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Blasphemy—A sin against God and man?


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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 07/26/17

Reverence for God requires reverence for the human body and soul.
[Second in a Series on Reclaiming the Ten Commandments for Our Times – Ed]

“Wash your mouth out with soap!” Were you ever so ordered by a parent or teacher? Do you remember what you said to cause that cleansing punishment?

We’ve always known that words have power, that what we say can reflect the state of our souls and, for good or ill, affect the souls of others. There was a time when we knew more confidently and clearly that there were words that were unworthy of our dignity as humans, as civilized persons and as Christians. There was a time when we knew more confidently and clearly that the young, the innocent and the vulnerable should not be exposed to “filthy” words and the darkness they pointed to. There was an agreement—more or less—that they should be protected. Does God need such protection?

I ask this as part of our ongoing meditations on reclaiming the Ten Commandments. The Second Commandment enjoins: “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” (Exodus 5:11) It forbids blasphemy—speaking irreverently, defiantly or abusively of that which is sacred, especially the Most Holy Name of God. Of course, God cannot be “harmed” by foul language as an impressionable child can; but God can be offended by irreverence—a sin of injustice against our obligation to acknowledge the holiness of God. Irreverence dishonors God; it harms us by weakening our ability and desire to love and worship God, who is our fulfillment and our only true home.

I feel a growing anxiety about a blindness we may have towards blasphemy: Can we blaspheme against ourselves? Can we profane (dishonor the sacred) in ourselves? Please understand that I’m not talking about sinning against the Cult of Self-Esteem that our culture has suffered from for the past four or five decades. What concern me are the obligations of reverence and proscriptions against blasphemy that follow from being both human and Christian.

As humans, we’re made in the “image and likeness of God.” (Genesis 1:27) We’re never “merely” or “solely” human; God has associated some of his own dignity and honor with us. As Christians, we’re “temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Baptized, we have a sacred character that the world cannot give—but can certainly tarnish. We couldn’t imagine ourselves smashing a beautiful work of religious art. We wouldn’t consider bringing filth and obscenity into a sanctuary. But we do just that, we blaspheme—we violate the Second Commandment—by sins against the integrity of our human bodies and the sacredness of our Christian souls.

When we carelessly ingest the poisons of an unhealthy diet; when we thoughtlessly abuse alcohol and consume dangerous drugs; when we submit ourselves to the mutilation of sterilization or “gender re-assignment”—are we not then blaspheming against the presence of God in us? Will God not take notice when we attempt to efface his image which he has placed in us?

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Nothing is in the soul which was not first in the senses.” In other words, the senses are the gateway to the soul. If we were to view pornography, listen to lewd talk, sing along with obscene lyrics—would we not then bring filth into the temple of our souls by way of our senses? Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone think that behavior would be pleasing to God? How could anyone think that such sacrilege against the human soul sanctified by God will lead us to the happiness of Heaven?

The flippant might scoff at such questions and suggest that we are in danger of becoming prudish. The more scrupulous might start wishing for a precise and complete list of all images, words, sounds, etc., that would be included in THE COMPREHENSIVE CATALOG OF ALL DON’TS! Let’s not make either mistake.

We don’t need much wisdom to acknowledge this truth: “Do not profane what is holy.” (Said positively:  “Revere the sacred.”) The holiness of God is beyond measure; his worthiness of reverence, gratitude and right worship cannot honestly be denied. Adding marvel upon marvel, our status as his creatures, and our dignity as his heirs in Christ require that we be vigilant in guarding the divine presence that mark our human bodies and Christian souls.

In a healthy culture, the exhortation: “Live according to your dignity” (Philippians 1:27) should be a joyfully received rallying cry rather than a cause for grumbling and protest. In a healthy culture, teaching our children that what enters their souls is at least as important as what comes out of their mouths would be a solemn and cherished task. It’s time for us to re-examine our behavior and our homes in light of the Second Commandment. (Romans 12:2)

When I write next, I’ll offer another reflection on reclaiming the Ten Commandments in our times. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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