(Respects to Carly Simon. Minor amounts of “adult” language in the following.)
So, the story is making the rounds that Trump’s “spiritual advisor” (who knew that was a cabinet position?) is saying that Trump, “whether people like it or not, has been raised up by God.” She says this in the context of how the Bible says God “raises up kings,” apparently indifferent to, and unaware of, the pitifully uneducated irony of classifying Trump as a “king” (regardless of how much the fascist Trump would like that to be true.) She (and yes, it is a female televangelist) goes on to say that,
God says that he raises up and places all people in places of authority. It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.
This has been making the news rounds quite a bit of late; you can find one example (from which the previous quotes are taken) HERE.
It is easy enough to mock the infantile stupidity of this blathering numskull; indeed, such mockery is well deserved and as likely to have any positive effect as any effort at reasoned discussion. But the number of people who swallow – and then, in turn, spew – such fatuous twaddle is not so small as can be safely dismissed out of hand. I suspect some, possibly many, of my own family members fall into this category. So I want to point out a fact about these people’s own belief system, a fact that is based exclusively ON their belief system, and the sacred text known as “the” Bible. Because you see, the woman above, and so many others like her, are, by their own supposedly fervently held beliefs, doing is committing a sin: these people are so pathetically self-absorbed, they believe God is their string puppet to command; in so doing they are taking God’s name in vain.
Let us review, for a moment, the relevant text from a couple of different translations of the Bible. (The extraordinary number of such translations is why I scare quoted “the” in the previous paragraph.)
And before you get your knickers in a twist, no I am not any kind of Christian, but yes I have multiple versions of the Bible on my Kindle. I also have a couple versions of the Holy Qur’an, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, numerous Buddhist and Taoist texts, some odds and ends of mysticism, and probably a number of other things that I’ve forgotten that I have. This is what an educated person does.
The relevant scripture is from the ten commandments, in this case Exodus 20:7. From the English Standard Version, this reads:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
The “Authorized” (well, that’s what it says on my Kindle edition) King James version renders this very similarly as:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
This is all well and good as far as it goes, but here’s the problem: why is an expletive such as, “God damn it!” a sin? After all,
GOD’S NAME IS NOT “God”.
This last is not, in any way, a controversial point. When Moses begs God to tell him (Moses) his (God’s) name, the closest to a response Moses gets is, “I am who I am.” If only it came with a can of spinach.
But if we look at the expletive again, we notice that its grammatical structure is not that of a declaration, but rather that of a command. When one uses those words (and means them – more on this in a second), one is not making a statement or presenting a question; one is issuing a command and, most specifically, a command directed at God. Therein lies the real “oopsie.”
Because in doing so, one is being so vain as to presume to take God’s name to one’s own self. And that is as blasphemous a piece of arrogance as one might wish to imagine. But it goes well beyond the usual expletives.
Anytime a person presumes to legislate God’s mind, or require God’s actions, that person has sunk into such inexcusable vanity as to presume to take God’s name to her or himself. So when a person kerygmatically declares that Trump is God’s anointed one, that Trump is God’s Right Hand, then that person has committed a gross violation of the third commandment. (As I understand it, Catholics enumerate things a bit differently, since with all of their icons, images, and saints, to the casual eye it might appear they are worshiping graven forms.)
The most pathetic part in all of this is that the people who claim to take the Bible most seriously, and proclaim themselves the most and best studied of that book, are also the ones most inclined to commit this sin. Fundamentalists of any and all stripes, whether religious or secular, proclaim themselves to be in exclusive possession of The Truth. Thus, fundamentalist Christians declare that they, and they alone, know exactly what God really meant to say (they have the “special” Bible, the one with all the footnotes where God says, “Ha, ha, ha! I was only kidding when I said that.”) It is funny, for example, how so many of these people point to the opening chapters of Genesis to claim humans have an absolute right to subdue the Earth, but neglect the immediately following chapters where we are all charged with being nurturing stewards of creation. And at another end of the “spectrum” (it is actually quite multi-dimensional, thank you), you have the fundamentalist atheists who, without ever bothering to study even the existing forms of religion, kerygmatically declare that all “God talk” is meaningless and they alone possess the logical truth (all the while ignoring the logical modality of the claims they are making, and the presuppositions behind them.)
So what about the casual use of expletives? I am told – rather insistently, by those who tell me such things – that when I stub my toe or bark my shin and angrily spout, “God damn it!” that I have committed blasphemy. But have I really? I don’t actually mean the words that come out, they are simply an ejaculation. Those words are more emotionally satisfying than just hollering, “Ouch!” But that is because they are “bad words” and more accurately express my emotional state. If you ask me if I am really trying to command God to damn someone or something, I’m likely to greet you with a disgusted look and some more colorful language.
Now, the wiggle room here is far from absolute. If “ouch” had the same kinds of social disapproval that “God damn it” had, then “ouch” would be a more satisfying term to use in painful situations. As it is, rather than “ouch” one might as well say “milquetoast and mewling.” It just doesn’t satisfy. The reason “God damn it” is more satisfying is precisely because it comes from genuine blasphemy, and that origin is the source of its satisfaction and sin. Like other “bad words,” that expletive is linguistically and culturally “stuck” on our magnetic board of favorite phrased. (For example, the word “fuck” is so old we can only speculate about its origin. And no, it is NOT an acronym for “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. That is an urban legend, like alligators in the sewer or adults in the White House.) So it is less than obvious whether one can get away with claims of innocence around the phrase “God damn it.”
One can get further toward such innocence if one notices in the above that I never used any of those bad words, I merely mentioned them. (Look up “use/mention” in your nearest, friendliest encyclopedia of philosophy.) Not only did I not mean any of those “bad words” above, I didn’t even use them. They were simply exemplifying tokens that were mentioned, so as to focus discussion on the sin of being so vain as to presume to command God.
Of course, when it comes to vanity, it is hard to match that of the narcissist Trump.