be exposed to all the profanity, to all the obscenity that was in that Dictionary of American Slang. So at one and the same time, the Bible and prayer were being removed from the schools and The Dictionary of American Slang was being put in. Because vitality is from below, religious vitality.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:47 Thus, we begin to understand what Montagu says when he says that swearing is regarded as a subversive of social institutions. It is indeed. It indicates a revolution in process; that society, instead of drawing its vitality from God, whether falsely or properly, is drawing its vitality from below, from the Freudian underworld. It is significant that the whole point of Montagu in his book, The Anatomy of Swearing, in which he comes out for all these modern forms of profanity, his whole point is this: It is healthy.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:41 Now, his use of the word healthy is very interesting, because what is the Latin word for health? It is salus or salve, from whence we get our word salvation. The word salvation means health. It means spiritual and physical health. And so, when the Bible speaks about salvation it means out regeneration. So that we are spiritual saved and ultimately totally sanctified in Heaven and made perfect. It means, also, the resurrection of the body in the World to come. It means, therefore, the fullness if physical and spiritual health. And what does Montagu say? Salvation is in swearing, because society faces openly the underworld, the underground. It faces the primitive and says, “This is our vitality. This is our health.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:01 In other words, Man progresses. Civilization progresses, not by moving upward in terms of God’s Law, but by moving downward in terms of the unconscious, in terms of the primitive.

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:19 Thus, swearing revels the direction of social subversion and revolution. We can begin to understand, there, what the scripture means when it says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:48 Now, to restate that commandment in positive form, God is saying thou shalt take the name of the Lord thy God, when thou takest it in terms of that which is socially useful and constructive, that which is religiously required, then move forward in the name, and taking the name of the Lord thy God. And if you take the name of other gods, or if you take as gods other forces and powers that are dark, and evil, or if you make evil your god, how much more fearful of an offense this is.

R.J. Rushdoony: 23:37 Let us pray: Out Lord and our God, we thank Thee that we, who have taken Thy name, have been called to be Thy people. And by Thy grace may have been made law-bringers unto this generation. Make us strong, therefore our Father, in Thy Law. And by Thy grace, enable us to stand in this evil day. And rebuild the foundations so that instead of a triumph of revolution, we may see the triumph of Thy Law. Bless us to this purpose in Jesus name. Amen.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder