Conscience or ethical situationism?
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
Sometimes we face situations that evoke many questions, including the most important questions concerning men’s conscience. We wonder how conscience functions in Christian’s awareness formed by the Decalogue and the very clear foundations of religious life. During his visit to Skoczow the Holy Father John Paul II said that ‘today Poland urgently and primarily needs men and women of conscience.’ I often return to this statement because conscience is really fundamental in everyone’s life and it conditions moral and ethical evaluation of reality. Conscience is important in ordinary people’s lives as well as in the lives of representatives of science, culture and politics. I remind you of the fact that on 5 November 2000 the Holy Father John Paul II proclaimed Saint Thomas More the Patron of Statesmen and Politicians. He said, ‘Thomas More expressed fully his Christian identity, living as a husband, exemplary father and educated statesman in the world. In order to remain faithful to God and to his conscience this man of spotless moral attitude renounced everything: honours, family bonds, even his life. But he gained the most valuable thing – the Heavenly Kingdom and from there he watches over those who devotedly serve human family, working in civil and political institutions.’
Thomas More did not approve Henry VIII’s decision concerning his second marriage and he had to die. And that’s why, there are martyrs in the Church since they were men and women of conscience, faithful to the views they proclaimed, views that brought people closer to God. Since conscience is such a mysterious mechanism that makes us choose the right way. You cannot say that your views are your private matters and one cannot say that when a politician enters his state office he should leave his views behind. No! Conscience always goes with people to all places. Catholics cannot act against their conscience. Human law cannot be over God’s law. Various countries have so many laws that are contrary to the Decalogue, God’s Revelation and consequently, Catholics cannot say that if some state (civil) law allows some behaviour, e.g. allows using the so-called soft drugs, they can use them. What conscience does is to penetrate the core of matters, the depth of reality in which we are living. You cannot apply your ethical views after work while at work you do things that are not in conformity with the dictates of your conscience. And it has happened many a time. I talked to some censors who said something else in private but when they were to decide they claimed to be civil officials and had to guard the binding law. At some moment those people stopped thinking decently and began thinking ‘in a civil way.’ But there is no double conscience. There is only one conscience and you should do your best to have it well-formed. Today we also see that some politicians apply double measure; on the one hand, they acknowledge certain atheistic instructions, the principles of the European Union, which reject God, and on the other hand, they regard themselves as good Catholics. You should order this in some way, first of all on the level of man’s awareness. Conscience goes with people; it goes and evaluates things. First, it appears as antecedent conscience, and then while we do something we have concomitant conscience and finally, we speak about consequent conscience. Unfortunately, ethical situationism is when some people think that in certain situations they should act differently than their voice of conscience. The Church, in accordance with the teaching of Lord Jesus, must care for stable conscience and obliges Catholics to testify to this. Thomas More gave such a testimony of faith many times and in the end, he freely gave up his life. Therefore, he is a wonderful Christian patron of statesmen and politicians. We also would like to have politicians with correct conscience, politicians who will follow God’s commandments, God’s teaching and God’s law. This requires reflection, prayer and inner work. Certainly no civil officials can think that they are faithful to God if they leave the principles of faith behind the doors of their offices in which they follow ‘state conscience’. There is no such a conscience! There is only one conscience: today we would call it some moral GPS of man, and in Skoczow John Paul II spoke about such a type of conscience. Poland, Europe and the world need men and women of healthy consciences.