This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (January 13, 2019)

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavior Economics at Duke University. He wrote the book, “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.”

Ariely made this interesting finding:

…[S]imply being reminded of moral codes has a significant effect on how we view our own behavior. … Inspired by the thought, my colleagues and I ran an experiment at the University of California, Los Angeles. We took a group of 450 participants, split them into two groups and set them loose on our usual matrix task. We asked half of them to recall the Ten Commandments and the other half to recall 10 books that they had read in high school. Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating. But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever. We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools’ honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result. We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again.

When I read this, my many years practicing law made me think of witnesses being “sworn in” before testifying. The witness takes and oath to tell the truth. In Pennsylvania we have a particularly powerful oath. I have probably heard it a couple thousand times.

“You do swear by Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts, that the evidence you shall give this court and Jury in this issue now being tried shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and as you shall answer to God on the last great day.”

Gabrielle Banks wrote an excellent article on testimonial oaths in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 10, 2006 and noted that North Carolina has witnesses are required to “appeal to God, as a witness of truth and avenger of all falsehood.”

There is little doubt that for those of us who believe in Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts who is a witness of truth and avenger of all falsehood, and who we shall answer to … on the last great day, taking such an oath encourages truthful testimony!

But even if someone is not a person of faith, promising to tell the truth has an effect on what that person says immediately thereafter. As Bank’s article reported:

Going beyond the more succinct Hollywood version of swearing “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” has an effect on the oath-taker, said tipstaff Patrick Boyle, who regularly swears in witnesses before Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Durkin. “It may make witnesses think before they go up there, ‘Hey, maybe I should tell the truth.'”

Promising to tell the truth seems to work.

Which brings us back to Ariely’s observation:

…[S]imply being reminded of moral codes has a significant effect on how we view our own behavior.

This week Pastor Jeff will finish his series on the Ten Commandments by connecting the last five to each other and by connecting them to the first five. Come and hear about it at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Honor Code” based on Exodus 20: 1; 14-17. We will look forward to seeing you!

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