Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

Holiness, Profanity, and Stoicism

Profanity is on the rise. In 2017, San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge found 21st century books to contain 28 times more obscenities than their 20th century counterparts.

Twenge suggests that this is due to our generation’s value of self-expression and individuality. Say it like it is, don’t beat around the bush. Be authentic, be real. Follow your inner compass, not societal norms. “What’s wrong with these words anyway?”

I want to try a different angle and suggest that the upsurge is intimately related to another sociological phenomenon — the rising popularity of Stoicism.

The Stoics taught the value of accepting reality. Change what you can, your attitude, your actions. That life has its negatives is as inevitable as the rising of the sun. Your job is to accept and move on.

The benefits of this thinking are numerous, and it frees us from many an emotional prison. Taken too far, however, it can present a serious obstacle to Torah living.

Hidden within the Stoic acceptance of death and suffering is a certain indifference. These early philosophers had an obsession with the here-and-now. Don’t fret about the past, or agonize over the future; what matters is the now, and there’s nothing beyond the now.

Vulgarity, profanity, and obscenities talk to the base nature of life. It is this way, this how I’m feeling now; why not embrace it? Sure, there are the finer aspects of life. The orchestra may not be the right stage for profanity. But now, at this moment, I connect deeply with the baseness of life. Is there something wrong with that? It is reality.

The Torah says otherwise. Painting a very different picture of ideal human living, we are enjoined to be holy. Holiness is all about living with ‘more’. The reality we see is an expression of something deeper, something holy.

Life in the here-and-now is but an expression of eternal spiritual life. The physical, the mundane, is anything but ordinary. It is holy. True, some aspects of life challenge this perspective, but do we need to place those elements front-and-center? In context, we can begin to see the holiness of everything. Understanding that all of reality is rooted in the divine, is there anything truly base?

Holiness is all about the vantage point — here-and-now, or eternity? We are holy because God is holy. We are eternal because God is eternal.

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Shmuel Halpern

Shmuel Halpern

Adult Jewish education. Denver Colorado