A Few Words About Using God

I grew up being taught that “thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain” (in Charlton Heston’s voice) was the Commandment that said you couldn’t say “God damn.”  So my peers (friends? fellow children-of-the-corn?) said things like, “God bless!” Gosh darn!” and the perennial Schultzian favorite, “good grief!”

What a thing to teach children.  Here’s a hard and fast rule you can follow so easily — and like magic, you’ve managed to keep/obey a LAW of God!  So easy!  What a good boy/girl you are!

Instant reward.  Something you can NOT add to your list for confession (if Catholic is your thing).

However.  Like so many of those slippery commandments — like coveting your neighbor’s wife — it wasn’t really written for children, and the real meaning is not so simple.  In fact — even the most straight forward of those testy little commandments is not as cut and dried/black and white as it first appears.  How exactly do people get around that oh-so-simple “Though shalt not kill” and then become professional soldiers?  Don’t answer too fast — that one question has accounted for all the conscientious objectors for centuries.  If it were really simple — either direction — either we’d have no concept of what a conscientious objector is, or the nation of Israel would have existed for about 15 minutes.

How exactly do people take the “name of the Lord, their God, in vain?”  It may include curses — but I can’t imagine God being all that upset when some teenager (or stock broker, or cashier, or cranberry farmer) says, “God damn you!”   Now, if Jesus said it — yes, I’d be a bit worried.  But if it were Jesus, it wouldn’t be taking God’s name in vain, would it?  It wouldn’t be idle exclaimitory speech — it would be pronouncing judgement.

But when I say it — I’m not pronouncing judgement.  That’s not my job, and I don’t have that authority.  I’m just expressing emotion.

Add to that — “God” is not the Lord, my God’s name.  It’s his/her species.  His/her title.  I could just as easily be talking about Dionysus!  Yeee gods!  Eeee gads!  Good god a’mighty!  Good grief.  This is the un-named god.  The great “I am.”  “I am damn you!”  — probably not.  “May the un-named god of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Paul the Apostle and scholars of Augustine damn you to the eternal and relentless fires of hell!” — now that’s a curse.  But it’s still not taking the name of God in vain, is it?  It’s a very purposeful curse.  It’s a well thought out curse.  It’s a curse you’d use for someone you realllllly thought was messing up the lives of innocents.  This is a curse for a serial child-abuser, or someone who steals antibiotics and other life-saving drugs for resale on the black market — from the free clinic.  This is not the curse for someone who wore the same outfit as you to graduation, god damn-it.

So if it doesn’t mean any of those things, then taking the name of god in vain, is, as far as I can tell, like taking anybody else’s name in vain.  If I walk into a job interview, and I said, I’ve got this friend, Harry Miller, and he does this kind of work, and he said I’d be really good at this because….”– when in fact, I know that Harry Miller is somebody the interviewer has met once, casually, and that Harry Miller is widely respected in the field — and in fact, I’ve only met dear Harry one time at a wedding — three years ago, and all we talked about were the flowers…. then I am in fact, using Harry Miller’s name in vain.  I’m using Harry Miller’s name to get what I want — to get something for my benefit.  Or to further some political or personal agenda.

It’s the big, “Harry sent me.”   When Harry didn’t send me at all.  And when there’s no way to reach Harry to verify that he sent me.  Or not.

“I was reading the Bible the other day and God spoke to me through the scriptures — I believe it was John the Apostle — and here are the ways you are screwing up your life — and the lives of everyone you know….”

or,

“In the name of God, I condemn you for x, y, and that most horrible z and all the sins you have committed against me!”

“In the name of God, I publically ask your forgiveness for all my sins against you.  I don’t intend to stop sinning against you because it’s just the way God made me (and besides, it would be hard,) but now that I’m here in front of all these people who will think badly of you if you don’t do what God has commanded you to do (forgive one another) — I will beg and plead and weep wildly and loudly in front of the biggest audience I can find — so you can’t do anything else BUT forgive me, completely and whole heartedly — and then let me screw you over again once we get into a room alone.”

It’s that “in the name of God” part — the “look here at me doing all these things in-the-name-of-god.”  Like the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expected….)  Like the ethnic cleansing of North America.  And Central America.  Like slavery — in — wait — I know this — maybe not — how many societies have used God’s name to impose slavery?

The correct answer is, ALL OF THEM.

Then there are all those “wives submit to your husbands” and little nuggets about fornication and adultery that people have latched onto “in the name of God.”  Not to mention homosexuality, abortion, human trafficing, alcoholism, and drug use.  In the name of God, we find justification for physical torture and abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, screaming, shouting, swearing, cursing, and even — yep — murder.    “In the name of God, I slaughter you, low and base animal that you are; homosexual, and walking blasphemy!”  “In the name of God, I smite you, unholy physician and peddler of drugs and the murder of unborn innocents!”

My god, we can be holy, can’t we?

If you really don’t wan’t to take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain — then stop using God to excuse you for doing what you want to do and hating what you want to hate.  Just stop using God to justify yourself and your actions.  Period.   If it’s the God I heard about when I was little — he’s enough like Santa to know already when you’ve got it right and when you’ve got it wrong.

And if he’s keeping a quarter-jar, full of all the accumulated quarters for each time folks used the name of God to get away with their crap — then it’s time to pay up — and then duck and cover.

That’s right, Fred Phelps.  I’m talking about you and your little cult of Westboro Baptist Church haters.  If you hate for a living, and claim to do it in God’s name — then you are, without question, taking the name of God in vain.  And I expect He/She isn’t particularly pleased about using said name to justify your hate and fear and crimes against your fellow man.  You should have read your Dante Alighieri for previews of coming attractions.

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