The Demolition of Conscience
Note well: morality is not a ready-made list of laudable and condemnable behaviors for citizens to follow with the automatism of Pavlov’s dog.
Morality is conscience, personal discernment, a quest for a goal of perfection which only gradually becomes clearer and finds its means of realization among life’s contradictions and ambiguities.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the greatest problem of moral existence is not knowing a general abstract rule, but bridging the gap between the unity of the rule and the inexhaustible variety of concrete situations, where oftentimes we are squeezed among contradictory duties or find ourselves lost in the distance between intentions, means, and results.
Luther—to dispel any notion that I am favoring the Catholics—insisted that “this life is not devotion, but rather a struggle for the conquest of devotion.”
And Saint Padre Pio da Pietrelcina said, “It is better to withdraw from the world little by little rather than all at once.”
Great literature, beginning with the Bible, is replete with examples of anguishing moral conflicts, showing that the path of good is a straight line only from the divine point of view, which encompasses all in one simultaneous glance. To us, who live in time and history, all is hesitation, twilight, trial and error. Only gradually, guided by divine grace, does the light of experience dissipate the fog of appearances.
Consciousness—especially conscience—is not an object, a thing you possess. It is a permanent effort of integration, the search for unity above and beyond the immediate chaos. It is unification of the diverse, resolution of contradictions.
The codes of conduct consecrated by society, transmitted through education and culture, are never solutions for moral problems: they are very broad and generic frames of reference that give support to conscience in its effort to unify individual conduct. They are to each person’s conscience as a building plan is to the work of a constructor: they say in a broad manner what the final form of the work must be, but not how the construction must be undertaken in each of its stages.
When codes are various and contradictory, it is the final form itself that becomes incongruous and unrecognizable, wearing down men’s souls in vain efforts which will lead them to become entangled in ever more insoluble problems, and in a great number of cases, to give up any serious moral effort. Much of the reigning relativism and amorality is not actually beliefs or ideologies: it is diseases of the soul, acquired by depletion of moral intelligence.
Under such circumstances, fighting for this or that moral principle in particular, without taking into account that, in the reigning mixture, all principles are good as fuel for keeping the cognitive dissonance engineering at work, can be of catastrophic naïveté. What needs to be denounced is not this or that sin in particular, this or that form of specific immorality: it is the whole framework of a culture set up to destroy at its foundation the vey possibility of moral consciousness. Tiger Woods’ case, which I mentioned in my previous article, is just one among thousands. Adultery scandals pop up every day in the same media that advocate abortion, free sex, and gay ideology. The contradiction is so constant and obvious that no agglomeration of curious coincidences could ever account for it. It is a political option; it is the planned demolition of moral discernment. Many people who are outraged at specific immoralities haven’t the slightest inkling of the permanent and general scandal industry, in which denunciations of immorality are usefully integrated as machines in a production line. Either the struggle against evil begins by the struggle against confusion, or it can only end up contributing to the confusion between good and evil.
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