I have been reading lots of historic novels set in early Norman/Plantagenet times. This was a time when everyone believed God was sovereign and much of what went on was whether it was “God’s will” or not. But all the way through the characters will say things like “Christ’s teeth”, “Holy Mother of God” and other phrases that invoke God or Jesus in a way that would not be acceptable to many Christians now. In fact only the other day someone was saying to me that you could tell whether someone was really following God as to whether they “used God’s name in vain” was the phrase used.
Now I am not advocating the use of “Oh my God” etc in speech but I was wondering when we talk of blaspheming what is really meant. Again it seems to be a word that has changed meaning, or rather developed a meaning different from it’s dictionary definition.
Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for (a) God(s), to religious or holy persons or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable. Some religions consider blasphemy as a religious crime.
So one could say using God’s name as an expletive is showing contempt or lack of reverence but were those Medieval characters doing that? I don’t think they were. In fact the Blasphemy Act of 1650 was only brought in to be used to persecute Catholics during the time of William of Orange and in fact for most of its time was only used to “keep Catholics in their place”. It had nothing to do with saying “Oh God” when either upset or happy about something. In fact this morning I was chatting with a fellow dog walker and he was using “Oh God” as a form of emphasising what he was saying. He wasn’t being disrespectful or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God. He just wanted to make a point stronger.
Previous to the act of 1650 there were other acts but each of them appear to be used to keep some other group in their place and to be able to punish them under the law whether they were Jews or other forms of Christians that the dominant Christian group didn’t like. So it appears to me that the Blasphemy laws were not kind things, not really loving, and I still think God is love.
So do I agree with the others saying God’s name to make a point? I don’t think I do. But then I also don’t agree with people swearing to make a point. Do I think people are being disrespectful when they use God’s name to make a point? No I don’t. I think it is a way of speech that has been about for hundreds of years. Do I like it? No I don’t. But the question I keep asking myself is why do I not like it? And I keep coming back to the fact that the Christian culture I have been part of for nearly 25 years told me it was wrong and so it has become part of what I think. Do I sometimes use God’s name in a way that isn’t evangelising or praying? Yes I do especially when I get angry. Why? Because sometimes there aren’t enough expressive words to deal with it. So like the Medieval people I have been reading about sometimes I do need to make a point deeper and sometimes that is all there is. Also the other day when there was the most amazing sunset I did also use God’s name to express myself.
And in following on from the Stephen Fry quote I do wonder sometimes if, as with the laws in put in place over the years whether it was from fear rather than having to defend God. I
do hope God is big enough to deal with any number of people who use His name not in the way He would prefer. I do also wonder how often He takes it literally and as it says in the Bible, both in Old and New Testament, that those who call on His name He will hear and answer.
In my opinion blasphemy is about disrespecting other people’s belief systems whether Christian of any flavour, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, pagan or whatever. And as I finish I wonder, with things hotting up about this EU voting whether we could all deal with it in a way that does not disrespect other people’s belief systems?