Ah yes, the Ten Commandments. A list of ten of the most important things you should or should not do. The ultimate list…that is ultimately lacking. Extremely lacking actually. It puts things like God’s vanity above other more immoral things that go completely unmentioned. Bill Maher mentions some here:
There are far worse things than building a statue or working on the Sabbath. However, the god of peace and mercy doesn’t agree. Instead, things like “Do not take my name in vain” are more important than don’t abuse children or enslave and torture other people. I could go on and on about all of the horrible things God seems to condone or ignore altogether, but my posts already tend to be quite long, so I’ll just focus on one thing: Commandment number 3.
The third commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain” is a warning not to commit a great sin. Theologian John Piper in his book Desiring God says this: “Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain. The idea of vanity (and I think the Hebrew carries this connotation) is ‘Don’t empty the name’. So it doesn’t just refer to a certain tone of voice or a certain use of the word. It’s dealing with God and speaking of God in a way that empties him of his significance. This includes both throw-away words—like “God!” or “Jesus!”—as well as speaking about him in trifling and flippant ways. Not just swear ways but cheap ways, low and insignificant ways that just treat him like a commodity. And when you hear them you sense that there is no weight to that sentence, no corresponding emotion to that statement. It seems to have just been gutted.”
Basically what the third commandment means is to not dishonor or cheapen the name of God. Don’t throw it away. Don’t use it like it has no meaning. Like it is pointless. Like it has no power. Like it carries no weight whatsoever. Simply stated, do not blaspheme. Here’s the thing: Saying Jesus Christ as a curse word is not blasphemy. Saying God damn is not blasphemy. Saying Oh my God, God! Jesus! Geez, or even Jeezum Crow and Cheese and Rice is not blasphemy. These are only words. They have no inherent value except what we have attributed to them. They are just words. Just like blasphemy is just a word and sin is just a word. They are ultimately meaningless.
Using God-related words as curses is not the same as using them in vain. They are usually just uttered out of frustration. Really, I don’t see why we use those words anyway. It makes no sense for an unbeliever to ask God to damn anything, but it’s just part of our vernacular. It’s not done in vain, because there is no deliberate effort to attribute meaning or take away meaning from those words. “In vain” is when the words are said in a way that is meaningless, empty and just thrown away. It implies that there is intent. Do you know when God’s name is used like that? Do you know when meaningless, empty words are deliberately imbued with “power” and “meaning”? In scripture. In sermons. In prayer. There is a deliberate attempt to add meaning to words when there is no justification to do so.
To use God’s name in a way that adds divine significance to just another word is not only unjustified, but it also a waste of time. God is a throw-away word. Meaningless without action. Meaningless without evidence that there is more than letters on a page or the sound of the word God on someone’s lips. Believers deliberately attribute meaning and power to words that are just words. These words are completely and utterly powerless.
When you read about God in the Bible, the name of God and all of the actions associated with that name, you are just reading words on a page. There is no meaning unless you choose to add it. When you sit in a pew on Sunday morning to hear a pastor speak, the words he uses have no meaning…unless you choose to add meaning to them. When you pray, the name you pray to has no meaning unless you add meaning to it. Do you know why? None of the promises in the Bible have come to fruition. None of the prophecies are being fulfilled. The stories of Jesus, his father and the Holy Spirit do not exist outside those pages. There is no evidence that any of it is true. And when you pray, nothing happens. You can make any excuses as to why prayers aren’t answered, but they aren’t answered. God remains silent.
God’s promises of love given in the scriptures are given in vain; the words are meaningless. God’s promises to answer prayer given in the scriptures are given in vain; the words are meaningless. God’s promises of peace and comfort given in the scriptures are given in vain; the words are meaningless. These promises are empty words. Words that are given weight should have some sort of evidence to back them up. Otherwise they are merely words, and they are used in vain.
God is a name used in vain. It is merely a word without meaning, Without weight. Without evidence. It is nothing more than letters put together on a page. Using it as a curse word at least lets people have an understanding of the situation. They can see what you are feeling and why. Using it with divine attributes is confusing when there is nothing of substance to confirm that those attributes are warranted. Without evidence of God’s existence, sin does not exist beyond the letters that form the word. Blasphemy does not exist beyond the letters that form it either. Nor does Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, Hell or anything else in the supernatural world of religion.
God is used in vain every single day by those who believe in him. God is used in vain every single day in Bible studies, church sermons and on bumper stickers. Every time a disaster or school shooting happens God’s name is used in vain and sent to the victims and their families in lieu of actual help. The senders can then pat themselves on the back and praise the Almighty. Empty words and empty promises are used every day to condemn and control by accusing people of breaking God’s commands. How about instead of shouting “blasphemy!” and “sinner!” we instead provide some evidence of the divine? How about until thoughts and prayers heal the sick or rebuild cities destroyed by hurricanes and war, we instead send time, effort and money? Evidence is crucial to giving meaning to divine words. Without any, to Hell with it all.
If anyone is interested in the full Bill Maher clip, here it is: