Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) was a Roman citizen born in Africa. He wrote – Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. This statement of Saint Augustine’s is a foundation stone of the Medieval Christian rationalization for its religious zealotry. I have disliked the hypocrisy of that statement for years. I much prefer Jesus’ foundation statement, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (King James Version) and what should they do? Help others to live and live more abundantly. That I can wholeheartedly support.
Jesus’ statement is honest and helpful to all living men, and even all living things, but Augustine’s is founded on the purest of fantasy, and immediately precipitates lies on every dimension by those who would seek to manipulate their public. Why would a rational being choose to believe anything for which he has no proof of its existence? The test of existence offered by Augustine is that you can then see what you believe. That of course launches the individual, or the authorities, into dreaming up the purest of idealized worlds into which may be launched absurd self-aggrandizements – such as resurrection from the grave, eternal life after death, eternal heaven for obeying recommended behavior and eternal punishment for questioning such recommending authorities’ statements. Those fantastic speculations are an absolute rejection of Jesus’ statement. Help others to live and live more abundantly.
Below is a long quote from Augustine’s subtle essay – On Lying (p. 382-426):
This from p.383-44 Even truth thought false by the sayer is a lie.
“For which purpose we must see what a lie is. For not every one who says a false thing lies, if he believes or opines that to be true which he says. Now between believing and opining there is this difference, that sometimes he who believes feels that he does not know that which he believes, (although he may know himself to be ignorant of a thing, and yet have no doubt at all concerning it, if he most firmly believes it:) whereas he who opines, thinks he knows that which he does not know. Now whoever utters that which he holds in his mind either as belief or as opinion, even thought it be false, he lies not. For this he owes to the faith of his utterance, that he thereby produce that which he holds in his mind, and has in that way in which he produces it. Not that he is without fault, although he lie not, if either he believes what he ought not to believe, or thinks he knows what he knows not, even though it should be true: for he accounts an unknown thing for a known. Wherefore, that man lies, who has one thing in his mind and utters another in words, or by signs of whatever kind. Whence also the heart of him who lies is said to be double; that is, there is a double thought: the one, of that thing which he either knows or thinks to be true and does not produce; the other, of that thing which he produces instead thereof, knowing or thinking it to be false. Whence it comes to pass, that he may say a false thing and yet not lie, if he thinks it to be so as he says although it be not so; and, that he may say a true thing, and yet lie, if he thinks it to be false and utters it for true, although in reality it be so as he utters it. For from the sense of his own mind, not from the verity or falsity of the things themselves, is he to be judged to lie or not to lie. Therefore he who utters a false thing for a true, which however he opines to be true, may be called erring and rash: but he is not rightly said to lie; because he has not a double heart when he utters it, neither does he wish to deceive, but is deceived. But the fault of him who lies, is, the desire of deceiving in the uttering of his mind; whether he do deceive, in that he is believed when uttering the false thing; or whether he do not deceive, either in that he is not believed, or in that he utters a true thing with will to deceive, which he does not think to be true: wherein being believed, he does not deceive thought it was his will to deceive: except that he deceives in so far as he is thought to know or think as he utters.”
This long quotation demonstrates that this is not cherry picking ideas to prove a point. Augustine is not being misquoted when he asserts: Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. After you read this long and subtle argument about what a lie consists of, there is little question that his famous contention was a carefully honed idea. It has been used for some 1600 years to justify fantastic mental constructs as being worthy of belief, and has forced the submission of billions of people to lives of needless guilt and pain.
Having read this mild challenge to Augustine read Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen. He makes a good case for belief, but in the end it is dependent on belief in the unseen.