When an American Catholic must make a decision about morality he looks nearby (very nearby) for guidance.
He looks to himself.
A sad-but-perhaps-not-surprising survey by Pew Research Center suggests that nobody knows right from wrong better than the individual – at least in the mind of the individual.
When confronted with a moral issue, Catholics look to the following sources for guidance:
- The Pope 10 percent
- Bible 15 percent
- Church teaching 21 percent
- Their own conscience 73 percent
This suggests that American Catholics (A) have deeply formed moral compasses or (B) suffer from delusional pride. Based on decades observing American culture, I’m picking (B).
We Americans (Catholic or otherwise) believe we are an independent lot. We make our own decisions and don’t want anyone – even the Pope – telling us what to do. After all, who knows better what is good for me than me?
But while proclaiming our independence, we’re influenced by an increasingly sick culture every day of our lives. Television, radio and social media tell us what to wear, what to eat, what music to like and what politically correct views to embrace. We don’t want the Church telling us what to do, but it is OK if movies stars, advocacy groups and political parties shape our every move.
Let’s see; who should I look to for guidance? George Clooney or the Pope? People Magazine or the Bible? Friends of the Earth or the Catholic Church? Me or, well, me with the Catholic team of Pope, Bible and Church teaching guiding my walk in life.
For most of the decisions in my daily life I don’t need the Pope’s help. I can select a car, match décor for my home and pick toppings for tonight’s pizza. But I’m not among the 73 percent of American Catholics who believe they know best about the big things in life.
I need a hand.
One thought on “I am conscience”
I think that people are actually rather confused as to what “conscience” is. It is not a “guide;” it is, rather, the current state of one’s knowledge about right and wrong.
Let me make an analogy. If I want to drive from Detroit to Chicago (and everyone obviously wants to drive to Chicago), unless I happen to know the correct route, I had better go to Google Maps, program my GPS, or (for those less technically inclined) consult a map or atlas.
Now, suppose that, for whatever reason, through no fault of my own, I become convinced that to go from Detroit to Chicago, you have to drive east. What will happen? If I don’t correct my error, I will end up in Buffalo, New York, instead of Chicago. Is it my “fault” that I drove to the wrong place? No, but I didn’t get to the right place, and now I am going to have to drive twice as far in order to get to Chicago.
That is the relationship between conscience and the Church’s magisterium. If I want to be right with God (think “get to Chicago,” because, obviously, everyone wants to go to Chicago), then I had better consult the map (which is the Church’s teaching). If I get a wrong idea in my head about what is right and wrong, well, that is not necessarily my fault (perhaps I am not committing a sin), but I will still suffer the bad consequences of behaving in a way that is damaging to me (and others) as a person. Therefore, for something as essential as right and wrong, consulting the “map” is a grave obligation.
So conscience is not the “guide;” conscience is what I (think I) know about morality. The “guide” is what I consult in order to obtain that knowledge: the Church’s teaching, the Scriptures, what we know about human nature, the advice of wise persons, and so on.