UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Anti-gay protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in 2013. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

OMG: What it really means to take God’s name in vain

A Christian critique of current affairs

By Michael Coren


I once worked with a delightful if earnest young man from a strict Calvinist background who lived his faith in a manner that often did me shame. He saw the entire world through the prism of Christianity, and while this sometimes irritated an old cynic like me, it could also be downright inspiring. He took the Ten Commandments very seriously indeed, but when it came to the third — not taking God’s name in vain — he could be a little pedantic. Which is a kind way of saying he was obsessive. He would twist and reshape the language to avoid using “God” in any form that might be even tentatively disrespectful.

I can’t help thinking that this is not what we’re being warned about in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, where the commandments are listed. Obviously the third commandment is about respect and reverence for God, but language is a means and not an end. In other words, how we communicate does matter, but how we act matters so much more. Expletives are regrettable; evil is inexcusable.

So, for example, we have countless conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals using God’s name to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people. From denying equality to refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the Christian right seems to view excluding the queer community in the name of God as a virtual sacrament.

Then there are zealots holding banners and placards outside abortion clinics. These men and women repeatedly and aggressively take God’s name in vain as they shout and try to shame and humiliate the women walking past who have just made one of the hardest decisions of their lives.

Or we have the appalling exploitation of God’s name when opponents of any form of assisted dying insist that those in agony and despair have no right to decide the time and means of their passing because God is opposed to this.

Invasions of other countries, forced conversions and even ethnic cleansing — all manner of atrocities have been committed in the name of the Lord.

Pretending that climate change isn’t real, while claiming all such concerns are pagan and God is in command, endangers not only our ecosystem but our very survival on this planet.

Proclaiming unbridled capitalism as “God’s will” and rejecting social democracy as “un-Christian”; persecuting religious minorities and restricting freedoms — all are defended in the name of the Almighty.

These, all of these, are the taking of God’s name in vain. God is love, and while a moral code is vital and Christ’s teachings do not lack judgment, we diminish the greatness and goodness of the Creator if we think that using God’s name in a meaningless phrase is what this is really all about.

In the name of God, we have to do better. God help us, we have failed. For God’s sake, we need to get it right in the future. And, oh my God, what the hell is wrong with Christianity when it doesn’t see this? So I’m probably damned, but so be it.


Author's photo
Michael Coren is an author and journalist in Toronto.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image