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You Swore on the Bible: What an Oath Means

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This piece has appeared here before-- fourteen months ago. It seems especially pertinent now, however, as the issue of impeachment has gained momentum lately among the American people (but not apparently in Congress) and as Congress has recently capitulated on FISA in a manner of at best dubious constitutionality.

For those reasons, the piece seems still new, still on target, and so here it is again.

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YOU SWORE ON THE BIBLE: WHAT AN OATH MEANS
by
Andrew Bard Schmookler

A promise is always an important thing. But an oath is not just an ordinary promise. An oath is a promise made in such a way as to accentuate its importance, and to make it binding, as much as is possible to do.

An oath has been defined thus:

"Invocation of a supernatural or holy being called to verify the veracity of a statement... An oath was a special appeal, an expression of sincerity backed up by the threat of divine retribution should the uttering prove false--hence the term ‘oath-breaker’. An oathbreaker was assumed to have committed a crime against God or of some divine entity, which would lead to damnation or another form of severe penalty."


A PROMISE MADE TO GOD
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A connection is explicitly made between the promise (relating to earthly matters) and the sacred realm. The promise is thus made a sacred thing. The result is that nothing can legitimately overrule the promise. It is stated in an unequivocal way-- unequivocal, literally, in that there is no other "voice" that can equal, let alone supplant, the voice of the promise.

Historically, the taker of the oath consents to the severest of judgments should he violate that oath: "a crime against God...which would lead to damnation or another form of severe penalty."

That is a part of the background for the "oath of office" which every member of the United States Congress takes.

A TREASONOUS OFFENSE

And of the oath of office, it is said:
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"Oaths of office are usually a statement of loyalty to a constitution or other legal text, as well as an oath to the state or religion the office holder will be serving. It is often considered a treasonous or highly illegal offense to betray one's oath of office."


"A treasonous or highly illegal offense..." Taking this oath is supposed to be no small thing.

And so, just what is it that Members of Congress promise that they will do? Here's what they swear:

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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