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If I swear, I swear on my honor. That is pretty much enough for me. Call me a Boy Scout, if you will.

Well, I'm Agnostic, not Atheist, but I use two methods. When I'm expressing strong feeling, I simply say "swear," as in "I SWEAR I'll get the money to you tomorrow!" When I'm actually committing myself to a formal oath or course of action, I tell people that they "have my word on it."

To my way of thinking, in saying that they have my word, I'm actually saying that I'm staking on that oath that person's trust in me (and the trust of the other people who might find out that I'd broken my word). Of course, I do that every time I say I'll do something, but by giving my word I'm stating to the recipient of the oath that i'm aware of what's at stake.

No person can stake anything more on an oath. Those who are religious may swear to Whomever, but in most cases they believe Whomever can forgive any sin. Thus, they are not really swearing by anything additional. To be sure, a minority of the religious have a personal love of God and do not wish to upset Him, but those, by and large, do not make oaths on their religion as a matter of principle.

When I want to express how glad I am of a chance event or stroke of luck, I say that I "thank my lucky stars." To be sure, that expression has astrological roots, but it is not likely to be mistaken for that nearly as much as "thank goodness" is seen as a euphemism for thanking God.

This has little bearing on the point of zen baby's writeup, but I feel it has to be said: the vast majority of pagans utterly disdain blood magic, or consider it something very sacred and not to be undertaken nearly as lightly as most Christians might take swearing on the bible... even if they do mean to tell the truth. Even the disturbingly amoral Temple of Set disapproves, largely because anyone who draws energy from harming others is likely to be unstable and thus not optimally effective.

I would also suggest that anyone who swears on a holy book or icon, and does it sincerely, is really swearing by their honor. They are not necessarily attributing power to the object, but perhaps to the reverence and inner strength that their devotion inspires. They are linking their oath to a sign of their belief, as if to say that defiling their word would also defile their highest and most dear principles.
As ratbastid points out, usually simply speaking words is not considered utterly binding. For some people it is, because their highest principle is the sanctity of their words. For others, swearing on something holy or of great value is a way of affirming the importance of this utterance in particular.
In Israel most people are Jewish (by nationality). And this thing doesn't quite work out the way a person living in a Christian protestant country would expect.

Like most (all?) countries, you have to make certain statements with appropriate ceremony (not to mention pomp and circumstance). For instance, at the end of Basic Training in your military service, you swear allegiance to your country etc.; Knesset members swear compliance with the laws of the state.

I'm a secular Jew, which means I'm emphatically not religious. So I have no problems swearing, taking an oath, or whatever (God is not invoked in these matters!).

But a religious Jew cannot swear or take an oath, even if God is not involved. The thing is that He is always potentially involved (even if not explicitly mentioned). And you're not allowed to take His name in vain. Almost any oath could be in vain as far as He is concerned (Maybe He doesn't care about Knesset laws? Or maybe He would want you to be a pacificist? You just don't know!). So religious people don't swear or take oaths (and on Yom Kippur a special ceremony -- Kol Nidrei -- is held to free one of oaths mistakenly taken!).

Instead, religious people declare the appropriate statement; non-religious people swear it. The choice is open.

It might be a bit controversial, and in some parts of the country might even get you fined for contempt, but if you're male you could do it the way the Romans did it, before anybody used Bibles:

With your left hand, hold your testicles and swear on them.

Seriously, that's why it's called testimony.


I am told (not overly politely) that according to about.com's Latin etymology section, this is a legend. Duly noted, but pending further investigation I will take the word of my Latin teachers.

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