Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lifestyle impacts of no swearing

Imagine if Jesus really meant what he said about not swearing any oaths at all. What would be the real impact today if we refused all swearing?

We will take a quick look at the state law about swearing oaths to assess the impact today.

First we need to look at the definitions. Swearing is the verb, the action, and the oath is the noun, the result of swearing. Thus one swears an oath.

Secondly, let's look at the standard and traditional wording used and manner of administration of oaths.

Section 3 of the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 (NZ) states:
3Form in which oath may be administered
An oath may be administered and taken in any of the manners following:
  • (a)the person taking the oath may, while holding in his hand a copy of the Bible, New Testament, or Old Testament, repeat the words of the oath as prescribed or allowed by law; or
  • (b)the person administering the oath may repeat the appropriate form of adjuration commencing with the wordsYou swear by Almighty God that, or words to the like effect, and concluding with the words of the oath as prescribed or allowed by law, and the person taking the oath shall thereupon, while holding in his hand a copy of the Bible, New Testament, or Old Testament, indicate his assent to the oath so administered by uttering the words I do, or other words to the like effect; or
  • (c)the oath may be administered and taken in any manner which the person taking it may declare to be binding on him.

So we see from here that oaths involve an appeal to divine authority -- the use of the name of God and of the bible -- and are intended to create binding obligations or declarations.

Now let's look at the state response to Jesus's prohibition of oaths:
4Right to make affirmation instead of oath
  • (1)Every person shall be entitled as of right to make his affirmation, instead of taking an oath, in all places and for all purposes where an oath is required by law, and every such affirmation shall be of the same force and effect as an oath.
    (2)Every such affirmation shall be as follows: I, AB, solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm, and shall then proceed with the words of the oath prescribed by law, omitting any words of imprecation or calling to witness.
    (3)Every affirmation in writing shall begin, I, AB, of [specify], solemnly and sincerely affirm; and the form instead of jurat shall be, Affirmed at [placedate] before me.

The state's response is semantic move of no legal effect. The state treats the issue of refusal to take oaths to be a matter of private or spiritual or religious belief, rather than as a form of legal or real spiritual or economic power against the power of the state itself. This can also be seen by the way the state law treats religious belief:

5Oath not affected by absence of religious belief
  • Where an oath has been duly administered and taken, the fact that the person to whom the same was administered had at the time of taking the oath no religious belief shall not for any purpose affect the validity of the oath.

So the state's stance is very clear: believe whatever you like, and we can even accommodate your religiously-motivated refusal to use particular words in particular ways, but the mechanisms of legal and state power are unchanged, and we expect Christians to participate and engage with coercive state power in exactly the same way as anyone else, that is to say they must accept and act on it as legitimate and unchallenged, and furthermore this shows there is no conflict between Christianity and state power and legitimacy. Jesus is Lord and so is Caesar. But Jesus rules the world of private, religious, personal and emotional beliefs, not the world of money and power and law and justice and public policy.

However, we shall examine the nature of oaths more closely to see what is their real nature and the kind of power that they invoke and uphold.

The state-created technical right to affirm instead of swear identifies the problematic elements of oaths that drove the objections and that is inherent in oaths (refer section 4, Oaths and Declarations Act 1957):

  1. The 'words of imprecation', and
  2. The 'calling of witness'  (i.e. the calling of God as witness)

The words of imprecation refer to the calling down on the jurat (the person swearing the oath) of a curse.

What is the nature of the curse and the purpose of using God as witness? Although on its face it would appear to be a reference to God's punishment after death, supposedly as a motivation to tell the truth and to discharge one's obligations, the reality is legal, political and ideological:

  1. The one who swears and oath, and yet gives false testimony invites the court to impose generally severe punishments on him.
  2. The calling God as witness is not only an appeal to God and his ultimate knowledge and justice, but the giving of divine imprimatur on such earthly punishment and enforcement action against him in this life.
  3. Thus the oath purports to bring God's ultimate sanction to the earthly litigation, prosecution, judicial and coercive action involved in the promises or proceedings. And administration of the state power apparatus here on earth. 

What if this were exactly what Jesus came to challenge and overturn? A closer look at his life and teaching reveals exactly this: Jesus came to challenge the coercion of the court and to teach a non-coercive alternative. Jesus came not to die as the ultimate sacrifice to the myth of redemptive violence, but to shatter that myth by giving his life to ransom us from slavery to the cycle of coercion and violence.

Swearing oaths is an essential input to the power, ideology and sanction of social coercion and the power of the state. The state doesn't mind if we change the words from swear to affirm, because the state is not about words but about power. The state is the systematic and organised institution of coercion that is upheld both by propaganda/ideology, and by the application of coercion. So the state doesn't mind if a good minority of the people want to change the wording of their coercive power exercise instruments, so long as they have the same coercive effect the state loses nothing! In fact, by making coercive instruments compatible with the teachings of Jesus on oaths, the state neutralises its enemy.

So what is the real use of oaths today? What could not be done without the oath? What occupations would be off limits to the one who would not swear?

Firstly and most obviously the one who will not swear an oath cannot file a law suit against anyone for anything. Filing law suits requires swearing affidavits giving evidence of the complaint and presenting that evidence as sworn testimony in open court:
77Witnesses to give evidence on oath or affirmation
  • (1)A witness in a proceeding who is of or over the age of 12 years must take an oath or make an affirmation before giving evidence.
(Evidence Act 2006)
The High Court Rules require cases to be heard and decided in accordance with such witness evidence given under oath.

Secondly, one who will not swear an oath cannot take up many occupations involving state power. These include:

The Chief Justice
The Judges of the High Court
The Judges of the Court Martial
The appointed Judges of the Court Martial Appeal Court (other than retired High Court Judges)
The Judges of the Arbitration Court
The Judge of the Compensation Court
District Court Judges
The Judges of the Maori Land Court
Associate Judges of the High Court
Justices of the Peace
Community Magistrates
Referees of the Disputes Tribunals established under the Disputes Tribunals Act 1988
Every person who is appointed to, or is enlisted or engaged in, the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force
Member of Parliament
(refer Oaths and Declarations Act 1957, schedules referring to other Acts)

Thirdly, one cannot take up citizenship by grant. 

So, it is clear that one who took Jesus teaching about oaths seriously would indeed be a foreigner and exile, the one whose citizenship is truly in heaven is excluded from the exercise of coercive state power, and from enlisting it to vindicate their causes and to collect their debts. Now when you look at the New Testament description of the plight of Christians and their place in this world and approach to debt collection you may find that it may have been what Jesus was talking about when he prohibited his followers from swearing oaths after all!

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