Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Time-Sharing a Conscience Won't Work

I ran into a blog post today that discussed, among other things, the distinction in American English, between "worship" and "practice" when it comes to religious beliefs. The blogger said - and I'm inclined to agree - that most Americans think of "worship" as something you do in church: a series of rituals and habits that we do because it's expected of us, or maybe because our parents did the same thing.

"Practicing" a religion, the blogger said, is what we do when we apply the principles we say we follow to everyday life.

"Worship" can be pretty empty, when we have a time-sharing arrangement with our conscience: one set of values that we say are important in church on Sunday, and another set in the "real" world.

Moral Conscience: Getting Beyond Jiminy Cricket

The talking cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio" came close to discussing the idea of original sin when he said, "A conscience is that still small voice that people won't listen to." There's a more detailed discussion of conscience in "Catechism of the Catholic Church." (1776-1802)

A few key ideas:
"Moral conscience,48 present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.49 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

"Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:
"Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise. . . . [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.50
"It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:
Return to your conscience, question it. . . . Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.51"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1777-1779)

One Conscience for Church, Another for your Job?

Something I didn't find in that section of the Catechism was the idea that a conscience was like a lodge hat: to be worn in church and a few other special, private, occasions; but not out in public.

There have been times and places when the 'proper people' were highly regarded because they supported God's laws. In word, if not in deed. (Luke 20:46-47) Today's America isn't one of those times and places.

These days, the 'proper' folks are most often those who are 'open minded' and 'tolerant.' Which generally means that their views are a reasonably good match with current liberal political fashions. There are other subcultures where folks assume that to be conservative is to be Godly. I've discussed this before. (" 'Cafeteria Catholics' and a Diverse Church" (June 8, 2009), "Conservative? Liberal? Democrat? Republican? No, I'm Catholic" (November 3, 2008))

I suppose I should be glad that this country values religious affiliation enough to make church attendance a sort of job requirement for many politicians.

I'd be happier, though, if more folks let commands like 'love God, love your neighbor' (Mark 12:28-31) affect what they do on the job and at home.

Conscience? Catholics Have - You Guessed it - Rules

Toward the end of that section on moral conscience, the Catechism gives a sort of 'basic set' of rules:
"Some rules apply in every case:
  • "One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
  • "the Golden Rule: 'Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.'56
  • "charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: 'Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.57 Therefore 'it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.'58"
(Catechism, 1789)

Moral Conscience is Something You Do

I grew up in America, so I'm familiar with the notion that one's conscience mostly tells people to not do things. There are some 'thou shalt nots.' What I've seen, though, is a whole lot of 'thou shalts.' It's that Golden Rule thing. (Matthew 7:12)

And, as far as I've been able to tell, it's not enough to say that you love God and love your neighbor in church. We're expected to take that 'church' conscience with us and use it at home and on the job.

Somewhat-related posts:More:
A tip of the hat to MatthewWarner, on Twitter, for the heads-up on his blog post.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.