Augustine on Why People Hate the Truth

Augustine wrote something striking on truth in Book 10 of his confessions.  Following the new Sarah Rudin translation, it reads:

It must be that truth is loved in such a way that whatever else people love, they want this thing to be the truth; and because they wouldn’t want to be deceived, they don’t want it proved that they have been deceived.

That means they hate the truth for the sake of that thing they love in place of truth.  They love the truth when it lights up a thing, but hate the truth when it refutes a thing.  Because they don’t want to be deceived but want to deceive, they love the truth when it discloses itself but hate it when it discloses them.  For this reason, the truth will give them their due, forcibly revealing all those unwilling to be revealed, but not itself being revealed to them. (Confessions 10.34 [Rubin, p. 310]; emphasis original to Rubin).

People at first seem to love the truth.  They hold the truth in such a high regard that they want everything they hold dear – or love – to be true.  But unfortunately – as humans – we are often wrong.  There is nothing wrong with being wrong if when, we are shown evidence or arguments that we are wrong, we acknowledge being wrong and, thereby, move towards truth.  An example in Augustine’s life was that he briefly joined an ancient religious group called Manicheans.  He, however, started noting how their astrological beliefs contradicted what could be demonstrated through observation and mathematical calculation (e.g., eclipses, etc.).  By showing themselves not only ignorant of “natural philosophy” (that is, what we would call science), but directly opposing it, they dug deeper into falsehood while claiming the truth.

But people don’t like being told they are wrong.  They, therefore, instead discarding their wrong ideas, hold tightly to them, loving their wrong ideas more than they love truth; therefore, they will hold things that are untrue as true.  They don’t want to think they have been deceived, as Augustine was reluctant to admit – though he eventually did admit it – yet we all recognize or jump quickly at thinking others have been deceived.  Amazing how everyone else is liable to deception….  People, therefore, do not love the truth; they love being right to the point of digging in deeper when they are wrong.  Perhaps all of this is very obvious – it is easy to think of examples, you know, from other people.  One fascinating element of Augustine’s Confessions is that he shows you when he was wrong and changed his mind – several times over.


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