Imagine, if you will, an adult volunteering at youth retreat. Now imagine this person holding a cup of coffee while speaking to a group of youths. When the adult takes a sip of coffee, it burns his tongue. In response to the burn, he shouts, “Oh f***, that’s hot!” The youths eyes would widen, and first thing Monday morning, parents would be demanding that the adult in question be barred from participating at youth events in the diocese. Yet, if the adult had said, “Oh my G**, that’s hot!” no one would have batted an eye.
FUN FACT: The Catechism Does Not Mention Vulgarity
Nowhere in the Catechism does it mention anything about dropping F-bombs or using the B-word to describe one’s resting face. Apparently, those who compiled the Catechism did not think the issue important enough to include it in the nearly 1,000-page-long book. One could say that they must have thought it self-evident that vulgarity is not to be used. However, they did find it necessary to define the word “God.” They also devoted several paragraphs to explaining the Second Commandment. Yet, many Catholics seem to conveniently ignore the Second Commandment.
When Did It Become Acceptable for Christians to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain?
It has become quite common place for God-fearing individuals to take the Lord’s name in vain without a second thought. I’ve even heard priests do it in homilies! This is something that has increasingly irked me over the years. At my Catholic high school, no one cared if you took the Lord’s name in vain, but you never would have dreamed of saying a relatively minor swear word in front of a teacher. Shouldn’t respect for our Creator’s name be of higher importance?
I Once Heard an Atheist Show More Reverence for the Lord’s Name Than Most Christians Do
A young child wanted to make sure his dad was being honest with him and asked, “Do you swear?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you swear to God?” the child asked again so he could be absolutely certain his father was telling him the truth.
“I don’t believe in God,” he answered.
He refused to swear to God. An atheist should have no problem swearing to a being in which he does not believe, but even if he was not consciously aware of it, he refrained from making what ought to be a meaningless oath for him out of some deep-down respect for the religious beliefs of others. Was I saddened that this man did not believe in God? Yes, but I was more struck by this atheist showing more respect for the Lord’s name than some Christians, many of whom would say “I swear to God” without actually comprehending what they were doing.
Yeah, but I’m Not Really Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain. There are worse Things I Could Have Said. So, It’s OK, Right?
Don’t get me wrong; vulgarity is to be avoided. However, we cannot justify breaking the Second Commandment by pointing out what we did not say. Just because you did not say something racist, offensive, or vulgar does not make what you said OK. Are treating God’s name with reverence? That is the key.
So, When Can I Say “God” or “Jesus?”
The Catechism says in paragraph 2143:
“’The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it.”
It is not an exclamation. Do not use it as such.
You can, however, say, “Thank God!” But, you must actually be thanking God when you say so.
What If It Was Your Name or the Name of a Loved One?
A priest I know once explained taking the Lord’s name in this way: “Let’s say you start dating someone. Let’s say her name is ‘Kristen.’ And, then you hear some people start talking about her in a bad way. You wouldn’t want to hear Kristen’s name used in a bad way.”
Having respect for our Lord’s name is just like having respect for the names of others. If you are a college student and have a friend in one of your classes whose name is Britta and who also frequently messes up her part of group projects, it is disrespectful to begin calling messing up something “Britta-ing it.” Just as it is inappropriate to use someone else’s name in a negative or in an otherwise inappropriate manner, it is also inappropriate to misuse the Lord’s name.
But I can use the internet shorthand “OMG”, right?
As Fr. G. Peter Irving III says in the hilariously titled article “OMG! LOL! Not.” (a highly recommended read), “[W]hen OMG is followed by LOL (‘Laugh out loud’) or a vulgar shorthand or vapid banter, then, [it is a sin]! When ‘OH, MY GOD’ becomes a mindless expression of wonderment, surprise, approval or disgust over something trivial, vile or mundane, yes, it is a sin and even potentially a grave sin against the Second Commandment…”
Things You Could Say Instead of Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain
It may be hard for some to drop the habit of using the Lord’s name irreverently, so to help those people out, I have provided a list of things one could say instead of violating the Second Commandment:
- “Egad, You frightened me!”
- “Oh my goodness, that dog is cute!”
- “You were in a car accident?! Oh dear! Are you all right?”
- “Golly gee willikers, that was a nifty catch by Stefon Diggs!”
- Or you can take a page out of Robin, the Boy Wonder’s playbook and use your favorite “Holy ____” phrase.