In which I am disturbed

Although this is a religious-themed entry, I’d like to ask the non-religious readers not to leave just yet.

At four o’clock in the morning, I had one of my scary-thoughts, and I need to run it by you guys. While praying the Our Father, I got to “hallowed be thy name” and I felt this stab of guilt. We abuse God’s name in many ways in the world today, particularly in America. On the web, “oh my God” is used so often it has its own acronym. I’ve confessed it and been told by people more spiritual than myself that it’s not a sin. And yet it’s in the ten commandments.

In early 2006, I rubber-banded myself to force myself to stop saying “Oh God” when not praying. It took two weeks of snapping myself on the wrist, but eventually I extinguished the behavior. Yet now I’m thinking, it’s more than that. It’s more than words.

When someone openly proclaims herself to be of one religion, her life becomes something done “in the name of God,” whichever God she’s proclaimed her allegiance to. In effect, the believer in a religion becomes an ambassador for that faith, and for the deity, deities, or principles at its heart.

I’ve been pretty public about being a Christian. So then, whenever I make a wiseacre remark online, or when I snap at the kiddos, or when I cut someone off in traffic, my life isn’t embodying the principles I would ascribe to the Christian God, and therefore I’ve effectively taken His name in vain.

That’s scary. That, folks, is truly scary.

What I’m thinking is that if I take this far enough, then at its essence, keeping God’s name holy (however one perceives God) would be to embody the principles of purity, holiness, single-mindedness, mercy, loyalty, integrity, compassion, fortitude, and generosity. And that when those of us who have a belief system compromise that faith in our little actions, we’ve in some respect degraded the name of the God in which we perform those actions. In most faiths, it’s believed that all our actions are important.

I’m way overboard on this — no one I know has ever taught anything of this nature. The closest I’ve seen is Scott Hahn’s assertion that taking God’s name in vain means making a false promise using God as your witness, because then when you break that promise, you’ve sullied the reputation of your witness.

And yet, I’m not sure I’m too far out in left field. If I’m living as a Christian and someone sees no joy of Christ in my life, no integrity, mercy, compassion, purity or holiness–then haven’t I sullied God’s reputation? Wouldn’t that be far worse than exclaiming “Oh my God”?

While it begins with me cleaning up my language, it ends with cleaning up my life. With the whole world cleaning up its lives.

Quite a lot for four o’clock in the morning.


  1. illya

    I would think that what you are really speaking about is the second statement, or wish, in the Our Father “(May) your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. For, here,is where we, as people of God, whatever way you see God, should shine. Is His will reflected in our lives? That is, can someone tell by our conduct, that we wish to extend God’s will in this earth, but the act (or thought) that is going on right now in my life. And, I agree, this is a very scary thought becasue we fall so far short of the mark.

  2. ivyreisner

    I find people do tend to take that kind of awareness more when they are in a different group. You liken it to being an ambassador and that’s really apt. Think about how you would act at a Church luncheon. Now imagine you were in a (pulling something out of the air here) Hindu gathering and the other participants had heard of Christianity, but didn’t know to much about it and you were the first real Christian many of them had met.

    For what it’s worth, OMG originated as a prayer. A person would hear shocking news and call out to G-d as a way to seek His help.

  3. Jenni

    A teacher at my Christian high school once asked if we thought we were walking in “the fear of the Lord”. I was the only dissent. I just thought that if it was truly the case, our actions would be quite different. Granted, the “world” thinks you are acting like a Christian (or at least a “good person”) if you don’t drink, smoke or curse.
    But it just seemed to me that the Bible was asking more from us for God than that.

    I agree that it starts with language and ends up with our lives.

  4. Jason Block

    Yes, it’s quite a lot. But a lot that makes a whole lot of sense.


  5. whiskers

    I am not Christian, nor in fact religious. I do believe that all life, in fact all of life, is sacred. When using the expression “Oh, my God” it is a mini-prayer. And usually the closest I get to what most people would consider prayer. One does not have to be a good Christian, or a good “any religion” to be a good person and worthy in the sight of whatever they may worship, whatever manifestation it happens to be. And while being a good representative of your chosen religion is a fabulous thing, remember that you are human, and to be human is to slip occasionally, to do those things that you think are not Holy or Christian. I think that you are correct that people should see your joy in your religion. However, they should see the joy in YOU as well. I. for one, enjoy your wiseacre remarks, and would hate to see them go… 😉

  6. CricketB

    What, leave, just because it’s a religious themed entry? I explore (and therefore learn about) my beliefs more here then I ever did in Sunday School.

    (Insert fine print about He really meaning He/She/It/They ….)

    I see “Oh, God” as a plea for help, and it’s highly overused. It’s a waste of your time and His to ask for help when it’s not needed.

    I use “Oh my God” more as excitement. Maybe, “God, is this true?” or “God, please make this true.” One habit, on the chopping block.

    Invoking the name of God as a way to make someone believe you is wrong. Why aren’t you believed? Are you lying? Invoking a witness who doesn’t speak up when you lie won’t make you more believable. Even if you intend to keep it, it dilutes the vow for the rest of us. (I’ll make an exception for times it’s expected, such as a wedding, but He shouldn’t be publicly invoked in a non-religious wedding.) Privately asking for His help in keeping a difficult promise is different.

    Here’s a question: In the religions that don’t use His name at all, does the modified version eventually become His name, so they need to invent a new use-name?

    All members of any visible minority (that includes people with fish on their cars) are ambassadors for the entire group, whether they like it or not, and sometimes the rest of us have difficulty telling the sub-groups apart. The local Catholic schools have a reputation for students who are ruder and have less self-respect than the public system. Given a choice between respecting ones self and others or the ability to study and live ones faith in public, I’ll take the former.