Conscience that speaks and always pricks

Every single human being has the God-given ability & power to make moral judgements if he is capable of listening to his conscience

Conscience that speaks and always pricks

The question about what constitutes the essence of morality, moral life and how it can be realised has become paramount in view of the ever-expanding social, economic, religious, medical, political, social and mass medial developments and damaging unethical practices. The rightly acknowledged human conscience was a bulwark in protecting the sanctity of the person and the highest norm of morality itself. Because of its indispensability for human growth and welfare, it was recognised as a basic human right and is consequently found in all modern national and international constitutions. It is a milestone achievement in the long history of mankind. Originally, embedded in the realm of faith and religion, it is the liberty to worship God as recognised by one’s conscience. Article 25 of our own Indian constitution grants not only the freedom of conscience, i.e. the freedom of worship, to profess one’s faith according to one’s convictions and tradition. It links directly to the dignity of the person and to his inalienable rights. Traditionally and religiously, conscience is the seat of moral judgment, of what we morally or authentically consider right and wrong, good and evil. The conscience or the voice of the conscience dictates us to do what is right and good and avoid what is harmful.

Every single human being has the God-given ability and power to make moral judgements if he is capable to listen to his conscience. Our conscience speaks to us before we decide to act and after we have carried out the decision. Then all our decisions in all aspects of our life are dictated by the inner voice of conscience, provided they are not steered by some vested interests and evil designs. However, we notice and are often dismayed that transparency, accountability, fairness or moral responsibility are becoming feebler. Humanity is getting mired in dishonesty and deceit, without any scruples and shame. The horrendous injustice and heinous crimes make us question the very nature and goodness in man. Is the man by nature good or evil, friend or a wolf to his fellow being? The golden rule states that we respect our own human dignity and its conscience and the human dignity and conscience of other person. What are the theological and philosophical foundations for these statements about the dignity and conscience of man?

“A quiet conscience sleeps in thunder,” says a good old proverb, but a disturbed conscience is like troubled waters. This innate and unerring God-bestowed conscience cannot be lost, no matter how morally depraved, most unspiritual or a ruthless criminal that person may ever become. No one can seal up his own conscience, it will hold him accountable and judge him always in accordance to principle of right and wrong. Conscience is the sanctuary in person. In order to bring more clarity in understanding conscience, we would like to see its beginnings, what our Holy Scripture says about it and how the tradition incorporates the different dimensions of conscience. Not only the Bible and Theology but also all religions, academic Disciplines like Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Literature and Jurisprudence share their views concerning conscience.

A summary of the teaching of the Church and Moral theology over conscience with key elements can be traced in Article 16 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the second Vatican Council. Succinctly highlights the article the basic understanding of conscience. The Council document states universally: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it, he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner, conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbour. Infidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems, which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality.“

Human conscience is fallible, but the common teaching of the church insists, one must follow one’s conscience in all circumstances. What kind of people do we honour and judge their character? People who do the right and good, which they know in keeping with their conscience and character. Their convictions are solid as the rock. Amidst many voices and proposals, heroes and leaders, confusion and disorientation, there is a compass, which everyone possesses, which belongs to his dignity and liberty as a person and which shows him divine and moral path, it is our conscience. 

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