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.