“Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

My guess would be that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard that familiar courtroom question (or something very similar) preceding the usual “I do” (with a very—emphasis on very—short space of time in-between).

Another guess of mine would be that the person who said “I do” in response to that question probably committed perjury (minus the indictment part) by the end of the questioning.

Can you guess why?

If you were to respond to me with: “I have no idea what you’re talking about”, my mind might quickly place you in a not-that-honest category (as well as a not-very-polite category). If you can see what I mean, then it would seem as though you’re closer to correctly guessing.

Let me ask you another one:

Have you ever tried to be completely honest and factual, without telling any lies or speaking any mistruths, for one entire day of your life? That knowing look may have just come across your face as though to say, “Yeah, and it’s not easy…”

If you have that experience, then compare that to a courtroom scenario where you, a key witness in a very serious, high-profile case, are subjected to a prolonged period of intense questioning and examination by an attorney trying to find fault with your account of the events. In which case would it likely be harder to be completely honest and factual—normal day or courtroom interrogation?

Suppose that during such a courtroom event you did manage to be completely honest. How sure would you be that everything you said was completely factual?—believing you’re telling the truth and actually telling the truth is not always the same thing. What would the chances be that at least some of the things you said were partly the factually flawed products of a distorted memory, an incorrect source, bad teaching or an incorrect supposition treated and adopted as though fact in your mind—then not everything you said would be the whole truth and nothing but the truth, would it?

You don’t know, would you say? It’s true that this is an imaginary court case where lots of details are missing, such as what exactly the court case would be about—those would be important details—but remember, they’d make you swear before they started asking you the questions. Pick a topic: if someone were to ask you a bunch of questions on that topic, would you be ready to answer all of those questions completely factually (and bear in mind that in a court case scenario, the main topic may not be your favourite hobby)?

Personally, as a very serious Christian who tries not to lie or practise dishonesty, I’d tell you from my own experience that it can be very difficult to be completely factual all the time. As a human being whose own understanding is limited, it can be hard to tell whether or not some of the things I say are factually impaired.

If you look at yourself, think back to when you were in school, college or university. How often did you get 100% on all your tests (and there’s silence on my side…)? Even if you averaged 95%, that might raise a few eyebrows, but there’s still that 5%… That’s not to say all the learning material was necessarily factually correct… but you probably didn’t remember all of the relevant study material as it was.

Think you’d do much better in a stressful, high-risk, public courtroom scenario “test”? Is this the time to ask how you think you’d do standing up in front of a crowd to do public speaking? Am I loud and clear at this point…?

Or is this the time for some change in many a courtroom tradition?

Let this not be an occasion to disrespect the relevant world’s courtrooms, but one should be able to point out something that needs changing from time to time, would you agree?