Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Truth of the Matter

In just over two weeks, my name will officially be entered into the roll of New South Wales legal practitioners. One may either look at this moment as the culmination of seven years of study and work experience or as the start of everything that it yet to come. I am feeling many things at the moment, ranging from excitement, to pride, to nostalgia, to sheer relief.

Before I am to be admitted to the legal profession on Friday fortnight, I still have one more important decision to make - whether I will swear an oath or make an affirmation. As someone who believes in God, one would think that this is an easy decision to make. However, this is not the case. You see, while I have never officially been a signed up member of Quakerism, the values that Quakers hold to still make a deep impression on my faith. One of these values is that of honesty and integrity in all of their dealings. They believe that truth is truth and that therefore swearing an oath creates a double standard of truth. In particular, they appeal to Matthew 5:33-37 which reads as follows:

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.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Such was the conviction of many Quakers that they absolutely refused to swear an oath and were thrown in jail as a result. It was not until some time after the beginnings of Quakerism that Quakers were able to make an affirmation that what they would say is true. From what I have gathered, most Quakers seem to be content with this option. This said, I still find it rather messy, because making an affirmation is still an official declaration that one does not make in their daily dealings. The whole issue has made me stop and take pause about the kind of guarantees that we make every day and how one would not be able to function in society without accepting that they had to make these guarantees. For instance, when you apply for a driver's licence, you have sign your name to indicate that what you have said is true and correct. It is the same process if one needs to sign a contract for a new job or hires a professional. Are these all types of oaths too?

Anyway, all of this has got me thinking. It's not as though I believe that I am held to a higher standard of honesty because I am swearing an oath. That said, maybe swearing an oath will communicate the idea that I am trying to make a more convincing case of my honesty to others and this would be a misnomer, because I would feel bound to act with integrity whether I took an oath or not. But this would also be the case with an affirmation. Or maybe people just see this whole process as a formality and a long standing tradition? Whatever happens, I'll consider things carefully and let you know what I decide to do.


Craig Bennett said...

G'day David.

Congrats on a well earned degree. I pray that you will uphold your aims to keep truthful to your profession.

I didn't realise you had roots in quakerism, one of my favorite books is by a quaker, Richard J Foster, "Spiritual Disciplines" Which is a great book truly rooted in the Scriptures.

It seems to me though that the Society of Friends is becoming a group where it doesn't matter too much about what you believe as long as you believe and practice it in love...which is totally different to what Foster preaches.

Whats your thoughts about that situation?

David Castor said...

Hey Craig,

What are my thoughts about Quakerism?

Quakerism is a fairly diverse movement, although with some distinctives that are pretty much universal, such as peace, honesty and simplicity. In Australia Quakerism is typically fairly liberal, though in the meetings I've been to I've met fairly conservative Christians too. I suspect that the majority of people who come to Quakerism from outside the movement come through more mainstream Christian churches, though others come through Eastern religions, the New Age and even atheism.

Broadly speaking, I think that the underlying testimonies of Quakerism and Quakers themselves are thoroughly in line with the teachings of Jesus, though there have been times that I'd have wished our meetings and our conversations would have more specifically focussed on the person and ministry of Christ. While I consider myself pretty liberal, the person of Jesus is a fairly central element of my life and I was a bit disappointed that there wasn't much more explicit reference to him. Still, the practices I have learnt in Quakerism have served me well and I am theologically in line with pretty much all of their core principles. For instance, worship in silence can be a truly scary, but a wonderfully rewarding experience.