Thursday, June 4, 2009

I swear to _____?

I had the following conversation about atheists swearing oaths to assert veracity of statements with a friend of mine (also an atheist). I figured I could type it up coherently for a neatly organized blog post, but 1) I'm lazy 2) This sounds more natural and 3) I now have more time to play the Sims. It's slightly edited to remove typos and make it more coherent, but no real rewording.

Is [Other Friend] still up? Tell him I wasn't playing the Sims when he IMed me, the IM just never popped up.
Friend: Mmmm hmmmm.
Me: I swear to god. XP
Friend: You're an atheist. That holds no sway.
Me: I swear on the Sims. XP
Friend: Oh, okay then. ...You ever stop to think how prevalent that type of language is in our society? What alternative is there to that phrase? The concept of swearing an oath to a higher being to affirm veracity.
Me: There's all sorts of stuff... "bless you," "oh my god," "thank god"...I say it just because it's a phrase. It could be "oh my smorgltoff" for all I care.
Friend: Or even just "Oh my!" "Deary me!" "Well I'll be a son of a gun!". But "I swear to god" is a unique one... The concept of affirming an oath to a higher power to achieve veracity. I mean, I guess there's "No, really, I mean it." But that doesn't have the same oomph to it, y'know?
Me: Well, I think most people (aka religious people) wouldn't swear to god unless they really meant it, because that's kind of a bad thing to do.
Friend: But us?
Me: We've just stolen it and you hope we mean it, haha.
Friend: But that's the thing. What could we possibly use as ethos collateral?
Me: I don't think anything compares to an eternity of hellfire and doom, by definition. I think we're stuck to using it in the metaphorical sense.
Friend: Eh.
Me: I mean, you could theoretically pick something like "I swear on my child's life," but that still implies you think some hocus pocus will cause your child to be unhealthy if you're actually lying.
Friend: Right.
Me: Swearing on something automatically involves the supernatural. I mean, what sort of rational things do you want? "I will take a lie detector test." "Bring on the DNA testing."
Friend: I mean, we don't necessarily have to go to that extreme. Perhaps we could build up a system of ethos points. Like, "I'll wager 30 ethos points that I didn't play the Sims." The higher the number of points, the more vehement you are about it.
Me: Well that just seems arbitrary... And you know people would abuse it... "I'll wager SEVENTY BILLION TIMES INFINITY ETHOS POINTS that I didn't eat that last brownie!"
Friend: Point. Hmm... Well, religious people do that too... What if every person gets an ethos chip. Metaphorically, of course. "I'd wager my ethos chip." That way it can almost be tangible.
Me: Haha, I think now you're just being silly.
Friend: I disagree. I like the idea. =D
Me: Well, how is that different than betting? Like, "I bet you 20 bucks I'm right," and just holding the person to it in the end. "I bet you a billion dollars I'm telling the truth!" wouldn't come up that often.
Friend: This has a more family friendly feel to it. None of this gamesmanship stuff. =P
Me: Well, what if you lose all your ethos chips on a big lie, then can you never back up anything again until you catch someone else in a lie? A limited amount of ethos chips doesn't make sense.
Friend: Again, this is a metaphorical thing. It's not like people actually go to hell for swearing to god and getting caught in a lie. I figured referring it to an ethos chip would give it a higher level of perceived tangibility and, thereby, be more likely to be accepted.
Me: But to religious people it's not metaphorical, it's a very real consequence. If you want something on par with that, you should start chopping off fingers for big lies. That's a tangible deterrent. =P

Then I had to go to bed, and we never really came to a conclusion. So what do you think? Is there some sort of assertion of veracity an atheist can make that is equivalent to swearing to god? Does it even matter since religious people abuse the phrase "I swear to god" anyway?


  1. The Skeptics mailing list I'm on use "the Random Quanta" in place of dieties.

  2. I think this phrase has zero merit to begin with. Even if you believe in God, swearing to him won't do any good, since he already knows if you actually did or not. So whether or not your friend believes you really makes no difference.

  3. I actually really like the ethos chip idea. The notion might be that we don't lose very much credibility if we're known to tell ordinary lies, but if we tell ethos chip lies, then we lose lots and lots of credibility. And that's a real sanction -- if people totally disbelieve everything that ethos chip liars say.

  4. I've been finding myself saying things like "Jesus christ!", "For the love of god" and "Sweet Jesus" (often I'll replace that one with "Sweet Judas", though, because I am a huge Judas, really. Jesus Christ Superstar FTW!), lately? I think of them as curses more than anything because they're purposefully done (kind of like say "Holy cow" rather than "Holy shit"...though most people don't think about where that's from).

    Saying "I swear to god" is on that same level of blasphemy to me. And blasphemy is a victimless crime, after all. :D

  5. I have found if you don't know what to say, saying "your mom" always works. I swear to your mom.

  6. How credible is the oath to god when one can repent (after benefitting from the lie) and be forgiven ?

  7. God not existing, and under the assumption that if he did exist he'd follow his own laws (bein' all powerful and all), we become our own Gods by following our own ethical laws. So, by stating "I swear to God", you're really just affirming that you're an honest person. ;)

  8. I tend toward "Sweet Zombie/Monkey Jesus", and "Oh your god!" But that's because I'm the sort of tool to watch Futurama over and over again.

    When swearing, I do it "By the dark gods" or "By the Lady", but that's mostly for my own reasons of being a dork.

    I have a friend who shouts "FOR CHAOS!" instead of those, because he's a dork, too.

    Otherwise, I just make literature references.

  9. Swearing is bad :( but you can swear to god if you like, he doesn't mind, he never listens anyway

  10. "I swear on my honor", i.e: I put my future credibility at stake with this one. This is what it's all about, right?

  11. I was looking how to say I swear to... in English and found this website. I've thought about this subject too as I'm an atheist as well. When I say "oh my god" or simply "i swear", people (that believe in God) says "hey! if you don't believe in God, how you swear and say oh my god?", well... I agree with your friend it's just a phrase, that we use cos it's of "daily or regular use". Instead of saying I swear we could say "I really mean it!". But I suppose there are certain words you can't replace, for example we have a word in spanish "ojala" that means maybe, but this word was taken from the arabian and in arabian it means "if god wants", and as far as I know there is no other word to replace it in Spanish. And I think it's an interesting view to say that people for getting more credibility they have to swear to God ,and by doing that they state that there is a "superior being". Anyway I rarely swear, my word is enough! :P.