- - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The tragedy at the Boston Marathon called for comforting words to a dispirited city. The resumption of Red Sox baseball this past Saturday, after the city lockdown, was presumably an attempt to rally the citizens of Beantown and to inspire civic pride.

The high priest chosen to perform the rite of civil religion was David “Big Papi” Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Sox. He came to the microphone before 35,000 fans at Fenway Park and perhaps a million more via radio and TV with a profound statement: “This is our [expletive] city.” He drew wild applause and even approbation from the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who tweeted, “David Ortiz spoke from the heart. “

While there’s no doubt that Big Papi was speaking from his heart, that does not make his remark appropriate. It is not always good to say how we feel. There should be in mature people a moral gatekeeper that censors our thoughts and how we express our feelings. Civility requires this. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if each of us spoke our minds freely. How many fights would break out? Just observe what happens when people are drinking and their normal inhibitions break down.

The F-bomb has become familiar in ordinary discourse. It is used as a noun, a verb, a participle, an adjective or adverb. However, far from expanding our vocabulary, as words should, it has limited it, since it is often used quite a number of times in the same paragraph and even in the same sentence. Just read the telephone transcripts of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich when he was trying to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

Everybody knows that intercourse is the function to which the F-word refers. The Oxford English Dictionary states that “the etymology of the word is uncertain.” Nevertheless, its multiple forms of verbal usage have expanded its meaning. It can connote something extremely pleasing or terribly bad, something very serious or something very minor. This, of course, leads us to wonder: What exactly was Big Papi’s message to the citizens of Boston and the Red Sox Nation?

Whatever it was, it left everyone cheering. About what? Boston, the Red Sox, the United States of America or about “effing” in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

The fact of the matter is that the F-word is inappropriate, especially in the public forum. It is vulgar. It is not acceptable for use in polite company and demands reproof when blurted out in a professional or public setting. It is one of those words which in past times parents would wash their children’s mouths out with soap for using.

How Big Papi’s use of the F-word gave any solace to the victims of the Marathon bombing or gave depth of meaning to America’s resolve to remain a free society is beyond comprehension. What it did do is give license to vulgarity. It scandalized every child and should have offended every right-thinking adult subjected to the unexpected and inappropriate message of Pastor Papi.

Big Papi’s sermon is indicative of the coarsening of American society. If this vulgar expression assuaged the horror inflicted on innocent people and restored pride in the city, which produced some of America’s greatest patriots, how shallow have we become? John Adams must be rolling over in his grave.

Big Papi’s words, for sure, did inspire some people — America’s enemies. It reinforced the belief that America is a decadent society.

Michael Orsi is chaplain and research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla.