[There are] two criteria for a genuine word spoken by the conscience: it is not identical with one’s own wishes and taste; nor is it identical with that which is more advantageous, socially speaking, with the consensus of a group or with the claims made by political power or societal power.
Values in a Time of Upheaval, 87Reflection - The primacy of conscience-this is the banner phrase for those who wish to uphold the independence of the individual Catholic (or anyone else) from the Church's moral teaching. Just do whatever your conscience tells you - and guess what, the Church says so!
Of course the Church that says follow your conscience also has a lot to say about what conscience is and how it is to be formed... but somehow the people who trumpet the authority of the Church regarding the primacy of conscience tend to ignore the Church's authority about everything else to do with the subject.
What is conscience, then, anyhow? Whatever you 'feel' is right? That would certainly make things simpler, I suppose! But if that's what it was, then why bother talking about it at all? Just do 'whatever'.
Conscience is a type of intellect. When we are building a bridge or a house or anything, we have to use mathematics, and if we get the sums wrong, it all falls apart and people get injured or killed, maybe. Conscience is our moral reasoning process. When we are 'building' a human act, a free and conscious decision to do such and such, we must reason our way towards the good choice, the right course of action. If we get those moral 'sums' wrong, our lives fall apart, and people get injured or even killed, maybe. Conscience is no more about making a subjective judgment than building a bridge is about deciding that 2+2=5.
There is lots to say about this moral reasoning process, and Ratzinger has said lots about it. This short passage is from a long essay on the subject which I'll be quoting in bits and pieces on this blog. This small part signals to us one element of moral reasoning - beware of our own wishes and tastes, and of the prevailing spirit of the age. It's not that these are always wrong, but these particular voices are not the voice of our conscience - this particular point is really that simple. It is always easy to do just as you please (if your money and energy holds out!). It is always easy to go with the flow of society. But conscience is not about doing what is easy; it is about doing what is right. And what is right comes out of a moral reasoning process, not a blind obedience to desire or convention. But what is that moral reasoning process then?
To be continued...