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Conscience is the voice of God - discuss

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Introduction

Conscience is the voice of God - discuss The notion of conscience's matter, form and even existence has been under scrutiny by the Christian Church ever since it began. Although not referred to explicitly in the Gospels, in the letters of St. Paul conscience is mentioned twenty-five times in a variety of senses. An example of the manifestation of the idea of a conscience, however, can be found as far back as Job in the Old Testament - "I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go, my heart does not reproach any of my days" (Job 27:6). According to St. Paul, the law of God is 'written in the hearts of gentiles'; the conscience acts in every individual, no matter what stage in life, or knowledge of existing civic laws. In Sophocles' 'Antigone', the heroine defies her King's order in favour of a greater allegiance to an "unwritten law", and history is spattered with such examples of conflict between inner 'moral truth' and civil obedience. Following the introduction of the term by St. Jerome (347-420), writers of the earlier and later Middle Ages referred to the innate power of distinguishing good from evil as 'synderesis'. Jerome himself describes this as the 'spark of conscience ...by which we discern that we sin', but later writers such as Aquinas refer to the term 'conscience' (conscientia) for the ability to distinguish good from bad at the level of particular actions. St. Augustine, a contemporary of Jerome, also regarded conscience as an innate faculty which reveals God's moral law, as it is "Written in the book of light from which all laws are copied" (De Trinitate 14, 15, 22). ...read more.

Middle

Proportionalists therefore argue that the conscience is not the voice of God; they argue that conscience means knowing when to strictly obey God and when to uphold an essentially higher good than the ancient rules laid down by Christian teaching. For example, the Roman Catholic Church disapproves of In vitro fertilisation (IVF) because it requires masturbation, an intrinsically disordered act according to Catholic teaching. However, Proportionalists would argue that to achieve reproduction, one of the primary precepts of Aquinas' Natural Law, masturbation may be performed because IVF itself is not condemned by Roman Catholicism. Masturbation, however, is considered intrinsically wrong by the Roman Catholic Church and St. Paul wrote, 'Do not do evil that good may come'. Also, conscience becomes the voice of the person, not the voice of God which the Roman Catholic Church's teaching tries to emulate. Joseph Butler, an Anglican priest and theologian, challenged Aquinas' view with 'intuitive conscience' in the early 18th Century. Butler, like Aquinas, believed that conscience could both determine and judge actions, but also said that conscience was immediate and totally authoritative because it was 'put there by God' - one must always follow the conscience unquestionably. Although this may be an ideal situation for Butler, in reality 'following ones intuitive conscience' could be used to justify all sorts of acts. Butler's theory of conscience is far more ambiguous than any others before in regards to the voice of God. He manages to hit a vague median between Aquinas' authoritarian approach and the Platonist innate conscience, which seemed to create a confused theory, although he manages to make it comprehendible by disregarding Aquinas' 'informing' approach and replacing it with Platonist innate reasoning. ...read more.

Conclusion

Moreover, there are stories from the Vietnam war and the Nazi regime in Germany, such as the case of My Lai, telling of normal people taking part in the massacre of thousands of innocent people, and evidence such as this shows how social environment can alter a person's idea of morality - to some soldiers, the duty to follow orders is the 'highest form' of conscience. Atheists would claim to have a clear idea of right and wrong, just like the billions involved with one of the many conflicting religions, and it seems far more simple to believe in conscience as a psychological construct than in a conscience which is guided by a supreme deity. However, we can only be scientifically sure of empirically evident things, and God is not empirically evident. The question of determining God's existence, however, is another matter. Supposing there is a God, and if he is morally connected with us and with our actions, then some responsibility for moral evil and suffering in the world must lie in His hands. The existence of suffering in the world lead J.L. Mackie to conclude that the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition cannot exist, and therefore if conscience is the voice of God, it cannot be the God of Christianity. C.S Lewis wrote about our innate sense of right and wrong, but even if we accept that we have this universal understanding, its presence does not necessarily imply a supernatural or super-empirical being. Although no rational person should exclude God, the rapid advancement of psychology and modern medicine brings us hope for a fully materialistic account of conscience in the not-too-distant future. ...read more.

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