But They Use God's Name in Vain!

But They Use God's Name in Vain! June 16, 2009

So it just became a new question for me and I thought I’d propose it to us all: How can Christians watch movies where God’s name is used as a curse word, his character is blasphemed, and/or generally His name is taken in vain?

As those who watch movies and television here is subject we must wrestle with. So what say you?

"Radford made a connection between Ender and Hitler.Another possible connection: Could Card have been referring ..."

‘Ender’s Game,’ Genocide, and Moral Culpability
"Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us ..."

Music Matters: David Bowie, Still Not ..."
""that many of us do not accept that a few cells of human DNA constitute ..."

How I Changed My Mind About ..."
"No thought given to the unborn child whose life was 'silenced and oppressed'... sad."

How I Changed My Mind About ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Look at it this way. As humanity was forged in the image of God, watching a movie that contains people or was made by people represents God’s name vainly—because all humanity takes God’s name in vain even when they are mute. And of course this applies not just to films but to all aspects of life in which humanity is involved. Telephone conversations, non-fiction works, paintings of flowers, soup kitchens, and preaching. All of these are marred by the vanity with which humanity treats God’s name that has been written upon the foundation of its very being.

    And taken another way, when I pick out a movie, I don’t think: Man, I’d like to hear some use “Jesus Christ” where any old expletive will do. In other words, I’m not watching the movie for that. One could question whether hearing someone say “Omigod” when they mean “Woah” or “Christ” when they mean “Skubulon” actually damages me as a member of the viewing audience, but I think for most of us the answer would be No. If it does for you than you know your weakness and should avoid it until it is no longer a weakness. Personally, someone could offer me a pound of heroin and it would be as likely to tempt me as a pile of Nancy Drew books. For others that wouldn’t be the case, so it’s important to know your boundaries.

    In another sense, stories can use blasphemy for righteous ends. At the least, we see God do this—using characters to blaspheme himself that his name might be ultimately glorified. Christian authors as well can put the words of infidels into the mouths of their characters for the good of their story and the glory of God.

    The Danes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • David Dunham

    Those are all fine arguments, Dane, and I am not disagreeing with them, but I think the response that will come from those who do disagree will be something like this:

    If you would be upset by someone defaming your mother, or using her as a “vile word” then why is it okay with Jesus? Does that make sense. So I don’t think the issue is, am I being hurt by it, but rather why aren’t I upset by it…upset enough that I refuse to subject myself to it.

  • Most of the problem here is that people think they know what it means to take God’s name in vain, when in actuality it has a very specific context. In reference to the commandment in Exodus 20, it means invoking the particular divine name, YHWH, in an attempt to control him or gain power over him, since the idea of gaining control through the use of a divine name was common throughout the Ancient Near East as part of general religious thought. This is also one of the reasons that Israel is forbidden from making and worshiping idols, which comes immediately before the commandment against wrongful use of God’s name. So, in reality, to say “God damn it” or “Jesus Christ” outside of a literal or worshipful context is not taking God’s name in vain, although they still may be used for cursing.

    Tony Millss last blog post..done with religion

  • “It is not what people put watch that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.”

    Matt 15:11 Adapted

  • Oh people are more than welcome to be upset by that and to not watch films that contain things that personally upset them. I try to avoid movies that depict compound fractures for this very reason (it’s a personal distaste I have for the visual of a compound fracture—as humourous as it is, I don’t do so well with Bloodsport).

    However, as it is a taste thing, we can’t really put it into the realm of moral choice.

    For instance, using your example, I don’t really get that upset when somebody who doesn’t know my mom calls her a whore. Why should I care? They’re neither speaking truth nor speaking from anything beyond their own obvious ignorance. It’d be, of course, a bit of a different story if the speaker were some friend of the family. At that point the slur becomes far more malicious because it comes from someone who ought to know better.

    This is how I think of taking the Lord and his name vainly. When non-believers and infidels defame him, I shake my head and merely think: “They know not what they do.” Because they don’t. However, when Christians take the Lord’s name vainly through hateful actions, bigotry, an absence of charity, and any number of other thing that corrupts their witness to the world about us, that’s when I get upset. You’ll notice the people that I rail against the most vociferously here are people who should know better. People who add their foolishness to the foolishness of cross to create some entirely unpalatable hybrid, something with which even those with affection for Christ would not want to be associated.

    The Danes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • David Dunham

    @Lex, I understand what you’re saying and certainly agree with the general principle. But of course you recognize the limitations of that idea. You wouldn’t want to apply that principle to porn, would you?

    @ Dane, I think that’s an apt response and a good point to make.

  • David Dunham

    @ Tony, I don’t know how I overlooked your response. I hardly think that “most of the problem” is a misunderstanding of “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” I think you might be addressing a different issue. The subject in question here is how can Christians watch movies that defame God’s character. If “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” does have a specific definition in Exodus, that’s not quite what we’re referencing here. We’re talking here about the lack of reverencing God’s name, and by implication then, his character.

  • Dane, it certainly seemed as though the issue of taking God’s name in vain was of great concern based on the responses, but whatever. If the issue is more specifically, as you say, “movies that defame God’s character,” then perhaps you can clarify what you mean by that. What are some examples? How do they defame God’s character exactly? I ask not only because clarification is important but because I personally don’t understand what you mean by that.

    On another note, I don’t think there is a necessary connection between lack of reverence for God’s name and lack of reverence for God’s character. 3,000 years ago, in the Ancient Near Eastern context, this would have been so. However, in a day and age like ours it is the case that a)there is no unified cultural understanding of who God is or what God’s name is, b)there is no consensus on what constitutes reverence or lack of reverence for such a name, and c)there is quite often an acknowledged disconnect between words and ideas about God, on the one hand, and God’s genuine character, on the other (on this last note, I think of the late modern truism that people like Jesus/God but dislike Church and Christians. Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” comes to mind as an instance). In other words, there is quite often great reverence for God even in places where traditional names for or ideas of God are derided.

    Finally, even in those cases of movies (and I actually can’t think of any) which are intentionally and explicitly blaspheming God, the question that comes to mind, for me, is why Christians WOULDN’T watch them. If we are really concerned not only about the world as it should be but also about how it actually is, we cannot be afraid to understand culture precisely where it’s at. We just might be surprised at how much the hostility towards God actually stems from deep hurts which only God can heal. God does not avoid them and run away from them and boycott them…why should we? It continually strikes me as odd how often God’s supposed people are afraid of things in which God himself is present.

    Tony Millss last blog post..done with religion

  • David Dunham

    Tony (by the way my name is Dave, Dane is someone else),

    You’ve made some great comments. I want to point out that I am only repeating the question asked of me for our mutual benefit, I am not insisting on the position myself, and in fact don’t take that position. I would add that your comments about the lack of a unified cultural understand of the term “God” and the discontinuity between ideas and language about God are very valid points, ones that indeed crossed my mind.

    IN an attempt, however, to play “devil’s advocate,” so to speak, I would say that while your last paragraph has some good general principles they can only go so far. The suggestion that we need to understand the culture “as it is” cannot include indulging in sin. And I think that what you’re saying in that comment is precisely what some Christians are going to rail against. Now I am sure that’s not what you meant, but they will want to take your comments to its fullest extent (for better or for worse).

  • WHOOPS! Sorry Dave!
    Yes, point taken about how far we go to understand culture. But if we are sticking just to the issue of watching things that “take God’s name in vain” or “blaspheme God” or some such, those things in and of themselves don’t constitute indulging in sin to me. That is just a little too conservative for my blood, and I do think restrictions like that help hinder us from not only knowing about the context in which we live, but also from (on occasion) profoundly experiencing God in such cultural artifacts. It is a sad error to equate the offending of sensibilities with theological and spiritual vapidity.

    Tony Millss last blog post..done with religion

  • David Dunham

    Good discussion, friend…and I think we are in agreement here.

  • @DD

    Well, then I guess 1 Cor 6:12 applies.

    Lex Fears last blog post..[Whodunnit Pt. 2] Let Him Have It…

  • Can I just say this discussion was refreshingly civil? Yay for the internets!

  • David Dunham

    shut up Rich! That was a stupid thing to say.

  • NickO

    Note that Dane’s first para can be condensed to a thesis statement, “Anything that is not God blasphemes God.”

    As such it becomes useless as an analytical tool. It reduces all of human experience to a grey, undifferentiated, blasphemous goo. Regrettably that makes it sound rather stuffy and self-righteous. Sorry Dane, just sayin’.


  • No. Bad NickO. That was a poor condensation of my first paragraph. That’s a mark against you on the verbal portion of your SAT.

    That said, you are correct to believe it a poor analytical tool. That said, it does not reduce all human experience to anything goo-like or invariable. As for stuffiness, like all subjective matters, your mileage may vary.

    However, to explain what was going on in that paragraph and its purpose in the context of the comment…

    Seeing a film in which God’s name is taken vainly should not be any more surprising to us than seeing a life that takes God’s name vainly. If anything, it should be less so (though I did not extrapolate so far as to say that the first time). Of course, those who seek to hide their depravity are more pleasant to be around than those who revel in it. This is why this is not the final argument against those refuse to see (or worse, judge those who would see) movies that contain profane characters. The argument’s purpose is not to be a final argument but rather to lend a little perspective. If one understands it then it succeeds. If one doesn’t then it obviously can’t succeed.

    In any case, that is why I move on to two other points. I’m still not certain how you arrived at seeing an equanimity in blaspheme in a statement that said human existence is blaspheme though. That would be like saying there is no differentiation in sin because all men sin.

    The Danes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • NickO


    So why do you use the word “all” in the paragraph if you don’t mean “ALL”?

    And why did you provide a list of examples thus, “Telephone conversations, non-fiction works, paintings of flowers, soup kitchens, and preaching. All of these are marred by the vanity…” This sounds like you intended to imply all of human existence was blasphemy (which you seem to equate with vanity, not a sustainable argument, one would think).

    Your restatement of the paragraph in your response above is certainly an improvement in that it does not have the broad, overreaching ALL of the first. And its point is true, although it comes across (to me at least) somewhat as a tautology. However it does have the added baggage of trying to say what you claim you wanted to say the first time while trying to justify the mushiness of the first.

    And finally, I’m not sure what you mean by “equanimity in blaspheme.” Perhaps you intended to say “equality in blasphemy.” Or maybe “equivalence of blasphemy.” Either way the syntax of the entire sentence doesn’t seem to hold together. If this is an important point to your objection to my original observation, maybe you could restate it.


  • Nah, I meant equanimity. As in, an even disbursement. It seemed, and I may be misreading you, that by “undifferentiated, blasphemous goo”* you were inferring that I implied that there are no degrees to which people differ in their abusive of the Lord’s name. This would be an unfair characterization of my original (and subsequent) statement since I never implied such a thing in claiming that all human life is characterized by an abuse of the Lord’s name since human life is characterized is characterized by rebellion and, as image bearers, we represent the name of God even as any ambassador represents the kingdom from which he hails.

    As to the tautology of my point, sure it’s tautological to say: as representatives of God misrepresent God with their whole lives, their whole lives are therefore misrepresentations of God. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a valuable reminder. Kinda like when we say that God is love and therefore He is The source and expression of love. It’s not necessarily a logically valuable thing to say (as it’s obvious), but it’s worthwhile for other reasons.

    And when did I say I didn’t mean all? I mean I’m pretty obviously not communicating well at all because you’re haven’t a terrible time understanding what I’m saying. But that’s cool, because I don’t really get what you’re saying either.

    Things like, “You seem to equate [blasphemy] with vanity, not a sustainable argument, one would think),” just sort of come out of nowhere. I never implied overtly or otherwise that vanity and blasphemy shared a definition. I did imply that humanity treats God’s name vanity simply by existing in a fallen state. But that’s hardly what you’re talking about, one would guess.

    *note: for someone nitpicking terms, “undifferentiated, blasphemous goo” is not exactly the hallmark of precise criticism.

    The Danes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • NickO


    Nah, if you mean “even disbursement,” then you should say that. Because if you check the word “equanimity” at http://www.onelook.com and pick any of the dictionary links, you find definitions such as “evenness of mind especially under stress” (Merriam Webster Online). The word is mostly a “Johnny one-note” in the definition department.

    I think I got the vanity = blasphemy link from your reply above in which you said, “I’m still not certain how you arrived at seeing an equanimity in blaspheme [sic] in a statement that said human existence is blaspheme [sic] though.” Since your original post was about the human condition being vanity and this comment was about human existence being blasphemy, I concluded, apparently erroneously, that you were equating them.

    Now about the “blasphemous goo” … It’s a rhetorical device called hyperbolic metaphor, not a tool of philosophical analysis. I would truly be surprised if anyone took it to be anything except a verbal flourish. However, I apologize if it offends you.


  • David Dunham

    Wow! The politness of the current discussion going on strikes me as more humorous than polite.

  • NickO




  • this is an interesting topic as I have been recently trying to address this specific situation in my own life. It has become a personal conviction of mine that watching a movie in which you are aware that characters will take the Lord’s name in vain, doesn’t seem to warrant any realistic purpose for watching it. There is no need to intentionally watch and thereby condone these movies to simply understand the culture as we are constantly blasted by it everyday. Paul gives several charges to the churches to flee from even the ‘appearance’ of evil, and to have no part with ungodliness, and to walk in the light. This is my question. For a movie that has this type of language, how often are we as children of the living God blessed or benefited in any way by watching it? Does it bring honor and glory to Him when we ignore and overlook and make excuses for these people speaking this way, all the while becoming desensitized to the things of the Spirit and to our own sin in the process? Was it Paul that said to stop living like the gentiles and to be holy – set apart completely for God?

  • @Adam,

    My one question to that would be, at what point are you going to stop seeing evil (enough to stop running from it).

    What about the bible – it has lots of sinful stuff in it, rape, murder, war, incest, prostitution, crime, blasphemy – if it was made into a movie surely it would be 18 or UNRATED. You really should stop reading the bible in that case.

    The early monks had the same idea as you… run from the world, hide from it. Find a mountain and go start a ministry to keep them all protected and able to meditate and think on God all day long… trouble is they ended up neglecting Jesus’ other command – go out INTO all the WORLD and make disciples.

    If you want wash things clean you’re going to have to pick them up when theyre dirty – metaphorically speaking.

    Lex Fears last blog post..[Atheism] British Teens Trending Towards Knives

  • @Adam

    Just a quick comment, the verse in 1 Thess 5:22 which calls us to avoid every appearance of evil is a poor translation. The word more properly means “form,” not appearance, and thus the verse is calling us to avoid all kinds of evil, not things that look like evil. If it were a sin to do something that looked like evil, Jesus would have sinned many times over in the eyes of others, but He didn’t.

    Just thought I’d throw that out there.


    Alan Nobles last blog post..Sanford and Sins: Public Figures and Private Infidelity

  • “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

    “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

    Think about good things, if you desire to watch bad things, it will inevitably come out of you.

    Need I say more?

    Most of what I see in these boards are justifications to not throw out 100s of dollars of movies.

    “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”
    Matthew 18:9

  • Nick

    I’d just like to point out that I’m not “NickO.” in this discussion thread. I felt it was worth mentioning.

  • Nick

    Also, Andrew. What are “bad things” in the context of movies, television, etc.?

    Which is another way of me saying: “Yes, you need say more.”

  • kelly

    My husband and I do not watch movies that blasphemes God’s name. We use the website plugged in to help us search movies out. Needless to say, we don’t watch many movies.

    More to the point though: I cannot stop real people from using God’s name in vain in public. But I can stop myself from entertaining myself with movies and shows that use God’s name in vain. I think we need to remember here – that movies are a form of entertainment not a form of education (though they can be used for that). To allow the filth of the world into our minds because we want to be entertained is ludicrous. Read the Bible, read a good Christian book, reach out to others and invite people into your home for games, food, and fellowship. Our time, can definitely be better spent than watching movies that blaspheme the name of our Holy and Righteous God. Peace to you all!