Sunday, February 10, 2008


God, the petulant

Last Sunday, in this post, I said this:

And it reminds me of one of the two hardest things for me to swallow about religion: the idea that God listens to and answers your prayers.

Of course, that left open the question of what the other of the two hardest things for me to swallow is. And that, of course, is the subject of this week’s sermonette.

I can’t accept the idea that an almighty, omnipotent creator of the vast, unimaginable universe needs or wants our worship. It’d be rather like us wanting ants to worship us. Why would it matter, to such a being?

With the Greco-Roman gods, and others of that sort, worship and ritual and sacrifices made a bit more sense in the context of what they believed. Their gods were more like people, only a bit more powerful. They had vanity, they were irascible, they succeeded and failed, they engaged in petty squabbles amongst themselves, and they even sometimes took people for their mates.

But the monotheistic God of today isn’t like that. He’s above pettiness, vanity, and squabbling — and who could squabble with God anyway? So what’s the deal with worship?

It’s for us, of course, not for God. And that’s fine, but we should admit it, rather than attributing such petty vanity to God.

And certainly God couldn’t possibly care whether we say his name, for, uh, cryin’ out loud! God is not that touchy.

This silliness goes back to the Old Testament, to the tetragrammaton, the original “four-letter word”, the ineffable name of God. But we’ve taken it beyond that — it’s not just bad to say the name, to pronounce the tetragrammaton, but also just to say “God” casually. Or, for that matter, to make casual references to all manner of holy things. I love the way they swear in French-speaking Quebec: rather than references to excrement or body parts, they say things like “communion host”, “chalice”, and “tabernacle”.

BoingBoing points us to, which has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for some of the complaints made to the FCC about television programs. Here’s one complaint from a viewer of South Park (pasted directly, including errors):

I was watching South Park a few nights ago and I noticed they bleeped out curse words which is great because I don’t want language on tv. But what bothers me is that the FCC over looks the Lords name in Vain. Why are you allowing something that is no different then murder in the eyes of many? I wish the FCC covered things like this, it’s showing to our childeren that it’s ok to say the Lords name in Vain when in fact it is very wrong. Lots of networks say it while bleeping out regular four lettered curse words like FX, USA network. I’m making me very upset with how things are being handled at FCC. I wish for changes.

There’s a good one: saying “Oh, God damn it!” is “no different then [sic] murder,” as this person sees it.

Perspective. I think someone needs perspective.


The Ridger, FCD said...


That's like all the people mad at Google for having a service called OMG!

The idea that there are people out there with so binary a sense of right and wrong is scary. How many times can you say "goddammnit" before you start killing people?

lidija said...

This is one of the most hilarious things I've heard recently - someone wants to watch the South Park and have the words bleeped out as well as not have them use the lord's name in vain.

Maggie said...

I think our friend will have to be satisfied with "Veggie Tales," and maybe just wonder why the smarter, funnier writers are writing for South Park. The *bleep* works in mysterious ways.

Jim Fenton said...

It’s for us, of course, not for God. And that’s fine, but we should admit it, rather than attributing such petty vanity to God.

C.S. Lewis made a very profound statement in this regard, that goes something like, "I don't pray because it changes God; I pray because it changes me."

We do admit it's for us. We'll just have to agree to disagree whether God exists and is listening too.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens discuss blasphemy in the UK. You might be interested.