Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is profanity demonic?

I'm reading the diaries of Dorothy Day. Day converted to Roman Catholicism about the time her daughter was born in the late 1920s and then devoted the rest of her life to founding Catholic Worker, an organization which served the poor and published an influential newspaper. Day lived among the poor, worked passionately for peace and is now on the road to sainthood. She strove to build a society in which it was "easier to be good."

I hope to get back to the major themes of Dorothy Day and her life in other posts but she wrote something in a recent diary entry (February 18, 1970) in which she mentioned profanity, and, especially, the use of the F-word at peace marches and rallies:

"I have myself been at enough demonstrations, parades, marches of protest ... to know ... the shouting of four-letter words ... I myself cringe before such words, because of the hatred and contempt they express and involving the perversion of the act of creation. The love of God for man and man for God in the Song of Songs, in the book of Hosea is compared to love with involves both mind and soul and body, and implies a physical act which results in the miracle of creation. ... What I am trying to say is that the use of the [F-] word coarsely or humorously applied to the sexual act, is calculated to enrage. There can even be an element of the demonic to it."

I went to the peace demonstration in Washington DC before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and was bothered by the element carrying "F ... Bush" placards, as I did not find that particular stance conducive to peace building.

Dorothy Day, ruminating on such cursing, used the term demonic. From context, I take it that she defines "demonic" as that intended purposely to enrage another and that which twists an act of creation into something sordid. Do you agree? If so, is the F-word (which I think is her main target) always demonic? Is there a difference between a person having a spontaneous outburst of profanity in response to, say, a frightening event, and a calculated plan to bring a placard with profanity to a demonstration?

I wonder about it, because that word has become so mainstream in our society.

1 comment:

Bill Samuel said...

I think the point is that demonstrations are frequently arenas for demonstrators to express hatred. The F-word is a part of that. It involves utter contempt for those whose policies we disagree with. This is indeed what the devil wants us to do - hate others. So Dorothy Day correctly identified it as demonic.

I too went to a mass demonstration at the beginning of the current Iraq misadventure. It was so hateful that I have avoided all such demonstrations since. It was most definitely not a peace demonstration. It clearly contained the seeds of war within it.

I do think these organized expressions of hatred are different from a spontaneous outburst of profanity in an instance such as hitting your thumb with a hammer when pounding a nail. Not that it's good to resort to profanity in any situation, but when it's directed at a situation rather than people, it is of a different character.