Friday, February 17, 2012

Talking About Conscience VIII

Paul tells us that the Gentiles knew without the law what God expected of them (Rom 2:1-16). This passage deals a death blow to the entire theory of salvation through ignorance. Truth is present in man in a manner that cannot be rejected: and this is the same truth of the Creator that also took written form in the revelation of salvation history. Man can see the truth of God in the foundations of his created being. To fail to see this is guilt. If we refuse to see the truth, this ‘no’ of the will that prevents knowledge is guilt. The warning lamp fails to light up because we deliberately avert our eyes from something we do not want to see.

At this point in our reflections, we can draw our first conclusions to help answer the question about the essence of conscience. We can now say that it is impossible to identify man’s conscience with the self-awareness of the ego, with his subjective certainty about himself and his moral conduct. This consciousness may be a mere reflex of the social environment and of the opinions widespread there. It may also indicate a lack of self-criticism, a failure to listen to the depths of one’s own soul.

In the aftermath of the collapse of Marxist systems in Eastern Europe the situation that came to light confirms this diagnosis. The most alert and honest spirits among the newly liberated peoples speak of a terrible neglect of the soul that arose in the years of false education. They speak of a blunting of the moral sensitivity, which represents and more terrible loss and danger than the economic damage that occurred.

At the beginning of his time in office, in the summer of 1990, the patriarch of Moscow emphasized this in impressive words. He lamented that those who lived in a system of deceit had lost much of their powers of perception. Society had lost the ability to feel compassion, and human emotions had withered away. An entire generation had become impervious to the good and was incapable of human deeds. “We must bring society back to the eternal moral values,” he said.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 82-3

Reflection -  Well, now we’re getting somewhere! After exploring at length (see Talking About Conscience I-VII) the inadequacy of the modern notion of conscience and its infallibility, Ratzinger now starts to develop a response, a better and deeper understanding of the word and the reality.

And this development shows clearly what a perilous condition we are all in. I started this series because of the alarming developments in America with the outright violation of conscience being imposed by the Obama administration. Some may ask me, “Well, what’s it to you? You’re Canadian, dude! Chill out.” OK, so they wouldn’t say the last three words unless they were surfers or something.

Well, first, I love America. I know Canadians aren’t supposed to do that; I don’t care. I lived in the States for two years, and it is a wonderful place with wonderful people. Also (and I know this is a very unfashionable thought in Canada), America is indeed a beacon of freedom in the world. If America collapses as a free society, the implications are global and severe.

But also, and in that, the questions and challenges raised by the Obama Administration’s assault on religious liberty are of the essence. And the above passage from Ratzinger shows that, I think. When societies turn away from the moral law, when the state and those who control it impose their own subjective certainties upon society, when the voice of conscience is silenced, then man is not only alienated from God, but from his own deepest self.

There is a truth about humanity and about life that is written in the depths of the human heart. We may struggle to read it; we may disagree about some of the things written there. But if the state can say to us, “Your heart and its moral knowledge are irrelevant—submit to me,” then the human person is crushed, annihilated, denied. And this has societal and personal consequences that I am afraid we will all have to live with, as Russia has had to live with the terrible consequences of the Soviet repression of freedom.

At the risk of sounding a bit dramatic: repent, President Obama. Repent, members of his administration. Repent, anyone reading this who may support this evil initiative. You are striking at the very heart of America, and its very survival is at stake in this issue.


  1. Father Denis,

    Okay, it's me again. I keep reading this hoping that i am going to find some way to really get this, despite myself.

    I should just tell you. I use birth control. I know. I have used it for years, it helps me with anemia. I am not sexually active. Sometimes, Jesus just does not heal bleeding women. I am getting old enough and I keep thinking this will be the year I can stop. I am graetful for my insurance, with that it costs only $4/month. Otherwise, might be closer to $85. This is the cheap stuff. I just wanted to tell you that.

    I read somewhere that 98% of catholic women of child bearing age have used birth control. I guess they have their reasons too.

    So, I can't really get the first ammendment argument. Okay, so what if the argument is not about contraception at all- but about religious freedom. The government doesn't get to decide about religious freedom, about what people's religious beliefs are. The church doesn't even get to decide. We decide in our own conscience...and that is why you are writing all this stuff I think.

    I am a little worried that you are going to wack me now, for trying to have a conscience. I am trying. I am reading here, I do pray. I am really trying to get this.

    I have couple things to say in response to your reflection:
    1) I think the battle about contraception is already lost. 98% .

    2) Also, I think that on many of the major issues, the bishops are actually on Obama's side- not the least- extending unemployemnt benefits , which they call a "moral obligation". Honestly, on some of the major issues, i think the bishops are to the left of some of the leading democrats...even if both sides are loathe to admit it.

    So the battle over contraception no longer seems apocalyptic. No heavenly hosts pitted against the forses of Satan. To me this is a political brawl, not a crusade of believers or infidels. I think Obama tried to negotiate the line between religious sphere and protection of the spiritual dignity and freedom of individuals.

    I know that there are people who I really love and do church with daily who would struggle hard with my decision to use birth control. I know their struggle is based, as my decision is, in an adnirable conviction about the scaredness of life.

    We Americans, we are like that. We have wrestled with those questions in this way from the beginning. Some of the forfathers feared the church would corrupt the state. Some feared the state would corrupt the church. Over the years, the battle has gotten pretty ugly.

    Perhaps, you are belittling Obama to be provacative. But, please be cautious Father Denis, it is a big deal to use church words- when really you are talking polictics.

  2. God bless you! Well, for starters, there is nothing morally wrong in the eyes of the Church with your use of the birth control pill. It is the contraceptive intent: the deliberate self-sterilization and consequent alteration of the sexual act that makes contraception intrinsically evil in the Church's understanding. I don't ask you to agree with that statement, but to understand it. Your medical non-contraceptive use of the pill is no more morally problematic than taking an aspirin.
    Plus, the Church has no objection to paying for this, since it has no moral obligation to using the drug in that way.
    The 98% figure has been roundly debunked. Yes, many Catholic women use contraception, but that particular figure (which the White House is hyping non-stop) is based on one deeply flawed study by a group with close ties to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. See this link:
    Now this link may help you understand why this really is important (if not apocalyptic, which I think is exaggerating my words), even if the 98% figure was accurate:
    Now, of course conscience is this deeply individual reality, as the Pope and I are exploring together here. So why should individuals who believe (as I do, as the bishops do, as EWTN and Belmont Abbey and CUA and Notre Dame admininstrators do) that contraception is not only evil, but that the many contraceptives that work as abortifacients are therefore morally equivalent to murder... well, aren't we individuals too? Does everyone get a right to exercise their conscience... except for bishops and priests? That seems strange and (yes) rather un-American.
    While there is a political dimension to this struggle, my deeper point, and I think it stands, is that this is a spiritual struggle for the right to remain human, responsible, and free. It is the White HOuse that, completely unnecessarily, has dragged this into the political forum
    I am not belittling Obama. I am informing him that he is doing a great evil, which is my sincere conviction, and calling on him to repent of that evil. How is that belittlement? Was Martin Luther King 'belittling' white Americans? Was Harriet Beecher Stowe 'belittling' slave owners? I think it is actually a compliment to give someone credit for the capacity to morally reason and repent, don't you?

    1. Oops - typos above: 'no moral objection...' etc. Typing on a slow and balky computer...

  3. Father Denis,

    Wow. That didn't take very long.

    OKay, maybe acopalypytic was an exageration. I am sorry if I offended you.

    Thanks for defending my use of birth control pills. A lot of people who feel as strongly as you do about not. They kind of throw people like me under the bus.

    I am afraid I might really offend you if I shared what I really believe about contraception. I actually among those who are not ideologically opposed to the use of certain contraceptives...and I am pretty well read on the subject. I guess the abortifacient data is just not that impressive. I could go on with this- but so could you. I think we might have to agree to disagree on this.

    What I do find attractive in the whole debate is the catholic notion of fertility. The idea that when we with hold fertility we somehow wound each other. I pray a lot about that actually.

    I still see the whole who funds the contraception debate as politictical one. Sorry.

    I am going to have to stop now, thanks for writing back.

    Thanks you for using you good mind to dig around these issues.

    Dig deep. Dig everywhere.

    I will keep praying for you. It is sort of easy actually. Please keep praying for me too.

    1. God bless you, really. And thank you for disagreeing with me with charity and courtesy! You could not possibly offend me, with such a spirit, and I do mean that.
      There is indeed much to dig in and dig around with all these matters. Even if we have to agree to disagree for now, we can continue to dig in, but especially dig up (?) towards God who is the only One with the whole picture, eh?


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