How would you finish this all-too-common expression?
I am convinced that most people–my students included–would, sadly, complete it by calling on the Creator.
But not in sincerity. Rather, in vain.
Horse feathers! Poppycock! Fiddlesticks!
Do we ever really mean these expressions literally? Do we take time to think what they really mean and then speak them sincerely to someone, having considered the possible implications of our speech?
Why not? Likely because we think of them as merely fillers… void of true meaning, polite substitutes for their more bawdy counterparts. In other words, people tend to use these filler words IN VAIN.
In fact, whenever we speak without meaning what we say, aren’t we referring to the subject IN VAIN? If I say “Good Morning” to you out of habit without really meaning it, did I really mean “Good”? Did I really think about it being “Morning”? Did I even consider whether you were actually having a “good morning” or not? If the answer to any of these is “No,” then I spoke this rather benign phrase to you not only innocuously, but also IN VAIN. Yes, IN VAIN.
The Third Commandment states very clearly, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain (Exodus 20:7, KJV). It’s a commandment, not a suggestion.
Can you imagine someone walking down the street randomly calling out names or words they don’t mean?
Whataburger! Gladys! Elm Street! Chevy Tahoe!!
Wouldn’t we think they had lost their mind?
What if someone texted you with seemingly uncalled-for proper nouns?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt! Santa Claus! Nebraska! Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!!
Would we be offended? Would we block them from messaging us? Or would we laugh and/or take it lightly, as what we’ve come to expect from our superficial communication these days? (And then maybe even return the post to them using a similarly VAIN turn of phrase?)
What is your point, already, Dr. Roe?
Our students, like most of society, have become far too comfortable in vaguely and insincerely referencing the name of our Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, the One whose Name and Person should always, ALWAYS be held in highest reverence by all who breathe… since He gives us breath… and everything else we have from His generous hand. (See Isaiah 42:5; Acts 17:24-28; Psalm 145:14-16)
Why do people do it?
In their intriguing study, Nabi and Clark (2008) found that “negatively reinforced behaviors on TV may be modeled anyway” (p. 407), that is, despite, and perhaps even because they are negatively modeled. Pointing to Social Cognitive theory (SCT), Nabi and Clark remind us that “vicarious learning” (p. 409) is indeed prevalent among TV audiences. Echoing Kellner’s (1980) work, in which he warns that “[TV’s] imagery is. . . prescriptive as well as descriptive,” (p. 5), Nabi and Clark’s research help us understand that what we view may ultimately become a guide for our own behavior thereafter.
What’s the take away for our mass comm students?
It is challenging, but vital to get students to recognize where their patterns (and bad habits) of communicating come from. In fact, teaching people to become self-reflective, in general, is a daunting task, but oh, so vital.
In class, we have to begin by discussing what seems most obvious–because that’s where the pernicious influence of society begins to have its influence. We have to discuss why we do–or don’t–think of such phrases as “Oh, my God!” (or its text version, OMG!) as being just another way of showing surprise or disdain. Are we speaking TO the Almighty when we employ such words? If not, then why are we using His Name–IN VAIN? (His Name is above all Names, right? See Philippians 2:9-11.)
Or did we forget?
A few years ago a detergent maker began to advertise what was a short-lived addition to their long-known brand name. I’d like to think it was informed, pro-active media-savvy consumers who got them to change their name back and to stop running those irritating commercials. People like my students who have learned from class discussions not to take such things for granted, and from Bible-reading Christians who have learned that they will give an accounting for every careless word. (See Matthew 12:36.)
I mean, really? All-Mighty laundry detergent? Is it that good? Only God is good, said His only Son (Luke 18:19).