“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved.” ~ 2 Peter 2:19 (RSV)
The question of making sense of our lives has practically been removed from the sphere of public debate as the truths of freedom and faith are rejected and morality is reduced to politicized ideologies. Our major cultural crisis is rooted in a disordered moral reasoning, disguised as open-minded dialog which tries to silence those who follow strong morals rooted in faith and reason. The battle has reach the highest priority for those concerned with the common good, as the current powers of our secular civil authorities have begun directly clashing with the Church and her ecclesiastical authority. What many modern ideologists of the relativistic and socialistic right fail to recognize is that the question of making sense of our lives is embedded within the depths of the human heart which can only be copiously realized within the discipline of moral theology.
This question is of the utmost primacy of those who work for the common good because they fully acknowledge that the loss of the sense of the transcendental, rejection of absolute truth, and denial of moral norms puts all of humanity in grave danger. For this treacherous direction of society will only enslave man to moral anarchy and state sanctioned tyranny. These very morals that secular relativists and socialists reject are the very “values that protect man in his deepest needs.” (Ratzinger 1985)
These human “needs” can only be found within the proper understanding of the theology of conscience in relationship with the freedom for excellence and the culture of life. Modern man must look to moral theology as a means for all mankind to live in true freedom and harmony. As history has repeated itself before, the Church’s moral teachings will always clatter against the culture of the world. She must always engage the ideologies that are rooted in the original temptations faced by our primordial parents in the Garden of Eve. No matter how much modern man wishes, he can never “play” God without great peril to all of humanity. For in actuality, in doing so he chooses death, corruption, and enslavement for all.
The theology of conscience is a synthesis of our motives, actions, and norms guided by the Holy Spirit within our hearts which assists humanity to become true images of Christ within in the world. St. Thomas Aquinas a great teacher in moral reasoning saw the will as the human “faculty of love and desires” which is central to recognize the interior motives of the human heart. The interior motives of the human heart where the conscience has been properly formed do not result in enslavement but gives the person the power to “love in the purest and strongest sense of the word.” (Pinckaers, 387-391)
A person with a properly formed conscience is living in the totality of integration of body and soul in complete harmony with the image of Christ within them. A properly formed Christian conscience is known “to act not alone, but under the enlightenment and the impulse derived from revelation and grace in a strictly supernatural order.” (Rickaby 2007)
"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." (CCC, 1776)
This voice or Holy Spirit witnesses to the human soul ordaining the heart to follow the moral law, not to restrict man but to give him the complete freedom needed to live the fullness of his being. “A well-formed conscience will never contradict the objective moral law, as taught by Christ and his Church.” (CCC, 1783-5)
Modern man engulfed within the culture of death, has rejected this reality by embracing relativism, thereby corrupting his heart and violating his own conscience. These improperly formed consciences enslave man to reduce other human beings to objects whose only usefulness is the selfish pleasures of men. In light of rampant materialism, humanity is reduced to an object of utilitarian needs to meet scientific, economic and political ends. Society is threatened with self-destruction when the idea of freedom of choice without any moral compass becomes the norm. These twisted consciences perpetuates a false freedom based on choice which “becomes the moral norm that justifies everything else, including – if necessary – violence, homicide, mendacity… and what looks like ‘liberation’ turns into its opposite and shows its diabolic visage in deeds.” (Ratzinger 1985)
Why are improperly formed consciences dangerous for society and the individual? These ideologies of moral relativism, eclipses of conscience, materialism, and freedom of choice at all cost are opening the door to a diabolical culture with a “fundamental disrespect and contempt for the embodied nature of the human person.” (Torraco n.d., 1-15) The reality of the culture of death is that humanity rejects the image of God within them, thereby violating their consciences and giving away their humanity. The secular view of conscience rejects the deepest needs of the human person by enslaving them to follow their feelings and opinions, basically to act without really using their moral reasoning – nearby rejecting the dignity of conscience in its totality.
By following a malformed conscience, individuals condition themselves to be attracted to evil acts. With each evil act, it becomes harder to do the good. The influence of improperly formed conscience attacks the very essence of the person not just affecting what they do but what they become. They will no longer be good, but enslaved to a lifestyle that leads to perpetual sin and evil – ultimately to the mortal death of the soul. Imagine a world where all humanity has a dead soul? Doesn’t sound like heaven, does it? A society with no moral compass is a culture whose corporate soul is dead, for it becomes a society “more humanitarianism in the abstract” and looses its “humanity in the concrete.” (Herberg Fall 1986)
“The moral sense of conscience must be molded, not developed simply by feelings, opinions, circumstance, intentions or movements, but by the deep moral sense in which we participate by being human and capable of reason. Conscience does not simply decide for happy or sad, but for good or evil.” (Bransfield) Conscience needs to be properly formed through the practice of a virtuous life, where each act aids the person to grow more and more like the image of Christ. To reject that reality means that an individual will become enslaved to depravity, which is not actualized freedom.
An exploration of the proper ideal of freedom must be explored in order to understand its relationship with the theology of conscience. Within the culture of death, freedom has a very different meaning then from the Christian perspective. The culture of death proclaims a false freedom that emphasizes the autonomy of the human person. Just like John Donne once said, “No man is an island, entire of itself,” (Doone 1624) Human beings are social beings where their actions influence all those around them; emotionally, physically, and spiritually. To reject that idea is to live in a false reality. Humanity does not create their own realities that are mandated by the whims of emotions and opinions. Humanity is not omnipotent; humanity has been created by one who created a single universe guided by absolute truth grounded in the objective realities of eternal, natural, and moral laws. These laws can not be rejected by “realists” because to do so, rejects living in the objective reality. Relativists, who live the actuality of their poor moral reasoning, launch themselves into a life enslaved by addictions, depression, hopelessness and other forms of psychosis and degeneracy.
True human freedom allows a person to strive to live in the fullness of their humanity. This Christian perspective of freedom is the source of the founding of our Bill of Rights. Man was created with inalienable rights. These inalienable rights are given not by the state but by the one who created us all. To reject the moral reality that is the source of the founding of a Nation dedicated to the protection of the inalienable rights of the human person is to force the culture into despotism.
Actualized human freedom is not a freedom “from” mentality, but a form of freedom that commands a person to guard their dignity of conscience. A culture that truly wants humans to live in true freedom must also protect the dignity of their citizen’s conscience and give them the freedom to follow their conscience without coercion.
“The notion and actualization of freedom” flow from one’s love and capacity for living a life steeped in the virtues. (Spitzer, 209) The idea of liberty as a freedom “from”, freedom of choice, or even a freedom of indifference does not give the human person emancipation but violates their human dignity at all levels. Fr. Pinckaers speaks of a freedom for excellence which is grounded in the human potentiality and capacity for truth and goodness. The essence of this freedom becomes “a spontaneous attraction for the highest truth and goodness.” (Pinckaers, 387)
“True freedom consists in proceeding along the way of truth according to one's vocation” (Benedict, 2007) where the human person experiences the freedom to become what God created them to be. Being fully human, gives a person the freedom of excellence to become more then just pure existence but also turns their very personhood into a living gift for others. True freedom allows for human relationships to be based on virtue – instead of how the secular world directs relationships into the fleeting pleasures and usefulness of an egotistical reality. Living in true human freedom, our lives become an offer of our very selves freely given to the demands of love “by learning the ways of holiness so that we might be able to relate to God for all eternity.” (Keating 2008)
The call of personal holiness is not a new one and is at the core to constructing an authentic culture of life. This was the call to the new evangelization that Pope John Paul II always spoke about – a personal call to live human life in its fullness. “With a spirit of generous self-giving, recognize that you are directly involved in the new evangelization, which demands the involvement of all of us. Proclaim Christ, who ‘died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sakes died and was raised up.’ (2 Cor 5:15).” (Letter to Youth, 1993) Those who live for him also live for the love of their brother, sister, and the least amongst themselves, which protects the common good for all peoples.
The new evangelization, lived within the context of relationships with the other, is rooted in the family and the actualization of SPICE within a person’s life. The forming of proper conscience is central to the duty of family life – the domestic church. For it is within the family that a person first learns how to relate to themselves and others in a proper moral way. Family life is the primary source of the school for a life of virtue. Just as families are the sacred seed for all of culture, so to the family is the primary place where one learns morality. Even secular science, especially those within the education profession, have known that the ability to learn the basics of right and wrong happen within the first formative years of human development, which means that all the basics of morality is learned by the age of six.
That critical information contained within the most basic of child development courses, only further validates why the Church emphasizes the sacredness and importance of family life for all of society. Just turning on the local news will confirm material evidence that family life is under attack and endangered by moral ambiguity, state policies and societal pressures that are oppressive and unfriendly to family life. Restrict a healthy, and dare we say holy family life, and society restricts human freedom for all. If a person has a hard time reaching their full potential in a troubled family life; it is even harder to achieve SPICE in their adult life which helps a person reach their full capacity for goodness and perfect charity. The foundations of a person’s fullness of humanity are laid down in their formative years.
Family life and the proper formation of the conscience remain essential to the edifice of a culture of life. Fr. Spitzer states very urgently to the need for a cultural revolution of the interior kind in his striking book Healing the Culture. With his dynamic synthesis of the cultural war taking place in society he talks about a disease that is infesting our culture at its foundation.
If we are moved beyond the more insidious effects of the agent [culture of death], we must begin to understand it. We must learn how to see it for what it really is. Rather than content ourselves with cataloguing its every effect, we must get to the nature of the beast. I would submit that the beast’s identity is reflected in the minimalistic way we see ourselves. More precisely, it is a radically incomplete cultural attitude about what it means to be a human person. (Spitzer, 17)
A moral theology of conscience’s main concern and expertise is the only authentic way to explore what it means to be a human person. To deny this truth in society attacks all of humanity at the core of man’s essence. "Conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths" (GS 16). Our forefathers recognized this reality and strived to form a more perfect union of people. In order to protect the inalienable right of all persons to strive for that interior relationship with their creator, they guaranteed the protections within that union to require the legitimate governmental protections of those rights.
Without proper formed consciences the citizens of this union are being led down a dicey incline that threatens their inalienable rights that so many throughout it’s brief history have died to protect. In order to save this beautiful union we must raise our voices and defend those rights to properly shape our consciences and use them for the common good. Our secular brothers and sisters must be informed of the joy and freedom that is apprehended through the appreciative authenticity of what it means to be a human person. Failure to do so, will lead our culture to self destruction.
A properly formed conscience has an interior “orientation to the highest” which leads the soul to excellence in moral life. (Pinckaers, 387) A culture that rejects excellence in moral life cannot help but to decline into complete moral chaos and totalitarianism for all of its citizens. Those of the secular elite that proclaim that faith based ideologies are domineering and will thwart the further development of human society are dead wrong – literally.
Our society needs moral theology and proper formation of consciences to give mutual people living within a civilized culture the compass they need to prosper and live in true freedom. Pope Benedict stated in his first encyclical, “Faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.” (DCE, II, 28a) Faith balanced with proper and sound moral reasoning will only help a society to grow and develop. The cultural context on how that reality is unsurpassed is one that protects and guards the dignity of the human person in all states of life and the true meaning of human life – which is a culture of life.
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Copyright February 2009 by Janelle Wingert