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Language!

Have you ever taken the name of God in vain? Really … ?

So, this could be seen as the author’s little indulgence. Possibly, but there is a serious message here. It’s serious because it involves the only one of the Ten Commandments that seems to have been broken quite deliberately, without conscience. It’s the third commandment:

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name”. (Exodus 20:7)

It’s the one about blasphemy. Breaking this one had consequences:

Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible;anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death’. (Leviticus 24:15-16)

It’s as well we are not under the Old Covenant in terms of consequences of actions, otherwise the world would be a very lonely place, inhabited only by a few maiden aunts and the odd vicar. Because the rest of us would have been stoned to death for blasphemy!

But I’ve never taken the name of God in vain in any way! Yes you have.

First a list of some euphemisms for “God”; by gad, oh my gosh, by gum, by Jove, by George, so ‘elp me Bob, by Godfrey, great Scott, good grief, goodness gracious, begorrah, We’ve all uttered one or two of these in our time, haven’t we?

Then we have these; Gadzooks (God’s hooks), drat! (God rot), doggone (God damn), cor blimey (God blind me), by golly (God’s body), darnation (damnation), strewth (God’s truth), suffering succotash (Suffering Saviour), zounds (God’s wounds).

Then there are the alternative names for “Jesus”; Jiminy Cricket, Gee wiz, Jeez, Gee, Jeepers, Judas Priest, Jeepers Creepers.

For “Christ”; Criminy, Crickey, Cripes, for crying out loud, chrissakes.

For “Lord”; Lor, Lawdy, Lumme (Lord love me).

These are known as minced oaths, religious euphemisms that were created to avoid direct blasphemy, which in older days, would have got you in trouble with the authorities. Many of these would have been created round the time of the Puritans, who were particularly hot on this issue. Here’s a typical notice from 1623:

For as much as all profane Swearing and Cursing is forbidden by the Word of GOD, be it therefore enacted, by the Authority of the then Parliament, that no Person or Persons should from thenceforth profanely Swear or Curse, upon Penalty of forfeiting one Shilling to the use of the Poor for every Oath or Curse. Refusal or inability to pay resulted in the offender being set in the stocks (if over twelve years old) or whipped if younger.

Have we taken the Lord’s name in vain? Of course we have, though, in mitigation, we mostly haven’t realised it, or have felt safe in the knowledge that a derivation is not the actual word, so no worries! I wonder what God thinks?

Yet even Christians have been known to utter such epithets as “Oh my God!” or “Oh God”. These may not be seen as blasphemies, but perhaps can be suggested as over-familiarity with the Deity. The use of the phrase “Jesus Christ!” in all of its derivations seems to be on the rise in popular dramas, even our daytime soaps. We don’t need euphemisms or minced oaths these days as there is no guilty conscience or penalties in uttering blasphemies. That’s a good indication that our society today is very much Post-Christian.

The last person to be sent to prison for blasphemy in the UK was John Gott in 1921, who received nine months hard labour for publishing satirical pamphlets mocking Jesus. In 1949, Lord Denning said that "it was thought that a denial of Christianity was liable to shake the fabric of society, which was itself founded upon Christian religion. There is no such danger to society now and the offence of blasphemy is a dead letter”. Could this be because our society has lost the fear of God? It seems so, especially when we remember the outrage from Christians at the broadcasting of the highly blasphemous “Jerry Springer: The Opera” at the BBC. Over 63,000 official complaints were made but no prosecutions resulted, as the High Court felt that blasphemy offences do not apply to stage productions or broadcasts?!! Another indicator of how our society today is Post-Christian.

So, thinking now about ourselves, are we condemning ourselves in our speech? It’s serious business if we remember the example of these two chaps condemned by Paul:

… of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:20)

Have we inadvertently committed unpardonable sins? Who am I to say? Who am I to judge? But we serve a God who forgives and it would be a good exercise if we all paused now and asked Him to forgive us for any past infractions on this issue. The thing is that we may also have to cover any future infractions because most of the words and phrases mentioned are so much a part of the English vocabulary, we probably are unaware when we are using them. But it’s good to get before God on this and just assure Him that we’ll do our best.

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