National Catholic Register

Commentary

The Collapse of Conscience

It seems there is no place for conscience nowadays.

BY Frank Cronin

Jan. 12-25, 2014 Issue | Posted 1/18/14 at 9:20 AM

 

It seems there is no place for conscience nowadays.

Its only place in the modern world is in the minds and hearts of the so-called "unenlightened" — the backward, the judgmental. No one with half a mind would be caught dead with one.

For most modernists, conscience is a thing of the past, an artifact of an early more naive, more primitive, more compliant era. Conscience is an anachronism, like the virtue of chastity and the code of chivalry, like common courtesy and common sense.

That is why the darkness and depravity of modern times becomes darker and deeper with each passing day. And that is why many people no longer even sense the decline.

Because our collective cultural conscience continues to deteriorate, many modernists no longer know what a conscience is, what it does or even what it means. Many others hold their conscience at arm’s length because it is not trustworthy. To them, their conscience — or what is left of it — is the source of all inhibition and the origin of what they believe is the lie about the existence of objective moral truths. To those misguided, modern times and liberation show the conscience to be a form of prejudice and evil and control.

Because of modernism’s incursion into all facets of current society, we as a culture no longer have a conscience, nor do we know what it is made of — because we no longer sense its presence or know its precepts. We have reduced conscience to cultural norms or we have "psychologized" it to be nothing more than vestiges of parental programming or mere hollow tradition passed on to us unconsciously.

And we need look no further for evidence than to the issues of birth control and abortion or "gay rights" and same-sex "marriage." Anyone with an informed conscience would see these right away as gross sins. Anyone with a less sensitive conscience would recognize abortion and same-sex "marriage" as serious moral lapses, at least.

But, in our present day, to even raise a voice against abortion or any other of these secular sacraments brings down a cascade of criticism and a torrent of judgment from the modern apostles of tolerance. Their raging and relentless rhetoric pours out of the many secular media outlets with the latest outrage of those who dare raise the idea that judgment is appropriate when it comes to sins of this scale and scope.

All we need to do to truly understand the depth of our collective moral collapse is to look to the ideas of nihilism and sociopathy. The primary goal of our modern world is the total elimination of any moral standards, moral reflection and moral judgment. And all of these are the operative aspects of conscience, its essential functions.

Now, some may say we are not hurtling toward nihilism and sociopathy — that we are just eliminating prejudice against same-sex-attracted men and women and affording them equal status and participation in civil and private life. And they claim a similar release from social judgment when it comes to birth control or abortion.

So equality and freedom become the crucial moral principles at stake in these issues.

But equality and freedom only matter if what is at stake is good, moral and right. Equality and freedom don’t apply when the behavior and attitudes are wrong, immoral and objectively evil, as all of these sins are.

And make no mistake: The primary argument for all four of these issues is moral and legal. Well, legalities are easy to dispense with, for laws are or should be grounded in morality. This is how all of us can recognize an unjust law or an unjust court decision or legal interpretation. Morality is or should be the first, final and ultimate ground for any and all law.

So the primary point of any discussion and debate is moral. Are these four moral issues — birth control, abortion, homosexual rights and same-sex "marriage" — really moral?

Is it morally right to be promiscuous or to be an adulterer? Is it really right to kill an infant growing in a woman’s womb, regardless of how the baby got there? Do we really believe these things are all right or outside of moral judgment?

Or is it right to be afforded special rights if you are attracted to a person of the same sex? Aren’t rights a function of every person’s humanness, not a function of sexual persuasion or behavior? And isn’t the crucial core component really about the morality of being same-sex attracted? Isn’t the morality of "gay marriage" really based on the sexual morality of same-sex sexual behavior? If sexual relations between two men or two women are objectively immoral, then the whole discussion about "gay marriage" is pointless, right?

In the days when conscience was common and sensitive, because it was informed and applied routinely, abortion and homosexual relations were never significant moral questions or concerns. Such issues were no-brainers. They were self-evidently immoral, wrong and shameful.

To kill an unborn, helpless child to maintain one’s social standing or to avoid financial discomfort was shameful and murderous. That is why it happened rarely. Similarly, to engage in sexual behavior in a manner counter to human nature and human anatomy was also a gross and perverse moral transgression.

But, today, in the era of "personally determined morality," when it comes to these things, the only wrong that is linked to any of these moral sins is to judge any of these behaviors as wrong or even to question their moral grounding.

That is why we can be certain the modern cultural conscience is empty or distorted. It is empty because it is devoid of any substantive content designed to train us in proper moral thinking and conduct, so we may know our guilt is real.

We know it is distorted because proportionality is so misapplied in the arguments for these flagrant evils.

And it is also empty because, even when we try to reason our way to such moral principles and their inherent truth, we as a culture come up with personal morality, situational ethics and moral relativism, all of which defy the demands of reason. For we no longer recognize reason as a source and means to know real moral truth. And moral truth is the essence and substance of conscience.

And it is an even more certain proof of the collapse of conscience that I have to go to even this brief length to make the case for the collapse of conscience on such simple and blatant moral evils that now dominate our culture.

For the mere fact that we must even think at any length at all about moral issues of such an elementary nature proves the point of this article all by itself. Promiscuity, child murder and homosexual behavior are simple and obvious moral evils.

And the need to make the case against such moral wickedness is not merely a curious and interesting matter of moral debate, but definitive and positive proof of the collapse of the West’s moral conscience.

And no further rhetoric is really needed.

Francis X. Cronin writes from eastern Connecticut.