Discussion 1 to the 3rd Commandment
Defining “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain”
by Chen Chapman
Let me preface by stating that I support the conclusion regarding the moral value of this commandment as 0/10, and I’d like to introduce the caveat that while possibly interesting, this little treatise may not be especially useful to any Agnostic, Apathetic or otherwise. Though it could be useful to Judeo-Christians. This one just stuck in my craw and begged to be understood.
It is correctly stated that “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain” is offensive to God, but I’d like to provide a more precise definition of the nature of that offense:
The definition of “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain” is not as simple as it seems. Those of us who have grown up in (largely Christian) western / American culture have been taught that this is simply a matter of “cussing” with a reference to God attached; “God-Damn-It” being the typical usage.
This has seemed odd to me since I was a child, seeing as other “socially unacceptable” language is not only not mentioned in the Bible, but is also ill-defined in popular culture (“crap” curls the hair of some, yet is ordinary vocabulary for others) and obviously subject to a highly mutable set of social criteria.
I had for a very long time found it strange that one could not identify a miserable / wrong / uncouth etc. action / person / situation and make note of the fact that it / he / she would be worthy of the Lord’s damnation. As a younger person chewing on the dogmas surrounding me, this seemed highly inconsistent with “living in the way of the Lord”.
Seemed to me that the Lord would probably appreciate a little support regarding his opinions of right and wrong, wouldn’t you think? To say God Damn It! with a little vehemence at an obviously nasty person, place or thing would just be agreeing with God out loud, RIGHT? Like an expression of faith? Hmmmm…
Unfortunately, my various Sunday school Teachers were unable to shed any light on this and other puzzles (and my incessant and precocious questioning of Baptist dogma eventually caused me to be a tad unwelcome in those classes).
Eventually, after much independent pondering and tons of reading, it dawned on me that the issue is one of presumptuousness:
- Mortals cannot call upon God to cast a spell or to place a curse on any individual / object / situation / etc., such as is believed to be desirable or possible in some non-Christian traditions.
- To call upon God to curse or damn a person or situation on one’s own behalf is therefore a futile and vain (for or about one’s self you’re so vain!) action…and to do so is equivalent to an attempt at usurping God’s power.
- Thus the word “cursing” makes it into the English lexicon as a label for bad / unwanted language.
Given that the Judeo-Christian God referenced in the commandments is considered to be more powerful than the Gods of other faiths (“put no other gods before me” is clearly a recognition of other Gods), many of whom (according to those doctrines) can be manipulated for one’s own purposes, it is considered an insult to the Biblical God to attempt it.