I know of two people who were recently castigated by Austrian Mormons for saying “Grüß Gott.”* These people are also Mormon but not Austrian and were unaware of the specific kosher rules of this particular regional Mormonism. Apparently, Grüß Gott is verboten for Austrian Mormons. The following is my attempt to show why this Verbot doesn’t quite add up.
Grüß Gott is the most common salutation in Austria and southern Germany. You hear it all the time, everywhere. It is the functional equivalent of “Guten Tag” and means something like “God bless you” (literally “God greets”). It’s basically Austrian for “good day” and is used the way we would say “hello.”
Apparently, most Austrian Mormons find the vain repetition of “God” in Grüß Gott to be blasphemous, but I beg to differ.
1. The injunction to not take the Lord’s name in vain is being overly applied here, I think. After all, God’s name is often repeated (vainly) in all manner of non-sacred situations. CHRISTmas is said with no thought of Christ; theophoric personal names are commonplace (JOnathan, KRISTine); we speak of the country called IsraEL; etc. Grüß Gott is not the same as saying “Good God!” or “Oh my God!” and as such I think it stubborn and unnecessary to insist that it’s “blasphemous.”
2. If that leaves you unconvinced (and I will confess that as a non-native speaker, I don’t fully know how Grüß Gott sounds), then a brief look at other languages shows that this “rule” is inconsistently applied. English “goodbye” means, in fact, “God be with you.” Spanish-speaking Mormons routinely say, “adios” (to God); “si Dios quiere” (God willing); “ojala” (if Allah wishes); “vaya con Dios” (go with God); “que Dios te bendiga” (God bless). In French, “adieu” means adieu (to God), an expression even used in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 7:27)! Would Arab Mormons stop saying “Inshallah”?
Here’s what I find regrettable about the Verbot:
1. It seems in danger of being a rather unnecessary case of phylactery enlargement, making “extra” rules when they maybe aren’t needed.
2. Given the fact that English, French, and Spanish have similar expressions, and that they are happily used by Mormons, it seems that Austrian Mormons are unnecessarily burdening their oxen here.
3. If you personally think it’s blasphemous that’s fine, but don’t chastise others over it. I cringe when I think of converts being shamed over their use of an expression as innocent (to them) as “hello” is in English.
4. In Austria, Grüß Gott is culturally defining in the same way as the Blue Danube waltz. “Guten Tag” sounds prim and formal. When used in informal situations it distances its user from his or her own culture. I find it regrettable when international Mormons disdain the conventions of their homelands (when these conventions are harmless). And we wonder why people think we’re clannish and weird? (I have a suspicion that it’s the Catholic origin of the expression that causes the discomfort, because as we all know, the Catholic Church is the Great and Abominable Church of Lucifer the Devil and Author of the Dreadful Papist Apostasy.)
I want to add, however, that out of respect for local sensibilities, I wouldn’t say Grüß Gott at church.
*If the dots and weird “B” thing are worrying you, it’s pronounced “Gruess Gott” but mostly sounds like “‘Sgott.”