Pondering the Ten Commandments, I have wondered why it should be a sin to exclaim “Oh my God!” Surely, there must be another interpretation of the admonition against taking the name of the Lord in vain. Of course it’s disrespectful to use the name of the Creator to express shock, frustration, anguish, or whatever. His name – as Christians concede in the Lord’s Prayer -must be “hallowed.”
But I believe there’s more to the Third Commandment than that.
I believe that Bible thumping politicians who quote from the Word of God to justify their abusive policies are taking His name in vain. And I believe they will answer for it.
Republican Representative Stephen Fincher provides a recent example of this pernicious practice. In a debate over a proposal to slash at least $4.1 billion from SNAP (the federal program that funds food stamps), Fincher quoted from Thessalonians:
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
Recounting the incident in Salon.com today, Candace Chellew Hodge writes:
Fincher used this line to prove his point that lazy poor people shouldn’t be depending on the government to feed them. Of course, Fincher and his fellows are worried because SNAP rolls have swelled by 70% since the financial collapse back in 2008, causing the government to spend $80 billion to feed poor people. But instead of curbing the bankers’ economy-destroying ways or ending their corporate welfare, they seek to take it out of the stomachs of poor people.
The Salon.com article explains the quote was taken out of context; it was intended to address a specific problem that was plaguing the Christian community in Thessalonica, not as a general rule. But I think that’s beside the point.
It’s not the first time I’ve come across this quote. Republicans routinely use it to justify their oppressive agenda. And it’s obviously a false reference. St. Paul, who is supposed to be its author, would never intentionally contradict the word of the Son of God, who commands believers to succor the poor. Ministering to the poor and oppressed is a key part of His message. In the Gospel of Matthew, for example, He is quoted as saying that when we provide for the poorest among us, we provide for Him.
I realize that America is not solely a nation of Christians. And you might ask why Jews, Muslims or Americans of any other faith should heed the words of Jesus. But every other major religion commands compassion for the unfortunate.
Caring for the poor is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament. In the Book of Proverbs, for example, we find this warning:
If you refuse to listen to the cry of the poor, your own cry will not be heard.
The Quran includes this message:
The righteous are those who feed the poor, the orphan and the captive for the love of God.
The Hindu religion also warns us to care for the less fortunate in order to create good karma for ourselves. And Buddhists are cautioned to do good works in this life or face retribution when they are reincarnated.
No belief system, not even Atheism or Humanism, exempts us from compassion.
Of course, there can be a reasonable debate over the role of government in caring for the poor. My personal conviction is that we cannot rely on the generosity of individuals, especially in a society as large and diverse as America’s. History teaches us how cruel private charity can be. But I respect the arguments of those who disagree with me.
What I do not respect, what I loathe and abhor, is the hypocrisy of far-right politicians who quote from the Bible to justify their inhumanity and selfishness. For one thing, the United States Constitution calls for separation of Church and State.
For another (of even more importance to me personally), exploiting the Word of God to win political arguments is blasphemy, plain and simple.