On Conscience

But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


We are a guilt/innocence society. We depend our conscience, our inner sense to confirm whether or not we are wrong or right. When our consciences are clear, then we know that we are innocent. When we feel guilty, then our conscience eats away at us. Usually it takes confession and forgiveness for the burden of guilt to be removed. But when it comes down to it – we trust our conscience to guide us into the right course of action and the right set of beliefs.
My friends often tell me that you can be certain that you’re doing the right thing when you feel blessed, happy, affirmed, and even joyful. They would tell me to trust my conscience when it says to do something. But when I don’t feel my conscience telling me to do something – then I must disobey my conscience when it would have me disobey scripture. It makes me wonder – how I can be sure my conscience is right just because Scripture happens to agree with it?
Think back to the era of slavery – this institution didn’t exist apart from Scripture and Christians, but in part through it and because of it. In a documentary I’ve watched over the past week, Frederick Douglass recalls: “I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture–“He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.“” That’s Luke 12:47.
It was the realization that slavery was a violation of their conscience that drove the Abolitionists to those very same scriptures to assert the equality of all people and call for the freedom that had been so very long denied. Again, it was conscience that was the heartbeat of the Civil Rights era that put two sets of Christians against each other using the Bible as the dividing line. “Obey authorities!” Said one. “We’re all one in Christ!” Said the other.
So too, our consciences are moving in us to take stands on issues such as women in ministry and LGBT inclusion. Our consciences are guiding us in our beliefs – and it’s very much an individual thing. All of us have come to decide on an individual basis who or what God is to us, how we ought to worship Him/Her/It, what God would have us do is not necessarily the same exact conclusion a brother or sister in the faith will draw and we’re okay with that whereas in the past there used to an idea of a “one true, right way” and there was no limit to the heartbreak because of disagreements and violence that resulted from the imposition of that standard upon others.
The problems arise when one group decides that their conscience ought to be the standard that all consciences must obey, going against their own standards and bowing to ideas that are not necessarily their own. Worship is a personal thing, it cannot be made into an exercise of conformity and retain a sense of personal relationship; rather, it betrays it’s own nature to make it a ‘one size fits all’ approach. When we are told that we cannot trust our conscience, then that means that we cannot be certain our senses of right and wrong are right or wrong. Now i know most at this point would say: “Good! God is our objective standard of morality! There’s no truth in morality being subjective – then you would have people reaching opposite conclusions and you know that one or both of them are wrong. But with an objective standard of morality, then you know that God is never wrong!” The problem lies not in God being an objective standard, but that the people who interpret and apply Scripture are very much subject to their own whims and desires – that’s evident in how we have historically used the Bible to support both sides in all sorts of conflicts. And since the Bible can never be wrong, then both sides must be correct. The only thing that can decide for us which way to go is our conscience – it will either rage with a burning zeal for the truth of the Scriptures or beat with a ceaseless and tireless love for others in that living out of the Spirit of the Word sort of way.
Sometimes it’s not enough to be “not wrong” – in it’s day and age, pro-slavery advocates were not wrong, Scriptures did affirm slavery, sanction it’s limits, and instructed the masters and slaves how to interact. But they weren’t exactly right – slavery in the Bible never really was the same sort of slavery in the World. The instructions God gave to the Israelites weren’t the ones the Romans had decided to follow when they were in power. Slavery in the American South (and the rest of the world, for that matter) looked nothing like what God had asked the Israelites to do. Even today slavery hasn’t been erased from the face of our planet, in far too many lawless regions it thrives in one form or another. We can look to Scriptures – but ultimately it’ll be on our consciences to provoke us into action and wake us up from inaction – on this and all other matters of conscience.


We’ll have to ask ourselves on all things: “Is it right?”


12 thoughts on “On Conscience

    • Thanks! It seems like a lot of my thoughts center on ideas championed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi lately. It seems a great many problems arise in Christianity when people are told to ignore their conscience and obey the Scriptures. There does seem to be this disconnect about the golden rule – too many don’t stop to consider how others feel about how they have been treated. I wonder if that’s part of the reason why so many have left the institutional church in recent decades.

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      • Could it be Matthew 23? It seems to me that many Christians have fallen for a spirit of legalism, the more they stand on the inerrant and infallible Scriptures, the more their eyes are taken off of Christ and him crucified (which was Paul’s main point.) It’s almost as if the Old Testament rules were over-written with a New Testament version, but the tendency to teach obedience remained intact. It’s just not enough to be obedient to the letter of the law, Jesus wanted people’s hearts and minds to change – to look at people from a different perspective. It seems that legalists focus on how righteous they are and their teachers are – they’re the first to drop sinners out of their lives. That’s not the kind of Christianity we should be, but it’s pretty common these days.

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      • You’ve struck the exact chord there!
        And of course they will not consider:
        1) The Bible has been translated several times.
        2) The context of the times (particularly in the Old Testament)
        3) That there is often the use of a poetic allegory which does not translate very well
        To name but a few.
        (Sorry if I sounded heated but I’ve just been doing my daily penance of a UK ‘religion’ forum, which is now the property of the more accusatory style of atheism. Trying to get proper exchange of views is hopeless, because here is the irony, their view of Christianity is it comprises only the sort you have highlighted. It’s as if they are the other side of the same coin).
        Ooh back to WP for some fresh air, where you can talk to someone of any faith or absence of faith in a friendly way
        Take care. Keep up the posts

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      • I get it – and I’ve been there quite a few times. I see that the ultra-conservative bunch tends to be extremely vocal and it’s difficult for liberal or progressive Christians to get a fair hearing, after all, the far louder conservatives are constantly calling everyone else heretics. It’s not that Christian views aren’t diverse, we have schools of thought that lie on every spectrum, but it’s difficult for them to get out of their smaller circles and into the wider realm of Christianity and beyond. The things that do get popular enough to be familiar to athiests – Purpose Driven Life and Left Behind, for example – tend to be pushed by the conservatives. Other books, like Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” achieves a measure of notoriety, but because his views aren’t seen as representative of Christianity it can be difficult to use works such as his as a frame of reference.

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      • This is very true.
        What does help the cause of the ultra conservatives are the ill-informed attacks by the minority sector of atheists. These also get more attention, and tend to get Christians to close ranks, which is good for the ultra-conservatives, which is good for that grouping of atheists.
        Trying to have a conversation with a view to exchanging views is a wearisome business; neither are the least bit interested in asking the question “So, tell me. How does that work for you?” and then pondering on it.

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      • It’s interesting in it’s similarities to the perception of Islam that it’s violent, it’s radical factions need us to feed into their power base this mistrust of their teachings and interpretation of their holy book. Islam’s moderates and liberals struggle to get their message heard. Every time the radicals claim responsibility for some attack, their liberals and moderates try to denounce them – but the media coverage of the attack tends to drown out any attention on the message from the moderates and liberals that the radicals do not represent what they believe. The similarities seem to be a great starting point to question why it is that conservatives are like that and how it benefits them. For Christians, there’s a lot of money that changes hands to support their conservative ideas – money and power tend to go hand-in-hand, and when it’s backed up by a movement of God, people can get this idea that what they’re doing is blessed by God because it’s big, it’s bringing in money that can do a lot of good in God’s name, and people the world over are paying attention to their ideas so they must be doing everything right.
        Sometimes though, I think conservative Christians are like that reality show contestant who are so outrageous they just get voted through to the next round to see what antics they pull next – I’ve seen so many who are full of hate and vitriol that there’s precious little of God’s love in them and people think they represent Christianity. It’s just feeding into their power to be hated (persecuted in their book) for saying outrageous comments (standing on the truth of the Word of God) and like-minded brothers and sisters unite under their banner to give them even more power. It seems like we need to find a way to make our liberal and moderate’s voices heard, that would destroy a lot of their power in how they’re perceived as representing Christianity.

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      • It is very difficult for moderates to be heard.
        Not only must they battle against the extreme wings of their own beliefs, they have to deal with the prejudice and bigotry from outside.
        I have seen kindly and moderate Muslim posts howled or ‘snarked’ down by racists, fashionable cynics, people from goodness-knows-what religion (Christian I guess) and atheists, all claim they see a hidden or an insincere motive.
        I’ve finished another tour on a religion forum and was much bemused by otherwise quite eloquent and knowledgeable people display not only a dreadful ignorance of Christianity, but a blinkered prejudice.
        I think all we can do for the present is fight a small battles of our own spreading the words of Compassion, Tolerance and Respect, knowing we know we will be mocked or protested against by the ‘more committed’ or ‘more enlightened’ or the ‘more wise’.
        I take comfort from the fact that the majority of people can be very fair minded if you treat them so.

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      • One of my shows has this code: “One raindrop raises the sea.” I’d like to think that’s what each of us is – one drop that doesn’t seem like much and it can be pretty quiet, but altogether, a waterfall, the sea – it’s a sound that you just can’t miss. Our message might be garbled for now, but there are moments when we pull together and nothing stops the idea that love really is a great idea – no amount of hatred or vitriol has ever gotten the better of the message of love which somehow drowns out hatred even when it’s the language of a powerful group of people.

        Liked by 1 person

...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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