On Conformity to the Truth

Book X, On the Power of the Memory, is one of the most philosophical books of Augustine’s Confessions. Some may ask why such a deep pondering of an intellectual power in a book confessing one’s love of God.  God made us different than all the animals by giving us an intellect.  It would be strange for Him to despise our use of the very thing that sets us apart from the animals and thereby makes us in His image and likeness, regardless of what the fideists might say.  Likewise, acceptance of the truth takes more than arriving at it through reason, and in (but not limited to) this, the rationalists fail.

“I have had experience of many who wished to deceive, but not one who wished to be deceived. Where, then, did they know this happy life, save where they knew also the truth? For they love it, too, since they would not be deceived.” (Confessions, Book X, Ch. 23)

And a few lines later:

“Why, then, does truth beget hatred and that man of yours, preaching the truth become an enemy unto them, whereas a happy life is loved, which is naught else but joy in the truth; unless that truth is loved in such a sort as that those who love anything else wish that to be the truth which they love, and, as they are willing to be deceived, are unwilling to be convinced that they are so? Therefore do they hate the truth for the sake of that thing which they love instead of the truth.”

There is a strong correlation here between Augustine’s eventual idea of man’s seeking of the good and never evil for its own sake and man being lost in untruths and thereby rejecting the truth, or rather, Truth. We all have a tendency to fall into worship of “goods” rather than the Good. Likewise, we all have a tendency to, while ultimately seeking truth, stick with the “comfortable truth” we already know.

Again, we wish to build God in our own image, that is, believe in the god we imagine instead of conforming to the one that actually exists. In the Unity of Philosophical Experience, Etienne Gilson, in his chapter beginning the period of the road to scepticism, says that:

“There is an ethical problem at the root of our philosophical difficulties; for men are most anxious to find the truth, but most reluctant to accept it. We do not like to be cornered by rational evidence, and even with truth is there, in its impersonal and commanding objectivity, our greatest difficulty still remains; it is for me to bow to it in spite of the fact that it is not exclusively mine…in short, finding out truth is not so hard; what is hard is not to run away from truth once we have found it.”

Many an enlightened moment is followed by a reversion to our old ways.  We have discovered the truth, being given an insight into it, but have decided, perhaps unwittingly, that it is just easier to go back to the world we knew before.

One of the most quotable men of the last century will have yet another post end with his wisdom:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried” – G. K. Chesterton


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