Year 11 General Unit 2, Mod 1 - Living a Good Life
Conscience is a part of human nature which is created by God.
When people are ‘in tune’ with their consciences, they find their thoughts and emotions stirred towards what is good and to show love. Conscience reflects its Creator who is pure goodness and love.
...conscience is man’s most secret core, and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. [Modern World 16]
Some people are not ‘in touch’ with their consciences. They find it hard to recognise the inner urgings towards goodness and love. When people fail to listen to or follow their conscience they feel divided. Their inner peace and happiness are disturbed by guilt and regret.
Dialogue with God
Catholics believe that:
- within conscience, there is ‘dialogue of the individual with God’ [Splendour of Truth 58]
- when people sincerely listen to their consciences, they ‘can hear God speaking’ [CCC 1777].
It is within conscience that people can come to recognise echoes of God’s voice:
- guiding their daily lives, especially in prayer and worship
- urging them to do what is good and loving.
Dialogue with God through conscience can stir thoughts and emotions to:
- discover and to live personal ideals
- discover truth
- do good and to love
- evaluate behaviour from the perspectives of goodness and love.
Avoiding situations where temptation may be hard to resist is a sign of maturity. All people need to accept the limitations of their humanity. For people to behave as though they can handle all pressures on their own is a sign of immaturity and difficulty in accepting human reality.
Forming a Conscience
The ability to make free choices would be useless if people could not know what choices are good ones. A person needs to form their conscience to know and choose the good. This is a lifelong process. Forming the conscience about what is right means informing the conscience about and God’s Laws.
The principals of responsible decision making apply when getting marriage. A marriage is considered valid by the Church only if the individuals freely choose to marry and are fully aware of what is expected of them.
Examination of Conscience
Whenever Christians examine their consciences sincerely, they do so with Jesus Christ who is present within them. They look at their lives, deciding how their actions follow God’s laws. They then seek God’s forgiveness. They will also seek forgiveness for serious sins in the Sacrament of Penance.
Any good examination of conscience focuses on three basic questions:
- What good have I done or tried to do today, and so need to thank God for creating this goodness in me?
- What wrongs have I committed, and for which I need to ask God’s forgiveness?
- Where am I struggling to do what is right and need to ask God’s help?
Those who examine their consciences daily with Jesus find their intimacy with God growing. As they thank God for the good they do, ask God’s forgiveness for wrong-doing, and seek God’s help where they are struggling, God draws them closer. Gradually, they find themselves growing as people of goodness and love.
Conscience is a part of human nature and it can be mistaken.
Conscience can only tell a person that, ‘as far as can be judged from moral principles, this is what I should or should not do’. It is here that mistakes can occur. Right and wrong are determined ultimately by the laws of God. For Christians, right and wrong stem from what God reveals through Divine and Natural Laws.
What happens when conscience conflicts with God’s law?
The authority of conscience is based upon its capacity to recognise God’s voice echoing within. When conscience conflicts with God’s commands, conscience is mistaken. God does not suggest an action is right for one person and wrong for another. There can be no contradiction between moral laws God has revealed and correct conscience.
No matter how people feel, no behaviour that conflicts with the Commandments can ever be justified by conscience.
For example, it can never be right to:
- commit adultery or engage in sex outside marriage,
- deprive another person of any basic life necessity, or
- discourage another from praying or worshipping God.
What is Conscience
Moral Decision Making
Moral decision-making requires personal freedom.
Limits to personal freedom come from two sources, those without and those within. Most people are more aware of external pressures than inner ones.
External threats to personal freedom can be peer pressure and the threat of social ridicule and persecution. The desire to conform to social attitudes and trends can exert strong pressure on people’s personal freedom.
Inner threats to personal freedom can be strong emotions, attitudes and feelings. Or, they may be past memories that stir strong emotions, prejudices, guilt and unconscious influences, such as negative self-image.
To be free to make responsible moral choices, an individual needs the strength of will to resist external and inner pressures or to avoid situations in which such pressures are likely to arise.
Catholics understand that for responsible moral decision-making, sufficient information is required.
Three questions must be considered, these are:
is the action itself morally right?
is the intention morally right?
are the circumstances (including consequences) morally right?
For behaviour to be morally right, the answer to each and all of the three together must be ‘yes’.
Conscience makes it possible for people to judge the morality of their behaviour.
It does this because it helps them:
- to understand moral principles
- to see how they apply to actions they are considering, are presently doing or have already done
- to judge whether their actions are morally right or wrong.
Challenges of Moral and Ethical Behaviour
People are not responsible for morally wrong decisions if, through no fault of their own, they are ignorant of moral laws or they lack freedom (though this does not make their actions right).
To the degree that people know of moral principles or lack freedom through their own fault, they are morally responsible for their actions. They are also morally responsible for the consequences, eg:
someone drinks to excess, knowing that they have to drive home, or
a person who takes drugs knowing they will affect their behaviour.
If a person says: ‘I am not sure if this action is right or wrong, but I am not going to find out’, and then goes ahead and does it, they are morally responsible for any wrong involved. If a person deliberately goes into a situation in which they know that they will find it hard to resist an external or an inner pressure, they are morally responsible for what happen, eg.
a situation where they are likely to become angry, or
a situation where they will experience uncontrollable desires.