You would have hated me as a child.
I was raised in a very religious household. But I was also born with The Knack. Religion, and Christianity in particular, doesn’t much care for sperglords. They tend to ask all sorts of obnoxious questions, they poke holes in your fragile narratives, and they generally cause all sorts of frustrating trouble.
I’m no longer religious, though I appreciate its value to others. I followed the up-and-out trajectory. As any sperg would, I started taking it seriously. And then I found out that that’s impossible. And then I found out nobody else did. After a while you wonder what the point is. And then you just stop believing.
The strange and unique thing about my experience is the particular things I got hung up on. Usually deep philosophical things, playing games with ideas that didn’t matter. But sometimes they mattered very deeply, and I couldn’t resolve the contradiction.
One night, on the way home from a youth group outing, the youth pastor is telling me about her friends. They’ve just started a wonderful Christian small business, and they need all the support they can get from the community. Their business? They re-cut popular movies, editing out the swear words and replacing them with Christ-approved cusses, so that they would be safe for Christians to watch.
16-year-old me immediately jumped to the obvious question: how does this make any sense? Let’s take, say, a Quentin Tarantino movie. Do you really watch this movie and think “the most immoral part is the word ‘fuck'”? To me, I would think a gratuitously violent movie with polite language wouldn’t be any more God-approved.
I probably should have dropped this. But it kept bothering me. Because, you see, one of the ten commandments is “don’t take God’s name in vain”. Another commandment is “don’t murder”, but there’s nothing about portraying murders. If God is all-powerful, he can be arbitrary too. And it’s pretty hard to argue with that one. You could argue that “fuck” is not subject to this rule. But goddamn, “goddamn” sure is. If you think about what the Bible says, maybe these people are on the right track.
So lets prax this out. The bible says don’t use God’s name in vain. Let’s take this at face value. Use God’s name in vain? Sin, go to hell. Use God’s name legitimately, you’re A-Ok. “God damn!”, hell. “God please help”, heaven.
So what happens if you say “Dios damn”. Did you just sin? If the answer is no, then this is just a qualified version of “the word doesn’t matter, intention does” and at that point, the actions of the Christian small business make no sense. So let’s shelve that branch, and say “yes. Yes it counts”. The Bible says don’t use the name. It doesn’t say don’t mean the name.
The weird thing about languages (well, one of many) is that new ones pop up all the time. You can invent them. There are people who are fluent in Klingon, after all. So, does that mean “joH’a damn it” is a sin? Like I said, lets assume ‘yes’.
I’ve been working on this project. I’m designing a new language, completely from scratch. Like a version of Lojban people actually use. I’ll be repurposing existing phonemes as much as possible, for convenience sake. I’ve decided that the English phoneme “the” is my language’s word for “God”.
If taking the Lord’s name in vain is meant in this literal fashion, we have a remote execution bug. By inventing a language and assigning the meaning “God” to an arbitrary phoneme, I can retroactively convert people into sinners and send them to Hell.
As those of you with basic literacy skills have been yelling into your screen for the past five minutes, “that’s goddamn crazy”. Of course it doesn’t work like this. Nothing would ever work like this. Nobody would ever think like this.
Words invoke a ‘use/mention’ dichotomy. You can either pass them around as pointers, or dereference them to values. But you don’t want to be sloppy about it. That’s how you get buffer overflows.
In my Aspergic analysis, I was stubbornly insisting on mentioning the name of God, never using it. This is somewhat absurd, but less so than you’d think. Consider again the Christian business. They, too, are mentioning curse words. If they interpreted the commandment to mean using curse words, then their edited versions would be just as bad. After all, whether I say “fuck” or whether I say “shucks”, the meaning is clear.
So flip it around. I say “goddamn traffic, I’m an hour late again”. Did I take God’s name in vain? If we’re going by use rules (as most people naturally would), I’d say the answer is no. When I said that phrase, I didn’t mean anything remotely religious. I wasn’t sincerely asking God to smite the Volvo going 70 on the Sea-To-Sky Highway. I was expressing frustration using a cathartic set of syllables. I was mentioning God’s name, not using it.
This is why most normal people look on that fellow’s business and think it’s silly and foolish. Everybody knows that the Bible is saying not to use God’s name in vain. But this man, who can’t possibly be so stupid as to not get this, insists that it says not to mention it. He makes a business out of it, duping others out of their cash.
Once upon a time, there were two minor celebrities on Twitter: Alice and Bob. They both felt very strongly about Skub, and used their fame and influence to advocate in favour of it.
Unfortunately for them, various trolls felt just as strongly that Skub is not part of a healthy balanced diet, and they made sure to let Alice and Bob know about it.
For daring to be pro-Skub in public, Bob got insults. People called him a bastard, an asshole. He got threats of doxing. He got “joking” death threats in his DMs.
For daring to be pro-Skub in public, Alice got insults. People called her a bitch, a cunt. She got threats of doxing. She got “joking” rape threats in her DMs.
Do you think that God thinks Twitter is misogynistic?
Very interesting thoughts.
I definitely went through a time as a young teen where I took the “use” idea to the extreme and though it was a sin to use any sort of expletives, no matter how innocuous. If it was really the attitude or thought behind it that mattered, the only logical thing to do was stay silent when hurt or upset or whatever the case may be. Clearly “dang” and “gosh” are simply replacement words that convey the same meaning?
Thank you for sharing.
> Clearly “dang” and “gosh” are simply replacement words that convey the same meaning?
Yep. In fact a large part of why I no longer identify with the faith in which I was raised, was things like this. They demonstrated to me that most of the people around me hadn’t spent even 10 seconds thinking critically about these things.
And I would think that if the question is “will you be tortured for all eternity”, it is excruciatingly important to make sure you were good with them all. To see other people treating things so important with apathy and casual disregard, was enough to make me think: If these don’t matter to the people who are going to be next year’s youth leadership team, why should they matter to me?
From there I just followed it to its logical conclusion. Now I’m a wizened old stage-5 aspirationalist, I can turn back and recognize the folly of youth. I greatly respect churches as a community and institution, even if I disagree with them and find their mysticism silly.
Still, it makes for a funny anecdote
But Gods name is not “God”.
Just like my name isn’t “Random Guy on the Internet”.
It’s just something we do.
Your analysis has a fundamental flaw: By no interpretation of anything can it be considered a sin to observe other people using God’s name in vain. If you’re watching Pulp Fiction, you’re neither mentioning or using it, you’re observing characters doing so – a first derivative of swearing, if you will. But you’re also observing these characters committing a decent range of other sins, murder among them. If “first derivative sins” are still sins, I’d argue, as you imply, that you have bigger problems than the swearing.
Anyway, long story short, the Christian small business isn’t in the business of removing sin from movies at all, they are in the business of standing in front of the tide of swear words making their way into common use and commanding it to turn back. They are helping Christian parents protect their kids from hearing bad words in the hope that would prevent them from creating a habit of using them. Sort of like the people who want to retouch the cigarette out of Cary Grant’s hand so smoking stops being cool.
Your first paragraph (not counting the fragmentary opening sentence as a paragraph) is wrong, and your second paragraph is repeatedly wrong. If you’re going to sperg, please have the consistency to sperg on your own qualifiers first, like “As any” and “nobody else”.
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I enjoy these thoughts. My extended family is very religious. Playing cards, my grandma will say “poppycock” only in extreme situations. Dang is popular. The cousins like to make the aunts cringe by referring to the local lake’s dam as an adjective. “Look at all the dam water!” as we stand on a dock.
Somehow, in this puritan household, two of my cousins have managed to get “suck it” totally permissible. Playing cards with grandma, they will say, “suck it!” Everytime, I’m appalled! How on earth did they turn a fellatio phrase into an acceptable expletive at grandma’s!?
“Religion, and Christianity in particular, doesn’t much care for sperglords.”
Isn’t this what monks are?
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I was a practicing Catholic for a long time, and a non-practicing Catholic for an even longer time, and now I’m agnostic.
I’m far more meticulous about removing religious language from my cursing now; I no longer believe that it’s a sin to use religious language in cursing, but I’m trying to break the habit of allowing religion into my thought-patterns. The result is that I’m acting *more* virtuously, according to my former religion, than I did when I had an external power compelling me to be virtuous.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Also: It took me a moment to realize that you weren’t being arbitrary with the word “the” meaning “god,” but were pulling it from the Greek root (theocracy, theism, etc.). In a sense, the word “the” *already* means “god,” which makes your point about it being ridiculous all the more apparent.
The result is that I’m acting *more* virtuously, according to my former religion, than I did when I had an external power compelling me to be virtuous.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?
This is a nice example of why people might hate sperglords in a nonreligious fashion (although one might relate it to why Catholics hate Protestants) – you’ve taken a single metric out of context, talk like the whole system can be reduced to that metric, and then you have the cheek to act like this obnoxious behavior makes you the better man.
I had a similar questioning in my youth. In one view the name of the Jewish god is only Elohim/Yahweh, and nobody is ever saying that. In another view, by adding a capital G, we made ‘God’ a name for god and every teenager saying “OMG, OMG, OMG” is sinning quite a lot.
On a similar topic: It is my understanding that when writing down the bible for the first time, they replaced all instances of Yahweh by ‘The Lord’ or something similar (to avoid having the name written out). Since reading the bible out loud is certainly not vain, the reader should do the opposite replacement.
@Blargh exactly — there’s whole societies for catholic sperglords: SSPX, FSSP, etc.
“To me, I would think a gratuitously violent movie with polite language wouldn’t be any more God-approved.” — This can be true. The Bible is pretty violent so there are clearly situations where portrayals of violence are good. The best example is probably the Passion of the Christ. Discernment of the correct discipline for implementing the rules for moral speech is difficult–(a great example for a subset is from Aquinas: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3076.htm#article3) but there is a great deal of tradition on that matter which can be relied on to work through individual, tough cases.
The example you gave of just mentioning “goddamn” without using probably wouldn’t hold because you know that is what the word means and there isn’t another meaning (in the denotative sense) that has replaced the mention. When I wrote that sentence was explaining something–so that mention would not have counted.
However, to sin requires consent and knowledge. If you are aware of an issue about which there are arguments and no clear answer from tradition then people may address that issue differently and not be in sin. In the case of the movie-editers they are likely in the wrong for the reasons you’ve mentioned and its possible for them to not be in sin (although don’t quote me on that as I have zero authority on the matter).
This is a Catholic take on virtuous language
I don’t think your (or to be fair, most Christian) understanding of the intent of that commandment is accurate. Using God’s name in vain is more akin to arguing for something as commanded by God when it isn’t; killing someone because you think God wills it as the extreme example. Or something like temple prostitution, to go back to the exodus timeframe.
Certainly, though, casually muttering “God” this and “God” that is not particularly reverential.
Also certainly, worrying about the diction in Pulp Fiction and not the messages is kind of like making sure the wrapper on your twinkie is clean.
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Your problem is that you misunderstood the nature of religious prohibitions. It’s emotional, not semantic. You stay away from those words for emotional effect, not because of anything real. If the prohibition is irrational, it’s only because the function of the human brain is irrational
Here’s an example of a similar mistake I only recently corrected, namely the problem of selfishness. If you’ve read Ayn Rand, you know that in modern society, being selfish is an almost unmitigated good. But the problem is the same as all problems of libertarian analysis, in that it assumes that all interactions are consensual. Most libertarians know this implicitly, and thus they are completely selfless in cases where participation is non-consensual.
But people don’t get the distinction between consensual and non-consensual interactions. They just think in terms of selfishness vs. selflessness. Holding on to two fundamentally different emotional states is impossible, and actively thinking over every decision is too difficult–especially if no one ever defined the rule for you. So normal people either act like assholes or like martyrs, and Libertarians wonder why we can’t have a society where everyone acts selfishly but leaves each other alone.