Monday, September 19, 2011

Conscience Obliges, It Doesn't Permit

A brief post today to answer a claim that heretical Catholics sometimes make when one questions their status as Catholics-in-good-standing. Namely, the plea of "conscience."

If you try to tell Catholics who dissent (or at least disobey) on matters like women's ordination, sexual morality, even stuff like fasting days and holy days of obligation...that, then, they aren't really being Catholic, the usual canard you'll hear is that their "conscience" excuses them. "My conscience doesn't see anything wrong with this, so it's allowed and you shouldn't try to stop me!"

However, I would point out that the nature of conscience is to oblige, not permit.

An example should prove this is true. On the one hand, let's say you have a Muslim or Jew who is faced with a pagan persecutor trying to force them to eat pork. If they refuse to do so, even in the face of martyrdom or whatever then, in my mind, you have a true hero of conscience (even if I disagree that there is actually anything wrong with eating pork.) Their conscience obliged them not to do something, and they didn't even in the face of intense pressure.

On the other hand, let's say you have a Christian or atheist or whatever who goes to Saudi Arabia and gets caught eating pork chops. "Hey, it's my conscience!" they claim. "I'm not Muslim, I don't believe there's anything wrong with it. You're violating my conscience by punishing me for eating pork."

This person is no hero of conscience. He's a whiny little bitch. True, his conscience may not forbid him from eating pork. But "not forbidding" is a long stretch from obligating, and just because your conscience doesn't forbid something...doesn't mean you have to do it.

In this case, the idea that there is some positive right to engage in eating pork just because your conscience doesn't forbid it...reveals the absurdity of a notion of conscience that invokes it for permission rather than obligation. That invokes it to lessen a burden on yourself as opposed to binding you to it.

If the Saudis want to ban pork because of cultural and religious reasons, they are free to do so, and this isn't "violating" anyone's "conscience" just because they have a taste for pork!! It would only be violating conscience if someone belonged to a religion where eating pork was somehow morally mandatory. A Christian would be simply a fool to flout this there, not a hero of conscience.

A Christian who refuses to worship an idol because their conscience obliges them not to, or who insists on attending Mass on Sunday because their conscience demands it even in the face of persecution...is a hero of conscience. A Christian who says, "My conscience lets me do this, so I'm going to, and you're violating my conscience if you try to make me stop!" has made a mockery of conscience and those who truly follow it.

Conscience is violated when someone tries to make you do something you feel you are obliged not to, or to stop you from doing something you feel you are obliged to do. It's not violating conscience to try to stop people from doing something they feel is merely allowed or permitted by their conscience (but not morally obligatory). And actually I think a lot of these people know that, deep down, and so they trump up all sorts of convoluted rhetoric for the purpose of convincing themselves that they are, in fact, not merely allowed to do what they want, but even positively obligated! This is how a conscience is killed.

Seeing the revoking of recognition of true Catholic status from those who dissent or disobey as some sort of "persecution" against their "conscience" is just about the most pathetic thing I've ever heard. Unless someone is convinced they're morally obliged to fornicate or ordain a woman or not go to Mass on Sunday...the idea that their conscience merely doesn't forbid these things for them should earn them no sympathy. They know the rules, they have no right to be recognized as a Catholic-in-good-standing, and invoking "conscience" in this absurd and self-indulgent manner doesn't change that.

Once again: it is the nature of conscience to oblige rather than permit. Pleading "conscience" is about what you feel you are morally required to do or not do, not merely what you don't particularly feel is forbidden. So, don't make a mockery of conscience, please.

1 comment:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

http://www.osservatoreromano.va/portal/dt?JSPTabContainer.setSelected=JSPTabContainer%2FDetail&last=false=&path=/news/cultura/2011/215q11-Dottore-della-coscienza.html&title=%20%20%20Teacher%20of%20Conscience%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&locale=en