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J. Kevin ApplebyOctober 25, 2022
(iStock/leremy)(iStock/leremy)

One of my biggest grievances is when someone uses the name of Jesus to swear. This can happen when someone says, or even yells, the name in a fit of anger. Some expand the swear to the full “Jesus Christ,” or add a curse word between “Jesus” and “Christ.” Some say it under their breath, when the impact can still be unsettling.

It is clear that most people think using Christ’s name this way is acceptable, but it is not. Catholics should say so—and refrain from the practice themselves.

I have often thought about how Christ’s name came to be used as a common profanity. Maybe the invocation “Jesus, give me strength,” often used in a moment of trial, has been bastardized over time. When I was a child, my grandmother and great-aunt used to say “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” occasionally, but in context I never saw it as offensive. I just wondered why they did not complete their prayer.

No matter its origins, Jesus’ name as a profanity is here now, and it must be challenged.

I have certainly used curse words in my life, more often than I care to admit. This is despite my father saying to me, “Son, cursing is a stupid man’s way of expressing himself.” (He also threatened to wash my mouth out with soap a few times, which was certainly a deterrent.) He was right, but it can be hard not to resort to a curse word or two when one is frustrated or angry.

However, using the name of Christ in that way should not only be off-limits, it should be confronted as anti-Christian. It is not a form of invocation, as it is usually used angrily and disrespectfully. And it is often expressed repeatedly, especially in movies. Should we repeat it simply because Hollywood mainstreams it as acceptable language?

Should we repeat it simply because Hollywood mainstreams it as acceptable language?

My fear is that the use of Christ’s name in vain has become embedded in our vernacular, enabled by secular culture and strengthened by Christians’ quiet acceptance of it. It has become part of the country’s normal conversation, so it is easy just to let it go and not say something. I, ashamedly, have done this too many times. Instead, I would just cringe when I heard it.

One time, I was in a bar and I finally got fed up. Some stranger behind me kept cursing with Christ’s name, and I finally turned around and asked him to stop, explaining to him why it was offensive. Expecting an angry response, I was surprised when he apologized and stopped doing it. Wow, I said to myself, maybe I should speak up more. I should have bought him a beer.

It has become part of the country’s normal conversation, so it is easy just to let it go and not say something. I, ashamedly, have done this too many times.

But it is not just strangers in bars who use Christ’s name in this way. In my experience, even friends and acquaintances—many of whom are Christian—have used it. A former colleague who worked for the church, for example, used Christ’s name as a profanity out of habit, until more than one of us in the office told him to stop.

I often have said to one particular friend—who used to voice it frequently—that she owed me a dollar every time she said it. She still owes me a few dollars, but to her credit, the bill has dwindled over time.

The frequency with which people use Jesus as a curse makes me wonder, however, if people have thought about what they are saying or if they just use it out of repetition and because our society—our majority-Christian society—has turned a deaf ear. My guess is that the majority repeat it, perhaps without thinking, because they hear no objection to it. My fear is that some knowingly use it without regard for how it might offend others.

I have found that the most common response to a correction is something like, “I did not mean it that way.” While intent should be considered, what is more harmful is how the language is perceived and the message it sends, which is irreverent, and, in some cases, disdainful of Christ and Christianity. There are enough words in the English language to describe our emotions. Let us leave Jesus out of it.

For Christians, Jesus Christ is God. Likewise, if society, including ourselves, disrespects our God in the common way to which he is referred, then our views on important issues of the day also will be disrespected. If we do not defend our faith and our God, even in the smallest of circumstances, we lose our credibility, and, over time, our way.

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