A few years ago, while watching TV with my young daughter, a character in a show aimed at tweens repeated a phrase in sing-song, “Ohmygod!”
It was intended as a comedy catchphrase for that episode, and each time the line was delivered in mock surprise, it drew laughter from the studio audience. As so many times before, whether with a TV show, movie or radio program, I switched channels over my daughter’s objections. Seeing a teachable moment, I said it is disrespectful to take God’s name in vain, even as a laugh-getter.
As I explained, “Hallowed be thy name.”
I’m not pious. As a young man, there were countless times I broke the Second Commandment (and other commandments). Maturity came with having children. I sometimes slip, but have developed sensitivity when others use God’s name as exclamation. I heard it constantly on TV, which is among the reasons I rarely watch TV anymore. So it was no surprise when a reader of this newspaper sent the editor a note that detailed the problem.
“We fear if the Christian community does not react to this trend, it will be another slippery slope to further degradation in our society and disrespect for our Savior,” the letter writer stated.
When it comes to making empty use of God’s name, most of us stay silent. Maybe it is because in post-Christian America, we have learned our place as a minority. Maybe it is because we find other language even more objectionable, especially when it is uttered within earshot of a child. Maybe it is because we see a difference in thoughtlessly invoking God’s name rather than intentionally using God’s name as an epithet.
Still, where other religions do not hesitate to scold or threaten for disrespecting God’s name, Christians don’t push back. It wasn’t always this way. I recall my grandmother scolding my cousins for taking the Lord’s name in vain. Beyond that, only once in my lifetime has anyone even mentioned it.
On a business trip to Chicago in the 1980s, I was seated at dinner with, among others, a Baptist couple from Alabama. While telling a story, I said a common curse word with the Lord’s name attached.
The woman appeared as if an electric shock had run through her. She stood, tossed her napkin on the table and left. Neither I nor the others at dinner had any idea what I had said that was so offensive. Her husband tersely explained, and he left, too.
This was before I matured in faith. Later, over drinks at the bar with my other dining companions, we dismissed the Christian couple as uptight Bible-thumpers.
Today, however, I am a kindred spirit to the letter writer.
How did profaning the Lord’s name become so casual, even among Christians? Somewhere between the introduction of the “guitar Mass” and the advent of the “WWJD” bracelet fad, we lost fear of the Lord. Jesus is our buddy. God is always a kindly father. He wouldn’t send us to hell for merely tossing his name about, would he?
There is likely more concern with how our own name is invoked online by others than how we invoke God’s name. (There are companies you can hire to scour the Internet for your name to see how you are portrayed by others.)
We remain silent on the Second Commandment because we fear the wrath of those we would admonish more than we fear God’s wrath for not living up to spiritual works of mercy.
We likely tremble more waiting to be interviewed for a job than tremble at the thought of sin dooming us to separation from God’s love.
We say nothing because we see God as all-loving but nonlethal. It’s no big deal, so we’re casual about the issue.
J.D. Mullane writes from Pennsylvania.