I’m wondering about something. Many religious people, and especially most Christians I meet, feel uncomfortable when they hear phrases like “Oh my God,” or exclamations like “God!” or “Jesus!” (especially in the movies). Could you explain why this is the case?
In the Bible (which Christians consider the Word of God) we find the prohibition against use the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7). On a personal level I would point to my relationship with God as further explanation.
In my relationship with God I often talk to Him directly and even talk about Him to others. When I therefore hear people make reference to God in a flippant or even abusive way, even if they don’t realize it, I cannot help but feel uneasy. Imagine the person you love and deeply care about, and then imagine someone else, when referring to that person you care about, using his or her name in a careless or abusive kind of way. Wouldn’t such a situation make you feel uncomfortable?
When most people say ‘Oh my God’ they say it precisely because they have never thought carefully about what they are saying. Ask such people why they use the phrase and their answer would be probably be that they don’t mean anything by it. But it is precisely because the word “God” does have meaning to many people that they feel offended with careless use or flippancy.
Of course many people do not believe in God and don’t care much about whether God exists or not – and they will often say as much. I value the freedom of expression, but in doing so I am always mindful of how my words might affect other people. Unfortunately it is not only actions that can hurt other people, but words can as well – ask any person in an emotionally abusive relationship. Since most people on earth have religious beliefs of some kind and since these beliefs are important to them, I always try to be sensitive in how I use religious terms and words. Again, I believe in freedom of expression, but not at the cost of being deliberately disrespectful of the religious beliefs of other people.
This doesn’t mean that we cannot disagree with each other over religious ideas. I can firmly disagree with your religious beliefs (if I think they are mistaken), but I can still be respectful and courteous in doing so. I think the belief that all religions speak about the same God in different ways, is simply mistaken The Eastern concept of God is radically different from what the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths affirm about God. And even within monotheism the differences in beliefs are substantial. Maybe all religions have it wrong (maybe atheism is right), but religions cannot all be right about God for they simply make mutually exclusive claims. The point is that I can explain my point of view without being disrespectful, even when I believe that Christianity makes the best sense of the world we live in (about questions such as origins, meaning, morality and destiny). I am not arrogant or close-minded about my beliefs; I gladly listen to other points of view to try and discern what is true. I believe there is much shared truth among most of the world’s religions, although the whole truth is not reducible to only what is shared among them.