Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Matters of Conscience

Assuming God imprinted His Divine image into humans, people must believe in an inherent nature toward striving for everything morally good and avoiding everything morally evil. Thus, the inner intentions of the creator works through the voice of the human conscience, which justly is called the "voice of God" in people. (Orthodox resources,, 2010) Think of it, a voice of God as a spiritual guide within each person.

The student of history, by studying the culture and customs of past and present nations, notes that all people, even the most primitive tribes, distinguish between what is good and what is bad, between good person and evil person, between virtue and vice. In essence, they are all agreed on these basic premises: 

1. Good is worth striving for, and evil should be shunned, 
2. Good deserves praise, while evil deserves blame. 

Though in individual cases they may not be one in denominating the same thing as good or evil, they are, nevertheless, agreed upon as the general principle that good is to be done and evil avoided.Thus, even in matters of controversy over definition, manner, and even cause and effect, the general principles hold true.

In daily relationships with others, people very often subconsciously trust their conscience more than written laws and regulations. In fact, society finds it impossible to have laws for every imaginable situation and to foresee how to preclude all attempts at breaking them. In the real world, shrewd people manage to twist and manipulate even the clearest of laws. This manipulation can cause evil, deadly deceit. So conscience, which works inside every person, is most often called upon to compel someone to deal fairly and justly with others in circumstance after circumstance.

Conscience is also called "heart" in scripture. In the Sermon on the mount the Lord Jesus Christ compared conscience to the "eyes" by which a person can evaluate his moral condition (Matt. 6:22). The Lord also compared conscience to a "rival" with whom a person must come to terms before he presents himself at God's Judgment (Matt. 5:25). The word "rival" stresses the main attribute of conscience: to oppose our evil desires and intentions.
Yet, sometimes spontaneity and circumstance override a person's conscience, and the rival triumphs. For example, few would not steal food if they were starving. Thus, at certain times, even devout people can accept sins against their conscience as necessities and proper acts despite conscientious objections.

Russian poet A. S. Pushkin very vividly described these torments in his dramatic play "Miserly Knight."

"Conscience -
A sharp clawed animal, which scrapes the heart;
Conscience - an uninvited guest, annoying *discourser,
A rude creditor; and a witch,
Which dims the moon and graves."

*speaker, arguer                                                                                                                   

Relativists believe that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them. Many would say that the truth or falsity of moral judgment is not universal but related to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a certain group of people. Normative relativism is a belief that no moral standards exist by which to judge others behavior. Normative relativists would tolerate the behavior of others even if it ran counter to their beliefs of personal or cultural moral standards. Certainly, they would reject the conscience as the voice of God from within.This is how they think of conscience:   

(I) There are no moral duties and no moral rights;
(2) Therefore no one has a right to make moral demands of me;
(3) People do make moral demands of me;
(4) These demands must be unreasonable;
(5) Unreasonable demands are unjust;
(6) Those who are making them are wrong;
(7) They have a duty to desist;
(8) I have a right to demand it of them.
This is why some people believe that other people have all the duties, yet they have no duties but all the rights. Used as a tool of recruitment, this "conscience-empty" condition can be powerful in both creating gangland criminal behavior and increasing hordes of those who practice reckless, irresponsible actions. Their own philosophy rationalizes itself when they believe this to be a viable human state. They live without a conscience and practice random, self-gratifying beliefs if they practice any beliefs at all.

What would your conscience have you do in these moral and ethical dilemmas?

A Father's Choice
You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don't he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don't have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?
Table Mess At MaDonald's

        At McDonald's, you can leave your Big Mac meal remains on the table or clean it up yourself.             
        Someone is getting paid minimum wage to clean it up. Do you simply walk away or dump the trash 

How About These?

1. You are a pain clinic owner who can recklessly fill out prescriptions for cash.
2. You are a member of the community who can choose to ignore action against a county-wide drug epidemic.
3. You are best friends with a drug addict who can report the abuse to an agency that will help.
4. You are someone with direct knowledge of criminal activity who can report it to authorities.
5. You are a person who can choose to let others do what they want as long as they don't bother you.

"The conscience should not be evaded, since it tells us inwardly how to live in conformity to Gods will, and by severely censuring the soul when the mind has been infected by sins, and by admonishing the erring heart to repent, it provides welcome counsel as to how our defective state can be cured."
-- St. Philopheos of Sinai

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