Gone With the Wind was released in 1939 and had a single instance of corrupt communication: “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a d–n.” Richard Stephens wrote: “I remember being a teenager and finding a copy of the book ‘Vanity Fair’ by Thackeray, and I noticed that whenever a character in the book said the word … it was written as ‘D—’ because in 1900 [that] was an unprintable word.” Over a dozen alternatives to the line were written, including, “The whole thing is a stench in my nostrils” in case the Motion Picture Association rejected the original word’s use as censors had requested.
As it was, they paid a $5,000 fine, worth about $100,000 today. As someone who actively avoids such language, I would still be a multi-millionaire if I had $5,000 for every time I have heard such talk from a radio, television or movie theater. In 1988, I saw a nature movie about a bear with almost no dialogue that still managed to take God’s name in vain five times.
And that is Satan’s goal: for you as a young person to hear wrong use of language with increasing frequency until it seems normal. His strategy is to normalize corrupt use of language over time.
And it is working. What do Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, Dan Bongino, Mark Steyn and Megyn Kelly have in common? They are all conservatives who have broken free from the constraints of regulated broadcast media. And without regulations, all of these supposedly upstanding commentators swear on live broadcasts that I could otherwise recommend as family programming.
Not that long ago, when a movie left the theaters and went to broadcast television, foul language was removed, often replaced by alternatives recorded while the movie was still in production. Roll forward a couple of decades, and it’s a lot more difficult to locate any sort of edited movie. A service called VidAngel attempted to provide edited content a few years ago—removing language, violence and other unacceptable behavior—and was sued by Hollywood studios for interfering with the vision of the original artists. They even sent me an unrequested check returning my money as part of their lawsuit—as though people who deliberately subscribed to the service were the offended party (sadly, it wasn’t $5,000 for every foul word they removed). When they reformed by making agreements to filter the content on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, they were specifically forbidden to filter two studios: Disney and Warner Bros., two of the largest studios and the ones perhaps most likely to produce content for young people. Presumably the children need to hear the bad words to maintain artistic integrity.
People will sometimes try to justify some form of vile communication by explaining its history, either pointing out that it was not always offensive or asserting that there is nothing wrong with its actual meaning. These ideas miss the point entirely: It is all about corrupt communication (Ephesians 4:29). That word “corrupt” means “rotten” or “worthless” in the original Greek. It can mean unfit for use, putrid or foul. Once a way of speaking is considered corrupt or foul, you can’t explain it away. The damage is done. If your listener perceives something you say as taking God’s name in vain, racist, crude or otherwise foul, looking up its etymology changes nothing. We have to set a high standard and not let Satan or this society influence us to compromise with it—even if only a little bit at first.
This is not really about language. It is symbolic of a greater evil. Satan employs this strategy—what communications professor Melvin DeFleur called the “creeping cycle of desensitization”—in many areas beyond language. The attack on the father’s role in the family is a classic example. First, television’s fathers were simply weak. Then they were degenerate slobs, dominated by their wives. Move forward just a bit and the nuclear family was practically gone; homosexuality and transgenderism are glorified today.
When I was a teenager, societal reaction to homosexuality was similar to how many conservatives would view transgenderism today: as an abomination that has to be opposed. Gay marriage wasn’t allowed by the Supreme Court until June of 2015 (and not officially signed into law until December 13, 2022). After that court ruling, the White House lit up with the rainbow flag, and the push to expand further was almost immediate. Transgender men using women’s bathrooms became the next issue. Men in women’s sports is the issue now.
How is society’s stance on transgenderism communicated to children? In June, in a move that shocked the sensibilities of the Western media, the United Arab Emirates banned the movie Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse because it contained a poster that said “Support Transgender Kids.” As it flits by in the background, our pundits reason, most viewers won’t spot it at all.
So the next animated superhero movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, went further: “When the Turtles enter a high school, they stop by a bulletin board. On it, we see multiple posters, including ‘LGBTQ+ History Month’ and ‘Pride Awareness’ flyers as well as a transgender flag. At an outdoor movie screening, two guys sharing popcorn look like they could be on a date together” (pluggedin.com). The parental warnings also show a slight uptick in foul language.
Hollywood producers are trying to find the line that you are willing to cross. And if they succeed, they know you will be willing to go a little further next time.
In The Missing Dimension in Sex, Herbert W. Armstrong exposed pre-marital sex and masturbation as perversions that destroy the happiness in a future marriage. Can you imagine a law against extramarital sex today? How far has society pushed that line? How far are people really willing to go? Look at how far society’s values can get pushed—and how quickly.
God says this world is like Sodom (Luke 17:28-30). It became that way a little bit at a time until our society was willing to accept a biblical symbol that the world would never be destroyed in a flood—the rainbow—as a symbol for the very perversions that led to Sodom’s destruction.
This is why it is so important that you keep yourself pure, that you not allow society’s constant moving of the line to affect what you know to be right and wrong.
In a 1963 Personal, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “Haven’t you often compromised on this? Haven’t you often wanted to do something you knew you really ought not? And haven’t you sometimes gone at least part way, thinking that perhaps if you didn’t go all the way in doing wrong, you might ‘get away with it’?
“How many, under temptation to commit fornication or adultery, go part way—perhaps just a little ‘necking’? And how often does that lead to going just a little farther—and then perhaps just a little farther still?
“Going that first part way is already committing the act spiritually—according to the spirit or intent of the law! When you did that you were already guilty in God’s sight. …
“You may be able, if willing, to go further in sin or wrong ways. You are a free moral agent. But to go as far as you dare is the way of Satan, not the way of God!”
Whether it’s language, sexual content, transgenderism, or any other Satan-inspired evil, once they’ve gone as far as they dare, the next time, they’ll go a little farther. When they do, don’t be there soaking it in. Draw the line early, and follow the standards God sets in His Word. Fill your mind with the things He calls true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report (Philippians 4:8). Those are the things He wants us to think about: a royal, godly standard that doesn’t change over time.