Berdyaev, On the Social Use of Falsehood

[Image: Freepik]
[Image: Freepik]

“Be steadfast in your thoughts;
Consistent be your words.
Be swift to hear,
But slow to answer. (…)
Be not called two-faced;
Use not your tongue for calumny.” [1]

Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev (1874-1948) made a careful examination of modern ways of self-delusion, collective and individual.

According to him, in many a situation to lie is considered correct and even mandatory. Telling the truth is often undesirable and perhaps unacceptable in social life. While referring to various sects of Christianity, Berdyaev wrote in his book “The Destiny of Man”:

“A Catholic has to speak of Luther in a certain way, although it is against his conscience and his own free judgment; and he is not even aware of this, for his conscience is socially organized and completely permeated with the conventionally useful lies. Exactly the same must be said about the Protestants, the Orthodox and people of other denominations. An incredible amount of falsity has accumulated in all denominational histories of Christianity, systematically distorting the historical truth. The whole of Roman Catholic account of Papacy is based upon conventional lies and falsification which serve to create the myth of Papalism.[2] There is a conventional social falsity in the judgments of the Orthodox about the separation of the Churches, of the Protestants about the Reformation, and so on, and so on.”[3]

Berdyaev is pointing to a problem that happens in many an aspect of life, ancient and modern. It is easy to find recent examples of conventional falsity. The modern esoteric movement is not free from it. In the present century, the agenda of the theosophical effort includes getting rid of various well-meaning frauds. While such is the situation in the spiritual movement in general, the scientific activities in our civilization should also be examined.

Berdyaev says:

“Science tries to free itself from conventional lies and preconceived ideas whether they be religious, philosophical, social or national; it seeks for pure, unadorned truth, however bitter truth might be. Such is the great task of science. But what an amount of falsity accumulates round science! A new denomination of Scientism has been created and the greatest values are sacrificed to the new idol. Men of science struggling against faith, against Christianity, against God, imagining that in doing so they serve truth and justice.” [4]

Berdyaev adds on the same page:

“The freedom of scientific thought degenerates into freethinking, i.e. into a new kind of dogmatism. And this new dogmatism makes use of conventional lies for its own purposes. Academicians, professors, scientists are certainly not the type of men free from preconceived ideas and conventional falsity which is widely used by socially organized science. Scientists stand in superstitious awe of science and frequently prove to be its slaves and not its masters. Their judgments do not spring from a free and clear source. There is a conventional public opinion in the world of science, very tyrannical and destructive of the freedom of judgment.”

The process of conventional falsity takes place in science, religion and the theosophical movement. The original teachings of esoteric philosophy enable their students to gradually see through the various layers of delusion. What about modern nations, social classes or political parties?

For many centuries the Jews have been systematically hated for their nationality and for their religion. More recently antisemitism decided to concentrate its efforts in often disguised attacks against the State of Israel. Another example: the Western Lords of War, among them Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, taught the West to automatically hate all things Russian, in spite of the fact that the natural feeling between East and West has long been mutual friendship, which leads to mutual help.

A politically correct, mandatory distortion of facts has been used against other nations. The mechanism is active in many different aspects of life as well. Brain-washing propaganda campaigns are part of our daily life. In the absence of a sincere love for truth, even the laws and the judicial system can be astutely used as weapons in order to boycott the legitimate results of democratic elections.

Berdyaev limits himself to state the facts:

“The conventional falsity of judgments passed by people of one nationality upon those of another or by members of one class upon those of a different class is known only too well. That falsity has been accumulating in the national and class consciousness for centuries and has come to be regarded as good and true. There is no need to point out that almost the whole of politics and the relations between political parties are based on falsity. The same must be said of judgments inspired by a definite school of thought. Marxists, idealists, positivists, Thomists, Tolstoyans, theosophists, all are influenced by conventional lies of their own in judging about other trends of thought; they have no pure, free perception and judgment.” [5]

The danger is similar in every situation:

“The same must be said of tendencies in art and literature – classicism and romanticism, realism and symbolism. In aesthetic valuations snobbishness plays a simply incredible part. An aesthete is a creature devoid of all freedom of perception and judgment. A school of art creates conventional falsity of its own. An overwhelming amount of conventional falsity is accumulated in the family, the nation, the state, the church, in history, morality, art and science. They all have a conventional rhetoric which is false and means severance from the original sources of being. People have managed to convert the Christian revelation itself into conventional rhetoric, thus throwing doubt upon its truth.”

The wisdom present in Christian Scriptures is forgotten when people repeat their dead letter making no real effort to live up to them. As to short term organized consensus, Berdyaev writes:

“So-called ‘public opinion’ is based upon conventional falsity and uses lies as a means to impose itself on people. Every social fashion is a conventional lie.” [6]

There can be no search for truth if one is not willing to reject mistakes. And that demands willpower.

According to esoteric philosophy, the source of lucidity is in one’s own spiritual soul. Universal truth transcends all biased views of reality. Maya, or illusion, belongs to the animal soul in man: the search for truth is inspired by his spiritual self. However, personal attacks should be avoided. Ill-will promotes spiritual ignorance. Ben Sira, the Jewish sage, warns us:

“Say nothing harmful, small or great,
Be not a foe instead of a friend”. [7]


[1] From the book “The Wisdom of Ben Sira” (also known as “Ecclesiasticus” and “Sirach”), 5:10-11 and 5:14, on p. 180 of the edition published by Yale University Press, New Haven & London (The Anchor Yale Bible), 2010, 620 pages.

[2] Note by Berdyaev: “I’m far from wishing to minimize the enormous significance of Papalism for the history of Western Christianity”.

[3] “The Destiny of Man”, Nicolas Berdyaev, Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1960, 310 pp., see page 162. (CCA)

[4] “The Destiny of Man”, Nicolas Berdyaev, 1960, p. 162.  (CCA)

[5] “The Destiny of Man”, Nicolas Berdyaev, pp. 162-163.

[6] “The Destiny of Man”, Nicolas Berdyaev, 1960, p. 163.  (CCA)

[7] “The Wisdom of Ben Sira”, op. cit., 5:15, on p. 180 of the edition published by Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2010.

Read more:

* The Fourfold Placenta.

* The World War in Our Minds.

* Awakening from the Opium Wars.

* Christianity and Anti-Semitism, a book by Nicolas Berdyaev.


About the Author
Born in Brazil in 1952, Carlos Cardoso Aveline is a journalist by profession and author of the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”. He has other works published on esoteric philosophy and ecology. The editor of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, Cardoso Aveline thinks Judaism, Jewish philosophy and Israel have important roles to play in the ethical rebirth the world needs in the present century. He lives in Portugal and directs the Library and Research Center of the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose associated websites include and www.HelenaBlavatsky.Org .
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