Polygraphs and Monotheism: More Complex Than Expected

I am a Christian.

That’s more or less exactly how I began a blog post way back in 2013, when I attempted to combat a very prevalent and largely Christian argument against gay marriage. While it’s rarely ever stated as explicitly I also like to think that this fact isn’t something I’ve obscured or tried to keep secret.

On that note, the topic of Christianity also isn’t anything new here at Culture War Reporters. While the majority of these posts have focused on art that willingly bears that descriptor, my co-writers have also delved a little deeper into that belief system and morality. While the former may seem more at home given what we typically cover, a review of our About page readily sums up why the latter is just as appropriate as anything else.

In it we touch on culture wars as a “a conflict between societies with different ideas, philosophies, beliefs, and behaviours,” as well as how we are both individually and collectively wrestling with them. It’s the concept of two vastly differing perspectives that solidified whether or not I should do a brief write-up on my recent experience with a polygraph test.

Now to start with, this is not a Culture War Report, those features in which we’ve shared our firsthand experiences with everything from professional video game tournaments to the opera. The reason for that being that it involves an ongoing criminal investigation. That said I will not be going into any specifics, instead doing my best to paint the clearest picture with the broadest strokes possible.

The line I opened up this post with is also something that I told the detective during the preliminary discussion, though not in so many words. That conversation was ostensibly for the purposes of establishing my personal moral compass and relationship with rules and the law, and I appeared to have gained their approval once it had wrapped up.

In preparation for the actual test itself it was revealed that, in addition to being asked about the specific incident that had occurred, there would also be what were dubbed “safety valve questions”. It was explained to me that these are meant to help the person being tested to focus. To provide an example, let’s say that a person was suspected of negligence that led to something valuable being broken or stolen. There’s the chance that having heard the words “have you ever neglected” they might immediately fixate on a past event, not hearing the proceeding line of questioning and failing that portion of the test.

[At this point I should probably mention that I’m acutely aware of how unreliable polygraphs have been in circumstances much more serious than my own.]

To get right to the point, one of the safety valve questions asked of me was if I had ever lied to anyone, with the other two along similar lines. Upon being asked my mind started racing wildly, and I had to inform the detective that, yes, I had in the past. After talking through that instance the question was reworked, now being framed with the addition of, “with the exception of what we’ve already discussed”.

What ended up happening was that every one of the three had to have added stipulations, and with each one the detective expressed surprise, which was swiftly followed up by barely concealed disappointment. He hadn’t expected me to have any issues with them, appearing to believe that I could firmly state that I was generally free of wrongdoing.

Even with those conditions in place the polygraph still revealed that my answers to those questions were shaky at best. Although I tried to keep my mind clear I couldn’t help but focus on all of the incidents that I hadn’t disclosed, that I did feel some guilt about. Ultimately I was able to truthfully answer the queries that really mattered, but it was clear to me that the officer was less than pleased by the route to get there.

As I was being walked back down I wanted so badly to explain that as a Christian person my relationship with wrongdoing, or “sin” if we want to use that terminology, was a far cry from what he appeared to believe. I wouldn’t say it’s on the same level as the oft-referenced “Catholic guilt”, but the crux of my faith is that we’ve all done it. At the risk of getting all exegetical on our readers, this sums it up pretty nicely:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

– Romans 3:23, New International Version

Again, this isn’t to say that all Christians go through life with the knowledge of their shortcomings hanging over their heads. Part of the point is that these sins have been forgiven and forgotten. That being said, there’s still an awareness that rules have been broken and likely will be again, though not with the mindset that this is an everyday continual practice.

The point I’m trying to make is that a view of Christians as do-gooders who don’t consider their mistakes is one-dimensional at best, and the same can be said about the idea that all are racked with, and burdened down by, guilt. When asking a self-professed believer about their past with rules and regulations the expected response should have nuance, which in essence is what the culture wars are in the most need of.

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