Monday, February 18, 2013

Is the accusation of judgment leveled against the Church's public moral witness in fact a testimony to the existence of conscience?

"Seems to me that Jesus wants us to love our neighbors and leave the judging up to Him" is a typical response of many people today when they encounter the Church and her members acting in witness to their faith by speaking out on moral teachings in the public square.

Many who are completely unfamiliar with Christianity can be excused for such a simplistic misrepresentation of the work of the Church which is in obedience to Christ.  We can certainly attempt an explanation and certainly always pray for them.  Perhaps more difficult to understand would be why do people who call themselves Christian and even Catholic equate witness with judgment? Perhaps because they experience in the face of witness by word or action on the part of others what we might call the sting of an informed or educated conscience.

The modern destroyers and disrupters of nature have done much to distort the human person but they have not yet figured out how to finally and fully destroy or annihilate the conscience, that still small voice speaking out within the interior life of every human person that calls them to recognize and assent to an opinion that may be different than their own presently held position.

Perhaps when people accuse as judges those who witness to their Faith by word or action in the public square, such as young people on the March for Life each January, protestors at an abortion clinic, or bishops speaking out in defense of marriage, what they in fact are describing is their recognition of the possibility that their choices and actions may not be an autonomous expression of sovereign individual will but may in fact stand always in the light of ideas, opinions and suppositions which find their source also outside the self.  What this other source might be we need not necessarily name "truth" but even the possibility that some person or some idea may conflict with one's own is seen as an inadmissable oppression, even a crime to be hunted down and shut away if not entirely eliminated.

This, I suspect, is what people who accuse Catholics of "judgment" in fact are themselves witnessing to, even if unwittingly: that Catholics, Christians and others of good will are right to assert that every human person does indeed have a conscience and is indeed capable of using it.  Another small victory in the battle to assert the existence of natural law as a basis for public discourse?  Perhaps so.

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