I Swear

The ongoing political fiasco of our nation (and within several states as well), raises a very basic issue.  We trust our legislators to do what we pay them to do (they’re our employees) because they take an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Problem is, liars don’t keep their word.  When an elected official opts to lie pathologically rather than to tell the truth, how can we expect him (or her) to uphold an oath they took?  Doesn’t lying behavior suggest that they were lying when they took that oath?  A hand on the Bible means nothing if you don’t suppose God is waiting with a lightning bolt in the metaphorical Heaven described, none too clearly, in the Good Book.  This is the greatest crisis a democracy can possibly face—lying leaders.

This isn’t just alarmist talk.  Societies—even capitalistic ones—rely on a great deal of trust.  Those who don’t mean what they say end up on the business end of the Better Business Bureau, or fail to stay solvent.  There are laws that ensure you are protected if someone sells you a false bill of goods.  What then, if the highest office in the land is occupied by someone who can’t be trusted?  Instead of appealing to the rule of law to set such a person on the right path, the Republican (Church) Party has decided that lying is now a commandment.  I may be lying, but how can you tell?  If no one has the backbone to stand up and declare that the whole system has toppled, what can a nation do?  An even more worrisome fact is that there’s no going back once this has happened.  The Republican Church has instilled this behavior for three years and is showing no sign of repentance.

Oaths were taken very seriously in the world of the Bible.  Violating one (lying intentionally) was considered the surest way to arouse God’s anger.  Ironically the Republican Church, which claims to be biblically based, is, according to its own Scripture, angering God.  I often consider myself a cynic, but my cynicism falls far short of this.  Psychological studies have demonstrated that the average person is reluctant to outright lie when the idea of God is introduced into conversation.  God’s Own Party, however, has inured itself to that minor phobia.  The Good Book, after all, says God’s the father of lies, right?  If they’d bother to open that book they’re thumping, I think they’d discover that that is truthfully the worst kind of blasphemy a human can utter.

Father Abraham’s Faith

Okay, so this is the scene: Abraham is old and he has just one son to whom a promise has been made (this is the biblical version, by the way). God had promised him that he’d have as many descendants as the stars in the sky, so it seem that Isaac has a long way to go. And the boy’s not married yet. Abraham calls in his trusted servant and gives lengthy, detailed instructions on how to go back to ancestral Iraq and find a wife for Isaac. Just to make sure the servant understands just how serious this is, Abraham says, “Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh,” (I can’t help thinking he added a big wink) and instructs him to swear to obey the instructions precisely. Readers of the Bible since at least the Middle Ages have recognized that “thigh” here really means genitals. The more we’ve learned of the ancient world the more we’ve discovered that men touching each other’s privates was a sign of a most serious oath—it’s a touch that can’t be taken back, and any promises made in this way must be kept.

I’ve been reading about monkeys. More precisely, about evolution. When reading about how baboons show intent to form an alliance, I was surprised to learn that males utilize scrotum-grasping. Since all’s fair in love and war, when baboons fight ripping off another guy’s jewels is considered perfectly acceptable. That means that allowing another male to fondle your testicles is a sign of ultimate trust. Baboons, it seems, have been doing it long since before Abraham showed up on the scene. I wonder if this then is a case of convergent evolution of whether Abraham’s oath goes back to nature in its most basic form. Once castrated, especially in antiquity, a man had no choice about going back. To invite another man to put his hands “down there” was a serious matter indeed.

The only requirement really given to Abraham by God was circumcision. Again, from what we know of ancient times this was not unique to Israel, but the theological freight associated with it was. For a man who’s been promised as many descendants as the sand on the sea shore, allowing another man to cut away part of your reproductive organs is a sign of ultimate trust. This is a behavior that seems not to go back to nature, however. Not even chimpanzees have quite figured out how to make knives or use them to carve up sensitive areas. This has none of the marking of evolution. An act like that seems to have come directly from the gods. Abraham, in a way most modern believers would find incomprehensible, was the paragon of faith.

Contemplating the ineffable