This is reposted from Pastor Todd's time in seminary.
I’m reading through Augustine’s take on lying for a seminary class. So far, I’ve concluded that he’s pretty much against it. It’s a tough read on a couple of different levels, as a piece of literature it features long sentences and obscure pronoun referents. It also seems that he uses reductio ad absurdum, where an argument is reduced to the absurd, without a really clear explanation to bring it home. On another level, it causes you to really think through how you view integrity.
In our world, public figures offer explanations and caveats for controversial statements and we consider this a normal course of events. When a crime occurs in our neighborhoods, nobody sees anything to help the police catch the criminal. In Augustine’s thought, and in our own minds, these events raise the question of the speaker’s integrity. Since we cannot see the heart, we must rely on someone’s words to truly represent his thinking on a matter. When the words and the heart do not match, the person is lying. There’s a difference, however, between a person who loves the truth but tells a lie and the true liar who speaks falsehood for the love of lying.
I wonder what happens to the world when the liars outweigh honest people? In Augustine’s thought the liar was sent to Hell and the true follower of God should rather forfeit bodily comfort and even suffer death rather than lie. What a contrast to our world of political spin and intentional ignorance! We should be able to assume truth and be shocked at a lie, we often must assume untruth and look for verification. Wouldn’t it be great if a liar’s pants really did catch fire?