Naturally, we think of the Conscience as acting as the motivation to judge between whether an action is in accord with the law of love, or at odds. Like the archetypal sense of guilt one has after having wronged another. However I noticed that the conscience can also steer people into feeling guilty over matters unrelated to Love. In the book “Your God’s too small”, the author sites the example of Resident Policeman who is the conscience imposing a sense of guilt and shame ruining ones fun. The book also describes that the conscience is often the product of ones upbringing, culture or some form of authority or external entity. For example, a culture where one is expected to dedicate their lives to their job may feel inferior and lazy compared to one who works more hours to their job. Or a society where slavery is considered okay, a person may feel no guilt about treating a slave poorly, but would feel guilty over dishonoring a nobleman.
Is the conscience infallible? Is my own interpretation of external authorities or writings infallible? Is the view of the magisterium or others’ judgments infallible. No, all epistemologies involve the perceptions of fallible people.
But I find in my experience that Paul’s view is valid that helpful knowledge is implanted in us all, and his implication that we should not sear our conscience by ignoring it.
I sometimes still have a hard time with how wired the conscience can be in imposing feelings of guilt over matters that are not immoral. Like how many churches consider drinking alcohol wrong, even though nothing in natural law states that spirited beverages are inherently evil, so long as one is not getting drunk. Now I will admit that it would not be good for an alcoholic to drink. Yet someone who is in a legalistic church may easily feel guilty about enjoying a drink, even if they can have a drink without getting drunk.
Yes, Joe I totally agree with your concern here. Consciences are quite capable of being mislead. Indeed, Paul can argue for respecting the conscience of the “weaker” brother, when there is no mistaking that Paul believes those weak in faith are legalists whose consciences feel guilty over things about which we should enjoy freedom. Nonetheless, it does not follow for Paul that we can safely ignore or trample on our conscience, because it is one vital instrument, albeit a fallible one, by which God guides us, especially as we get in touch with his voice planted within us.
I definitely agree with the importance of the conscience, or there would be no way to even recognize goodness to begin with. Plus, the conscience seems to understand the sacredness of the world, and at the deepest level knows this. I have thought about this and I remembered in a book by the Linn Ministries on Spiritual Abuse and Religious addiction that in reference to this group prone to addiction known as the “Responsible Pharisees”. I have begun to think that legalism and the mislead conscience is from a corruption and idolatry of responsibility. It seems like every evil is a perversion of a good. In the cases of the corrupted conscience, people become overly responsible to the point they torment themselves and others, and become quite hostile and malevolent towards those who are not as “responsible” as them.
I have found that often times, there is a temptation with being a believer in Universal Salvation is this sense that they are more free from sin than other Christians. I think the roots come from A) The perceived lack of malevolence, since supposedly if God is not going to abandon anyone to Hell, or show vengeance against sinners, and is going to save everyone in the end, there is no room for malice and pride on the part of the believer, and should naturally be humble and good willed and/or B) The believer in Universal Salvation does not need the fear of hell to keep them on the path of righteousness, and can act from the heart, and therefore be less likely to sin. I remember it was quite a blow to see how capable I was of being malevolent and proud. I find I still have a hard time accepting the freedom in Christ, and expect that I am above all that sin stuff. Frankly I am not. I read in a book from Richard Rohr about “Sin Mysticism”, where we should not intentionally pursue sin, but paradoxically understand its necessity. For years, I have hated morality police, and their need to wage war on sin. Now I believe there are times where involvement is necessary, but the hands on approach the morality police often take is no different from the perfectionist attitudes I have, despite myself not being the self righteous busybody.
@Joe121589 I’ve struggled for years with scrupolisity. I would try to follow the most rigid, literal interpretation of every commandment in the NT. It was driving me insane. A couple months ago I gave up. Since then I’ve been trying to live by the two great commandments (love God and love others) while not beating myself up for telling a harmless lie or feeling attraction when I see a woman I find pretty. Trying to follow the letter of the law was a recipe for disaster for me.
I find the appeal to legalism is used to solve moral conflicts. Often times, two peoples goods can conflict with each other, and both sides resort to justifying why their good is superior to the other good. I have seen this done by making appeals to some pre-existing ideology, popular opinion, claims to authority or if that fails, resorting to bullying. Being a moral absolutist myself, I have to admit that I am skeptical about many who speak against relativism, and find that their version of moral absolutes is nothing but dead legalism. I would guess this is related to the spirit vs. the letter of the law. The spirit from what I understand is the natural intuition of the sacredness and dignity of life. Much legalism I have found emphasizes a particular application in a particular situation. Like the example of the alcoholic who it would not be good to consume alcohol, but not acceptable to impose this law on others. Now I could see where a conflict could come in, say in a household with an alcoholic and another who likes occasional spirits. I could see the conflict occur between the two living in the household, say if one felt too tempted by alcohol, and did not want it in the house at all, while the other does not want to be prohibited. I have to admit that I have no answer, and would probably see it as the households problem to work out.
Frankly, I will admit it can be hard for me not to get rigid over matters that clash with my interests, and have a hard time understanding why someone with conflicting views could think a certain way. I remember a few years back, I went to a bad tech school, and knew that after graduation, I would need to get a university education(And I will admit some of my reasons for going to college were pretty stupid). My family thought that I should look for a job with the degree I had(even though the only job that was available was a company out of state offiliated with the tech school). I remember that was the first time I got into such rigidity, as I did not want to displease my family, nor did I want to go along with the tech schools plans for me. I remember how I started developing this justification of getting more education with trying to prove that my family was just being selfish in order to ignore their advice.