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Med Hypotheses. 2010 Mar;74(3):422-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.035. Epub 2010 Jan 6.

Oath-taking: a divine prescription for health-related behaviour change?

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  • 1Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. s.buetow@auckland.ac.nz


Approaches to personal behaviour change include contractual and negotiation models. This paper elaborates these partnership models by linking a religious act to desired behaviour change beyond narrow and specific domains, such as promotion of sexual abstinence. It discusses the hypothesis that oath-taking can facilitate positive, health-related behaviour change in human individuals. The change must be desired by these individuals when they nevertheless feel conflicted in their motives, and believe in a divine presence to which they can oath-take. In support of this meta-hypothesis of the effectiveness of oath-taking to a hypothetical divinity, we first describe the nature of oaths and oath-taking, including legitimacy and satisfaction conditions, and then postulate how ten interrelated sets of mechanisms can be expected to facilitate oath-keeping. We playfully and heuristically express these mechanisms as 'ten commandments'. Constituting a divine prescription for health-related change, the mechanisms require oath-takers to: believe in the oath, recognise oath-taking as an established and legitimate social behaviour, crystallise the content of the oath, declare the oath aloud, oath-take privately if they prefer, commit to relationships that support oath-taking, replace their relationship with the unwanted behaviour, sanctify the divine presence, honour obligations produced by the oath-taking, and fear oath-breaking. Limitations of oath-taking are then considered as are some of the implications of our arguments.

Copyright (c) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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