We know, in a general sense, what “false” means. It’s the wrong answer on a “true or false” test; it’s saying 2+2=5; it’s saying that the sky is green and the clouds are orange.
That simplicity, however, comes from applying the idea of “truth” to simple, concrete facts. It gets much trickier when we try to apply the idea to the things we love and feel.
Consider, for instance, the idea that “you’ve got to look out for yourself, because no one else is going to.” Is that true- It feels true in a way, and seems to apply to a lot of real-world situations. To some degree, no matter how high-minded we might be, we have to take care of ourselves if we’re going to be any good to anyone else. But if we take that idea and make it central to our lives, will it help us be loving people- Or will it encourage selfishness, which is pretty strong in most of us anyway- Clearly the answer is the latter.
Swedenborg would label that a “falsity,” because it is ultimately a description of how to be selfish. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” would, by contrast, be labeled a “truth” because it is a description of how to be caring and kind. Basically, statements describing or springing from love of the Lord and love of the neighbor are “truth” and those springing from love of self or love of worldly things are “falsity.”
You might wonder why that is. The fact that “look out for yourself” is selfish doesn’t make it necessarily untrue; it’s a selfish world! But in Swedenborg’s theology, the universe and reality itself are direct products of the Lord’s infinite love, and are thus ultimately expressions of love. The only reason selfishness exists is that the Lord created us with freedom, which includes the ability we have to reject His love and turn it toward ourselves instead. The Lord’s every intention and purpose is to get us turn away from ourselves and toward Him; if we do that, reality can fulfill its loving purpose.
True reality, then, is completely loving, and expressions that reflect and support that loving nature are “true” – they are aligned with reality in its purest, greatest and intended form. Statements that reject and deny that loving nature are “false” because they are contrary to reality’s true form.
But there’s an argument: Couldn’t someone use the idea that “you’ve got to look out for yourself, because no one else is going to” to become strong and self-reliant, in a better position to help others, and use it to be a better person- Yes, they could ᾢ ideas that are essentially false can at times be used for good purposes. In a broad application, religious systems can have false ideas about the Lord, but still lead people to good lives and ultimately to heaven. On the flip side, ideas that are essentially true can be used for evil purposes (“love thy neighbor” could prompt giving aid to someone engaged in evil, for instance). “Truth” only becomes truly real when it is married to the desire for good; “falsity” only becomes truly real when it is married to the desire for evil.