Teens, God, and taking the Lord's name in vain


Every week, my local newspaper runs a small piece called "A Student's View," written, as you can probably guess, by a high school student on the topic of his or her choice.

In a recent one, titled "Oh my God," a Jewish girl wrote protesting her parents' insistence that she attend synagogue services for the High Holy Days. The author was clearly bright, and the piece was thoughtful and well-written. And having experienced teenage rebellion in various forms firsthand, I pass no judgment on her or her parents. (If anything, I admire them for insisting she attend.)

Making no excuses but raising a good point, she writes, "A majority of my classmates . . . say the Lord's name in vain all the time. . . ." And it's not just her classmates. All day, every day, on TV and in movies, in real life and in books, the phrase "Oh my God" is uttered. Hearing that relentlessly, what must young people think? How could it not diminish the meaning behind the name?

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It wasn't always so. I don't remember hearing the phrase as a child, on TV, or used by my classmates. But it slowly crept into common useage and is now ubiquitous, with its very own texting shorthand, "OMG."

I sometimes wonder what would happen if school children---or TV characters---en masse started saying "Oh my Allah" instead. I doubt that would be tolerated. But never mind the sensibilities of believing Christians and Jews. And how many of us say it ourselves? How many of us let it slide when others say it? We allow it to happen.

Writing for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, S.M. Hutchens describes a scene in C.S. Lewis's book, Perelandra. The character representing Satan continually calls out the name Ransom, who's been sent to oppose him. The first few times Ransom hears his name he answers, "What is it?" "Nothing," comes the reply. This continues until Ransom simply stops responding.

Hutchens writes: "[A]t the heart of this nothing was a denial of the person called upon, an aggressive attempt to negate his being, an attempt to equate him with nothing, an attempt to kill."

Perhaps that's the reason behind the Third Commandment.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein


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