The Profanity Puzzle: Is It a Sin to Watch a Profane Movie?

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Editor’s note: A version of the  following post originally appeared in Jim Daly’s Finding Home blog.

Recently we received the following email:

In your movie ratings you include a section labeled "profanity." I have a particular problem when the Name of Jesus is used as a cuss word. … My question is this: Is it a sin to watch a movie where Jesus' Name is used this way? Or is it proper to keep in mind that evil characters are just being true to their character? It's easy to justify because I'm not using His Name in that manner, yet at the same time I wonder if I am dishonoring Him by continuing to watch a movie that does so.

Great question! For me, hearing Jesus’ Name abused as a profanity is like fingernails down a chalkboard! But does that mean that if I willingly go to a movie with full knowledge the dialogue utilizes a misuse of our Savior’s Name that I’m sinning?

I know without a shadow of a doubt that speaking Jesus’ Name as if it were a profanity is wrong. But the person who sent this email recognizes that as well. Her point is, “Hey, it’s not me using it. I’m just watching it. Is it sinful?”

I’ll be honest, I struggle over whether or not it’s a sin to watch a movie that abuses our Savior’s Name in this fashion. However, applying the WWJD? principle to the question (something I highly promote when I speak publicly on media discernment), it seems likely that if Jesus were walking the planet physically today with his 12 disciples, and if Peter or John asked the question, He would advise against it.

Now that may seem a bit wishy-washy to those who want a definite yes or no. I wish I could find the answer in the Bible–you know II Hezekiah 3:16, the one that reads, “Thou shalt not watch a movie or listen to a song or play a video game that misuses my Name as if it were a swear word.” But it’s simply not there.

Still God hasn’t been silent on the issue. Let me remind you that when the Creator of the Universe narrowed down all life’s rules to a list of 10, He etched on a stone tablet (twice), “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” [Exodus 20:7]

I find it incredibly frustrating, even sickening, that Hollywood’s writers and actors seem to care so little about this third Commandment. But equally troubling is that many Christians today ignore—or have forgotten—how important God’s Name is!

Is it a big deal? Now, that’s a question I can comfortably answer. I’ve already mentioned the 10 Commandments. Now, let’s go back in time to Moses day and imagine asking this Jewish leader whether or not it really matters. Let’s assume we catch up with Moses shortly after he returns from his 40 day stay on Mount Sinai. It’s hard to imagine Moses responding to our inquiry with: “Well, misuses of God’s Name are rampant these days so just get used to hearing ’em. With regards to the 10 Commandments, I think Yahweh was pretty serious about nine of them. But this one about His Name, not so much.”

It’s absurd to even go there mentally. But it’s not absurd to ask, Why does the God of the universe care so much about His Name? I don’t dare to claim that I understand all the reasons, but I do think I have a handle on at least one: I’m convinced there are people on the planet today who are not open to the Gospel simply because the only “Jesus” they’ve ever heard about is the one used as a blasphemy in film dialogue. Why would they want to know more about a man whose Name is culturally disrespected so frequently and commonly?

Sadly, there are numerous examples of this misuse, slander and disrespect in popular films today. I’ll cite just a few recent PG-13 examples to make my point: Red Tails, Tower Heist, Contagion and In Time. In Apollo 18, Jesus’ Name is abused a whopping 10 times! This, of course, is not a new phenomenon, but a very disturbing one nonetheless. Even many people’s classic favorite, Princess Bride, has Fred Savage’s character, as a young boy, exclaiming Jesus’ Name when addressing Peter Falk (as his grandfather) near the film’s close. Again, for me it’s fingers down a chalkboard!

I’m currently reading a book about a woman from England who explored much of Colorado by herself on horseback in 1873. Referencing one particular Colorado frontier town and about America in general during that time, Isabella Bird remarks, “Americans are given over to the most atrocious swearing, and the blasphemous use of our Savior’s name is peculiarly revolting.” [A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird, pg. 188]

More than one hundred years later, I agree completely with Ms. Bird: the blasphemous use of our Savior’s name is peculiarly revolting. As such, when it comes to film, I believe simply saying no (or watching on a ClearPlay machine that edits out objectionable content) seems to be the most Christ-honoring approach overall.