Sunday, December 23, 2007

the "true lie"

The more I read and consider, the more I understand how important ontology really is.
I only mean that in the soul, to be false and to be deceived and ignorant about what is real, and to have and keep the falsehood in the soul--no one would ever accept such a thing... But surely this could most rightly be called the true lie, as I called it just now, this ignorance in the soul, the ignorance of one deceived; since the lie in words is an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later, an image, not the pure lie. Is not that so?

The Republic
, 382A-B

Voegelin calls this "true lie" the "'arch-lie', of misconception about the gods." Indeed, Socrates, when speaking these words, is in the midst of an attack on the poets who would speak lies about the gods, bad theology. He then equates it here with the "falsehood in the soul".
Socrates's further-observation of the lie in words as "an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later" brings to mind all sorts of scripture, from the Fall, to "the heart of man reflects the man", to Christ's teachings on sin's actuality in the heart, before it has become physically manifested(Matt 5).

I recall that Wright once complained of Lewis's theology(as expounded in Mere Christianity) having been too Platonic. I will, then, try to be mindful of such a pit-fall--for the Lord Bishop apparently sees it as such--yet I will move forward a bit here, because I am amazed at the conjoints of truth as it is put forth from different quarters. Plato here seems to be confirming many thoughts that I've had in the last several months about truth, sin, and idolatry. [see also my recent post on Charles Williams and Hell]

The "true lie", the lie about the gods, is here described as before and the model for all spoken lies. Now Exodus 20 seems to offer us a definition of sorts for idolatry: bowing down to or serving a carved image, or any likeness, made for yourself, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Christ seems offer an addendum to this conception when teaching on "serving two masters". While money may not seem, just from the commandment, an obvious idol to avoid, Jesus makes clear that it is indeed, with His talk of "service".
Now in this second commandment there are three actions that the LORD deplores: 1) making the idol; 2) bowing to it; 3) serving it. Why these three? I see one common thread: all three actions offer the idol something that only God should hold: actuality, worship, and service. By making the idol you give being to a 'god' that otherwise has no existence, and you take away from God His place as the only God. Worship and service, likewise, are due only to God, and in offering them to the idol you give to it what rightly belongs only to Him. In other words, consciously or not, you are redefining God's nature to compliment the god you have fashioned. He is no longer the only God; He no longer alone deserves praise and service. Idolatry then can be called, simply, lies about God--the "true lie" that Plato is speaking of, "to be false and to be deceived and ignorant about what is real, and to have and keep the falsehood in the soul".

I see the relationships between all other sins and idolatry as analogous to that Plato sees between the true lie and other lies: "the lie in words is an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later, an image, not the pure lie."
The other sins that are decried throughout scripture seem to be services rendered to something other than God--an imitation of idolatry. Consider the fruit of the Spirit versus the works of the flesh, "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." The works of the flesh evidence service to the self, as opposed to the fruit of the Spirit as the natural bounty of service to God. The final six commandments in Exodus, those concerning more directly the actions of man, all seem to fit into this idea that sin is 'lies about God', idolatry, with the idol here being the self, the flesh. Considering that God is Truth(John 14:6), this also adds depth to such statements as Revelation's affirmation that outside the City will be "the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood(Rev 22:15).

In my mind this goes hand in hand with the concept that evil is not a creating force, but rather only ever perverts things, i.e. changes them from their true form in relation to God. As Screwtape admitted, "all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one [pleasure]. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden." But all this I explore more thoroughly in the afore-linked post.

We are brought from here back to ontology when we see that this sort of perversion is precisely what the adversary seeks to cultivate in us. It brings to mind St. Bonaventure's description of Adam, "turning away from the true light to a changeable good, he and all his descendants were by his fault bent over by original sin". Bent over, where all of one's attention is directed at oneself, rather than at the "true light" of God. It is this perversion of human nature, our right ontology, that our LORD began to attend to with Noah, and is now rectifying through His new creation, the redemptive work of Christ.
We must be mindful of the psalmist's warning:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do no speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and the do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them'
so do all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:4-8

If we continue on in our perverted nature, paying homage to false gods, then we too become beings who "have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see."

Against all of this we must develop right ideas of ourselves and of God.

Know that the LORD, He is God!
It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!


As we come to know God, we can no longer make idols. For the "true lie" about God will be perfectly evident in the light of His presence, and any god we, in our sinfulness, could serve--including ourselves--will be equally well exposed there. As we come to know God, we'll understand that natural relation that we hold to Him, that relation that was lost in Eden and which Christ and the Holy Spirit seek to restore to us all, that we may no longer be "ignorant about what is real" and keeping "the falsehood in the soul".

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