Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Swear

The American right, no doubt disappointed that Obama didn't take the Oath of Office on the Quran the way the right-wingers had been claiming he would, now have a problem with the fact that the retake of the oath wasn't done on the Bible. Justice Roberts and Obama engaged in a moment of tension during the inauguration ceremony by stumbling through the Oath of Office so they got together for a retake this week. Pictures of the event show Obama with his right hand raised, his left hand down at his side.
Think Progress covers Glen Beck's misleading coverage of the event complete with the YouTube video of Beck on his new Fox News gig.
I can't help but wonder how this can even be an issue. Has anybody actually read that Bible that Obama was supposed to have his left hand on? If so, how do you deal with this from Matthew 5:33-37, from the Sermon on the Mount:
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33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
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Mind you this is Jesus saying this. But what is He saying and why?
I've heard the tired old explanation that Jesus was just telling the people not to casually cuss by aimlessly swearing. I don't buy that, of course. Verse 37 is the key to understanding what Jesus is saying.
Jesus is saying whatever you say, let it be the truth. Don't live in such a way that the only time anybody can trust that you are telling the truth is after you have taken an oath to tell the truth.
I've been trying for a very long time now to express this idea. I rant on and on about how Christianity has no concept of truth other than that the Bible alone is truth. Calvinism even goes so far as to suggest that whatever you choose to say, God already knew what your choice would be and you saying it is God's Will. That's completely absurd, but it seems to serve a lot of people very well.
Here's the thing, and I think our own culture is just like the culture that Jesus was addressing here. In our culture there is a difference between making a promise and swearing an oath. A promise is a commitment to do something. An oath is a promise made in the spirit of truth. It's not that you can't speak a promise truthfully. It's that in our culture we understand that it is acceptable to make a promise that we don't intend to keep. It's not acceptable to make an oath that we don't intend to keep. So we make our oaths to God or to Heaven or to the Bible or to wherever, to a place that our culture recognizes we would have to desecrate if we were to violate our promise.
We have in our culture, and Jesus must have observed the same thing in the culture of his own time, a duality of truth. One truth has no connection to God, to the divine. It's just the truth of the world. One man's truth is another man's lie and the only judge is our own understanding. The other truth is God's truth, divine truth, truth as it is seen by God. When we need to differentiate between those two, we take an oath.
What Jesus is teaching here on the mountain is that this is a fallacy. There are not two truths. There is not a divine truth and a truth of the world. There is only one truth and that is truth as God sees it. To accept the idea that we can use an oath to certify that we are speaking truth in God's eyes is to accept that we are capable of speaking truth that isn't truth in God's eyes. It is to make legitimate the idea that truth has this duality. Oaths make legitimate the lie that there is a duality of truth.
Reflecting back on Matthew 5:37, anything more than for you to simply speak the truth whenever you speak - any need for an oath - is from the evil one. Recognizing the need for oaths legitimizes the lie.
Perhaps Obama understands this. Perhaps his promise is spoken in the spirit of truth. Perhaps this is one of the changes that Obama brings to Washington.

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