Morals & Values 3: Morals and Conscience: Do We Have Them?
This is the third time I have talked about this subject from which you will gather that I think it’s important, especially in the light of some the recent events in the UK, such as riots. However I believe they are only a symptom of something deeper.
Politicians, of all shades, including the prime minister
s are discussing this subject and it is playing central stage on many TV and Radio Programmes. Perhaps, then, it really is important. There is also deep concern about our schools and our young people – how, the politicians and TV pundits ask, can we install morals into young people so that they do not smash up our streets and destroy our society?
Many responses to my talks and that can be summed up as follows, ‘Morals don’t need to come from the Bible, The Koran, or from a god, they surely can come from within ourselves?’ to which I answer, ‘yes of course they can but what sort of moral guide would that be?’
We need to go one step back and ask, why we need to have morals at all, and what is it that propels us to even ask these questions. My answer encompasses the whole issue of conscience.
What is conscience? What is our conscience? My argument would be that conscience is a part of us that we are all born with. Some people disagree with this concept and say that we don’t have a conscience, but I strongly believe that we do. We each have our own individual conscience, unique to us personally. That means that it only works for us, it doesn’t work for anyone else. What it instils in us is the general sense of right and wrong.
In a nutshell, right and wrong for you might be different to the right and wrong for me, but there will, most definitely, be a personal right and wrong. This concept is far beyond the idea that we do things because they are convenient or inconvenient or because we know we can ‘get away with it’.
How does conscience work, well for the individual, and I do stress the individual in any given situation it will say to the person, ‘yes that is right do it,’ or, ‘No, that is wrong! You should not do it.’ You conscience does not impel you, it does not force you in any direction, it will only hint at the decision you should make, the final decision that decides the action is the result of your decision making process, which I would call the will.
When you have carried out an act, you know if it is wrong without anyone telling you, you will feel uncomfortable and disturbed; the pendulum of your conscience has swung into the negative zone. For many people when they obey their consciences and do what they feel is right they often say they feel good, when they disobey their conscience they feel bad, or despondent, but the feeling does not prevent them from disobeying.
Interestingly the Bible does have some comments on this. John 1:9 is obviously talking about Jesus the Christ, but also the implication is that there is a ‘light’, or the word I use, conscience that is there in every person, and Romans 2:14 says this, “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves.” In other words we all have it, and we use it, our conscience, personally.
This means that we will have different views of right or wrong according first of all to us, and then as we grow and develop, according to what we learn from our family and surrounding culture and education.
The problem is that we all break our own rules, and go against our own conscience.
Conscience can of course be educated and that is where the moral discussion enters the stage. Who will define that moral code, will it be just me, will it be my culture, or will it be God?
It is possible for our conscience to be developed and refined by all sorts of external things, including education.
But who should define the moral code, which one will we adopt?
We need to understand that the moral code that Jesus defines is quite amazing in that it is contrary to all other moral codes that I know anything about, but please tell me if you know something different.
Think about some of those moral imperatives and how counter-culture they are; ‘love your enemies, do good to those who do bad to you,’ for starters. What sort of Moral code do you want people to follow?
What moral code is required for our culture to follow and for you personally?
3 Minute talk for UCB