10/21/08

Conscience


Image by Dori Night

The following are quotes from an article by J. Brian Bransfield in the October 13 edition of America. It's unfortunate for our purposes here that the complete article is available online only to subscribers. These snips, however, give the gist of Bransfield's contributions and stand alone as telling statements:
The only difference between the voting booth and the conscience is that we usually have to wait in line to get into one of them. Apart from that, the same thing is supposed to happen in each place as that small cubicle reveals me to myself...

In order for men and women to engage in the political debate, their consciences must be formed...

Judgments of conscience are not the result of a determinative moral gene. They are not preprogrammed, but spring from a place within that I do not create. This region is more than superego or social convention. A common misunderstanding is that conscience amounts to what I think on an issue. Conscience is not just what I think, but it is me in the act of thinking about what is just and true. Conscience is that part of me that is bigger than I am...

Conscience weighs a range of subjects, many of them deeply moral: the plight of immigrants, affordable education, the scourge of war, homeland security, neighborhood violence, access to health care, the inviolable right to life for the child in the womb, care for the hungry and homeless, preservation of the environment, the inhumanity of torture, the exploitation of human life through human embryonic stem cell research, the dignity of marriage between one man and one woman, and economic inequality among nations...

First, conscience is the turn inward where I find a norm that obliges me... This awareness of the inner moral sense is the capacity of the person to hear the voice of God within: “Conscience is the voice of God re-sounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil...”

Second, to make a decision in conscience is to consult the truth of the nature of things in themselves. Conscience begins “outside-in”: the objective reality summons accountability from me and forms the central coordinate of conscience. Conscience is based on a truth not of my own making...

To know the truths of basic embryology and basic logic, for example, leads me to know that the child in the womb is not a potential person, but a person with potential...

Third, conscience is the last, best judgment as to the good action based on the turn inward and the turn outward. Conscience is a virtuous fitting together, an enlightening and a resilience to act upon the truth of things within which exists the region of the norm, and beyond which humanity fails...

The abbreviation of conscience to only one-third, or two-thirds of its entirety is an all too common danger. The inner moral sense is not a partial appraisal or even a sum total of what we think, but is a manifestation of truth itself rather than our own preferences...

Conscience emerges as a voice, greater than one’s own, from the center of two sources: right reason and the teaching of the church. Conscience communicates the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, based not on the truth of circumstances, my top values or best intentions, but first and foremost on the truth of things in themselves accessed by faith and reason...

(T)he formation of conscience thrives on our openness to hear the voice of God in Scripture, in the teaching of the church and the prayerful discernment of the true dimensions of the concrete choice before us. Even with our best efforts, our judgments of conscience may, at times, be only partially correct. God continues to seek inroads to our heart to clear the blockages that impede a mature moral vision...

The properly formed conscience does not allow a citizen to forget he or she is first a person. It tells me I am a person, and, as such, I must look at a quandary according to a certain order: How does this act here and now, in and of itself, fit with being human, and not simply lower gas prices? Conscience insists that human dilemmas are moral concerns long before they are political points of view. Conscience tells me that to be free I must admit the truth that some acts are inescapably evil and no manner of circumstances or intentions can make them somehow good. The formation of conscience invites me not just to change my point of view, but to grow through conversion and to witness my own transformation...

The application of conscience is often difficult... It should be exceedingly rare that a person discerns, after continued guidance, “grave moral reasons” to vote for a candidate who holds an unacceptable position. Evidence of “grave moral reasons” to vote for such a candidate must be overwhelming. To resort to such a measure means that the voting booth itself becomes an agony, reflective of society in no small way, and is left moist with the tears of one who could otherwise find no way through...

- Rev. J. Brian Bransfield is a moral theologian with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis and its incoming executive director.

1 comment:

A Concord Carpenter Comments said...

"it is me in the act of thinking about what is just and true. Conscience is that part of me that is bigger than I am..."

WOW... I wish I could write like Rev. Bransfield.