Everyone get ready. I am about to go all Catholic on you for a moment.
I don’t know if other people have a different understanding of the term “in vain” than I do, but I grew up as a Catholic and learned the Ten Commandments. One of them is “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain.” I was given to understand this to mean not to swear or speak in anger using the Lord’s Name, e.g. “goddamnit”, or “Holy Christ on a pogo stick!”, what have you.
The definition of “vain” is two-fold however, neither having to do with anger.
- having or showing an excessive opinion of one’s appearance, abilities or worth.
- producing no result; useless.
If you consider “…in vain” in the context of the Commandment that I am citing, definition #1 above could apply to using the Lord’s name as a show of your Righteousness. If you consider “vanity” as in self-absorption, you can see how the Commandment may refer to calling on God for purely selfish or ego-driven purposes. This covers everything from “God please help me pass this test that I didn’t bother to study for because I was out being a hooligan” to “God please make my boss drive off a bridge this morning because I did not finish the project that is due on his desk today.” What have you.
For that one, it depends on what role you feel that “prayer” should rightly play in life.
But then there is the second definition. To use the Lord’s name to no avail; uselessly. Examples could be similar to the ones I used to illustrate my original, Catholic understanding of the term, but a tad more casually employed. “Jeez”, “Oh my God”, what have you.
The Name of God is powerful. And as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, if I may quote Voltaire and Spider-Man simultaneously. With that in mind, in the context of definition #2, I wonder if the Commandment has to do with wasting or belittling that power by chucking around the Holy Name, willy-nilly. So again nothing to do with anger, but carelessness maybe?
Interestingly if you look at it from this angle you can see that it would appear that the Commandment is telling us, “look man, if you’re going to use the Holy Name, at least use it to actually call on God toward a higher purpose, i.e., in prayer. Which would seem to contradict what I said about definition #1. So again it depends on your point of view. But one thing is for certain, to “use the Lord’s Name in vain” clearly does not mean to use it in anger.
I had to get Catholic for this post because there don’t seem to be much for Hindu examples. The various names of God are such a part of life especially in India to begin with, that I don’t know that they ever consider using the names of God so trivially. I could be wrong.