Let’s Talk Conscience, PART 2

General Overview of the Conscience

This section is provided here, as it was in Part 1,  to once again define the conscience before reading further.

The conscience is the mind and guardian of the soul as the brain is the mind of the body. The former is immortal, meaning that it has a beginning but no end and the latter (the human brain) is mortal, meaning that it has a beginning and an end. The conscience and the brain work harmoniously as one growing and maturing as one. Depending on the degree to which it is related to its Creator’s original design for human well-being, the conscience leads the individual in the right way and the right place or in the wrong way and in the wrong place. Based on one’s choices and often the law under which one is lives, the quality or character of the conscience moves between good and bad, right and wrong throughout one’s life.

The work of conscience is clearly depicted in the choice Joshua offers to the nation of Israel: “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15). So the choice is: choose the God of creation and/or His way or choose the ways of the world. Choose wisely! The quality of your life and your eternal destiny hang in the balance.

 How does “being offended” affect freedom of conscience?

The definition of “offend,” and its derivatives in the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, is to irritate, annoy, or to anger; cause resentful displeasure in; to insult, to hurt or cause pain (mostly emotional and intellectual). It also refers to the violation or transgression of the criminal, religious or moral law.

The Scriptures add some clarity to the “offending others” issue. “Offend,” and its derivatives, occur no less than 25 times in the New American Standard Bible and are the translations of 18 words (used 13 times in the Old Testament and 12 times in the New Testament). Biblically, the word means, to act corruptly, to miss the mark, to sin, to transgress, go wrong, to rebel, act wickedly, to cause to stumble (9 times using three Greek words), to be loathsome, foul, unseemly, unsavory, neglectful, the guilty one or wicked one.

In America, no faith or philosophy should force others to embrace or submit to its individual and strongly held tenets. In a free society (or any society to be exact), people need to be won over by reason, debate, and by example. This is exactly how Christ confronted the world in which He was born; however, he did not live in a society that welcomed debate, especially over His claim to be Israel’s Messiah. Although His powers, authority or confidence in His faith and Person, and His prophetic remarks were offered to the people, He in no way demanded belief in Himself; in fact, he knew that few grasped the significance of His presence; the majority saw Him as an interesting person who had the ability to meet many of their wants and needs. The ruling class (Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Herodians—those loyal to Rome) was most offended by Him because He challenged the tenets of their own faith and politics that were inconsistent with His (Matthew 13:57; 15:1-14; Mark 6:1-6). His success in the public square so threatened the power of the elites that they eventually went to the governor of Judea to request His imprisonment and execution. The lack of confidence in their own faith and Christ’s growing popularity among the citizenry were more than they could handle. They would not lose their power to a greenhorn from Nazareth, no matter His tremendous ability to handle the Scriptures or present His messianic claims. They even resorted to attributing his powers to Satan. In the context of our discussion, all this is fine except for the method the rulers used to silence the “offender” of their consciences, which was to use the force of law to defeat Him. People are so afraid of being wrong, seen as wrong, or losing power that they resort to legal solutions rather than debate in the public square. Truth, over time, wins out in a free society because the consequences of bad ideas eventually surface and change minds. Jesus never removed Himself from a debate unless it was to avoid being killed before He had completed His ministry on the earth. His conscience was mature, even when others considered Him guilty of violating the Law. He simply responded with confidence, silenced the critics to their dismay, and went about loving all who gave Him audience.

Today, Christians continue to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but like Christ, they are being driven from the public square (public schools, universities, politics, government institutions) by force of law. They are ironically becoming non-citizens in a nation they helped to found so that not only they but also those who differ philosophically from them, could live freely and prosperously. To pray, a Christian must deny his conscience and pray in a way that would not offend any other school of thought; to teach, he must refrain from using any term that relates to his “offensive” beliefs; to be a politician, she must refrain from supporting positions that are consistent with her faith. Doing otherwise proves that he or she is intolerant, insensitive, racist, regressive, offensive, and phobic in any number of ways. In fact, no matter where Christians live, the force of law is silencing, subjecting, and killing them. Freedom of conscience is subjugated so that no one is offended except the Christian who patiently endures every offense, hoping that God will grant them safety and equal participation in society with all other citizens, as the United States Constitution was written to ensure.

While offense (being offended) is natural to or can be expected by those outside one’s faith perspective, i.e., “conscience group,” it is essential that Christians do not behave in a manner inconsistent with Christian doctrine and, thereby, bring discredit upon the redemptive message of the Gospel; that is, cause one to stumble (be offended) at the message unnecessarily (2 Corinthian 6:3).  Christians are not in the business of offending for shock value or for any lesser reason. The pervasive duty/desire to love God and one’s neighbor transcends immature or blind projection of one’s core beliefs (1 Corinthians 10:24-33). “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is an acceptable guide, as long as the behavior does not violate the moral will of God, which is the basis of a good and mature conscience. Customs in various countries can and should be respected, even though they are not customs one would adhere to if she were in her own country. This principle is what Paul meant when he said that he could be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:23, 33); his hope was that his non-compromising courtesy for their customs, would give him the opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ. The person who sacrificing personal habits and desires for the benefit or edification of others, while keeping his or her conscience intact, acts from love (a mature and, therefore, confident and resolute conscience) rather than from ignorance, fear, threat or force of law (an immature and, therefore, unconfident or irresolute conscience.

Producing and placing a sign on my private property or in my neighborhood that reads “Jesus Saves” might be an undue or unnecessary offense for my neighbors. My love for them requires my conscience to consider whether such a sign is in my neighbors’ best interest. In this instance, my proximity to them gives me the opportunity to interact with them daily, which suggests that the sign is not worth the frustration/offense it might bring to my neighbors and the discredit it might bring to my faith (2 Corinthians 6:3). However, a church/synagogue, whatever, would be free to place a sign on its private property or buy signage on public property to advertise, which, though being offensive to some, is appropriate and deserves patience from those who have the same opportunities to promote their core beliefs in such a venue. Neither example negatively affects freedom of conscience. The first example maintains freedom of conscience, but for the good of his neighbors and his “conscience group,” freedom or liberty is personally or willingly suspended for the benefit of others. In the second instance, freedom of conscience is publicly expressed and the natural offense that results in others due to their core beliefs is accepted without interfering in another’s pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A mature and, therefore, confident conscience can live, think and share in this environment without the force of law intervening to favor one side over another. This environment is called a free, civil, and productive society.

If a religious community or secular philosophy cannot agree to or is inconsistent with the founding principles that ensure a republican democracy–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of each individual–it becomes a threat to freedom and civil society and, therefore, must be rejected. Freedom of conscience and civil society, and the corollary technologies and improvements in human well-being do not and cannot exist within systems of thought that require the force of law to subject the many to the will of the few. Americanism is inconsistent with totalitarianism, fascism, communism, socialism and radical Islam, all of which cannot survive in an environment that respects all human life, freedom of thought and the innovation and creativity of the human spirit. In the aforementioned perspectives, these essential and distinctive qualities must be repressed for the sake of the philosophy—ideology trumps reality. The citizens, therefore, exist for the good of the system rather than the system existing for the good of its citizens. In this repressive environment, the citizens of the “offending perspective” must be forcibly converted, subjected or killed. Until America was founded and its principles established, this depressed and unfulfilled state of being was the fate for the vast majority.

In a free and civil society, being offended is as common and expected as breathing. The non-repressive environment made America the grand exception among the nations of the world. People could express their opinions in the hope that some would catch on while others, if not most, would and should naturally be rejected. But at least we could converse and behave according to our consciences on an equal plane without threat to our well-being, be called salacious names, or have the government favoring one school of thought over another. Being annoyed or irritated (offended) with another’s opinion or belief was not cause for legal action. Nonetheless, the public square is now the private chambers of a select few who believe they are wiser than the “ignorant masses,” which relativism created through the academic prohibition of dissimilar thought and a moral expectation. This is not progressive; it is simply the same old offensive history of tyranny that the world cannot seem to shed.

How does tolerance affect freedom of conscience?

According to the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, tolerance is defined as 1. A fair and permissive attitude toward those whose race, religion, nationality, etc, differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. 2. A fair and permissive attitude, toward opinions and practices, that differs from one’s own. 3. Any liberal, undogmatic viewpoint. 4. The act, or the capacity of enduring; endurance. To tolerate is to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act without prohibition or hindrance (emphasis added). All this sounds pretty good.

A question needs to be asked: What philosophical mindset or religious perspective represents the standard by which others are tolerated? Over the last two centuries, the ever-growing and more prominent philosophy that has twisted its way into the universities, politics and the entertainment industry is secular humanism. Rather than a search for truth, secular humanism sees the world as an indiscriminate moral-free playground where anything but absolutes is worshipped. The primary principle that guides secular humanism is cultural or anthropological relativism; that is, the belief that all cultures are basically good—the concept of truth is, therefore, relative. Truth depends on the person or culture. “To each his/her own.” In this perspective, there are no absolute objective truths; therefore, there can be no “oughts” and “ought nots,” no good versus evil; nor can morality have a place in such a culture. Belief goes no higher and no deeper than the human expression of its own will. The likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Marx, Hegel, Weil, Freud, Darwin, Nietzsche, Lenin, Stalin, Russell, William Reich, Heidegger, Marcuse, Adorno, Fromm, Horkheimer, Gramsci, Lukacs, Sanger, Dewey, Kinsey, Sagan, Derrida, Foucault, Spock and more are the proponents of relativism, diversity, and multiculturalism, which are the founding principles of secular humanism that replace life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—principles that cannot survive without a moral foundation.  With relativism, there is no God, with diversity, there is no unifying principle, and with multiculturalism, no culture is better than another. Can secular humanism truly be the brew for being happy or the path to a universal utopia that it claims? Such an expectation is void of reason, inconsistent with objective science and systematically perilous.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn would agree with this last assessment: “There is a disaster, however, which has already been underway for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging everything on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects” (A World Split Apart, June 8,1978 327th Commencement Address at Harvard University). What does a tolerated and legally supported despiritualized and irreligious humanistic conscience, which is full of imperfection, look like? It is cold, indifferent, self-centered, shameless, guiltless and/or laden by false-guilt, anger, and violence. Its footprints are free love, pornography, sexually transmitted disease, disrespect for authority, single parenting, latch-key children, homosexuality (today pedophilia and bestiality are being defended more and more), abortion at all stages in pregnancy (55 million dead from 1973 through 2012), partial birth abortion, euthanasia, lying and corruption by political leaders, international conflicts, cloning, endless materialism and worst and most dangerous of all, a cowardice among those who are culturally and legally required to tolerate these so-called acts of freedom that are nothing more than licentious and cultural putrefaction. The now predominant humanistic worldview leaves the consciences of its adherents immature and unable to mature. The conscience cannot mature in a moral vacuum any more than freedom can be sustained void of moral boundaries. A relativist (secular humanist), by definition, is one who cannot discriminate against anything and, therefore, is confident in nothing and offended by everything. The result: immature consciences whose purpose is dispersing meaningless and moral-less declarations in the hope that mind-numbed adults with child-like minds will, by force of law, save the world. The whole philosophy is so irrational and contrary to common sense that only the force of law could marshal its success. Tolerance eventually destroys freedom.

What is the virtue embraced by Humanism that is required only of its opponents?

That virtue is tolerance. It is required in all those who embrace a Judeo-Christian ethic, whether these people are believers and not. What is then a pox upon the Judeo-Christian ethic is power for the secular humanist and socialist. In the West, tolerance is expected of and forced upon all who embrace absolutes and reject relativism, diversity, and multiculturalism. Simply stated, tolerance is a one-way street protected from the influence that might come from an on or off ramp. Side-streets are even a threat to it. What reaction follows when someone suggests that a little reconstruction needs to take place on the humanistic highway? “I’m offended, Mr. Legislator. Please make them stop being intolerant racists and phobes.” Relativists are hurt, annoyed, or irritated that someone would dare to disagree with them, so they turn to government (especially the judicial branch) to enforce their will in order to free them from accountability in the public square, where they fail. And what do the decent, moral, and gentle offenders do? They 1) generally accept tolerance as a virtue (first error), rather than the vice it is, and 2) subject themselves to being the “tolerated,” put up with and put upon underclass (second error). They erroneously conclude that no one wants to or even should be intolerant when the opposite is not only true but necessary to challenge philosophies and religions that might be detrimental to civil society.[1]

Genuine tolerance can only exist in a non-relativistic world (i.e., a world that searches for truth in order to embrace it). In this context, tolerance is a negative term; one tolerates error or evil to their detriment; hence, intolerance protects what is right and good, i.e., the truth. In point of fact, tolerance is now a weapon wielded improperly and unjustly to create legal offenses against those whose existence is repugnant and threatens the plans of the secular and atheistic humanist agenda. It is used to create humanly instigated and enshrined rights at a time when it is culturally necessary to reassert human conscientiousness and obligation, i.e., respect for human life and potential in the context of moral responsibility. The human conscience, when healthy, is naturally averse to or offended by humanistic relativism; therefore, starving the conscience leaves it immature and prone to evil, spiritually dead at worst and morally deadened at best.

During contemplation of the free exercise of religion clause for the Virginia Constitution, James Madison helped in its final phrasing by addressing his concern of the use of the word “toleration”, which interestingly enough he viewed as an impediment to the liberty of conscience. George Mason had suggested that the language read: “all men shou’d enjoy the fullest Toleration in the Exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience” (Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography, American Political Biography Press: Newtown, CT, 1971, p. 72). Having been influenced by Thomas Paine, who believed that tolerance was nothing more than the imitation of intolerance, both being despotisms, Madison believed that “tolerance” was inherently a calculated offense deployed to belittle and threaten less influential faiths; therefore, he worked to have the word stricken from the Constitution. His rewrite, which was adopted and included in the Virginia Constitution, reads: “all men are created equally entitled to the full and free exercise of religion according to the dictates of Conscience; and therefore that no man or class of man ought, on account of religion to be invested with peculiar emoluments or privileges” (Ketcham, p. 72), meaning that equal expressions of faith and the dictates of conscience could not be undermined by force of law. “The change is crucial because it made liberty of conscience a substantive right, the inalienable privilege of all men equally, rather than a disposition conferred as a privilege by established authorities” (Ketcham, p. 73), which at this time would have been the State of Virginia and the Anglican Church. Religious beliefs were not to be “put up with” or tolerated—they are the equal expressions of conscience by equal and free people, one person not better than another. Though the expressions of a free conscience may not be equal in value or be accepted by the majority, they are, nonetheless, able to be held and practiced privately and within one’s own ‘conscience group,” without the force of law either pro or con, and welcomed in the public square where they can be debated and accepted or rejected by others. There is only one indispensable and revealing caveat—ideas, whether religious or secular, should not be permitted to endanger the “preservation of equal liberty or the existence of the State” of Virginia (Madison in Ketcham, p. 72.). Those philosophies/faiths, which reject the requisite principle that all men are equal and free to live by the dictates of conscience, are a clear and present danger to the Republic and, therefore, not tolerated by the government, which is primarily empowered to protect the inalienable rights of its citizens. George Washington echoed James Madison’s concern over the use of the word “tolerance” and the role of conscience in a statement he read to the Newport, RI Jewish community.

All [the citizens of the United States] possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their own natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support (Os Guinness, p. 59, emphases added).

America should not tolerate any group or class of people that threaten the citizenry’s natural and protected rights. Those who reject our Declaration of God-given inalienable rights are the offenders, not we who defend them. Instead of being protected and sustained by force of law, as many relativists are today, they should be publicly rebuffed, bought into disrepute, and defeated in the public square. The Federal and State Governments should in no way provide financial support to any public institution that is at odds with or violates the United States Constitution. We have for too long tolerated thinking that is a clear and present danger to the United States as founded and constituted. If people are offended by the U. S. Constitution and do not want to work within it to change it, emigration is a viable option. No one is forced to stay here.

Do we, who love this country and the opportunities it affords every citizen, have the courage to defend what others gave us in life and death? Do we understand that evil is ubiquitous and, if tolerated, defeats those who tolerate it? We are told, “No,” and threatened not to offend immoral, corrupt and lawless people while they regularly, systematically and unapologetically offend us. But we remain silent (tolerant) and compliant with their false accusations of intolerance as the liberties, that we are expected to preserve for future generations, are raped one after another. Courage! Where is the courage to stand up, speak up and defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Stop worrying about offending the offender and start offending with well-placed statements of the truth. Stop depending on politicians, talk radio hosts, and lawyers to fight your battles. They have their place, but so do we. Exercise your conscience in the public square. Join in the fight unashamedly and confidently as a citizen sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States or be a willing casualty of a one-sided war. Respectfully, but firmly respond to people who share offensive ideas in your presence; challenge them to defend their vile or misinformed statements. Don’t worry about being called phobic names—such wounds will only make you stronger. We all must engage locally (it is every citizen’s constitutional obligation) if we are to affect national policy for the good and preserve a good American conscience. To defy your good conscience in the face of evil will make you a compliant participant in its folly and gradually weaken your conscience until it is of no good value to you or others. An educated prediction: If opponents to relativism and its political arms, socialism, and communism, do nothing and lose the culture war in the United States, they will be equally responsible for a cataclysmic human tragedy the likes of which the world has yet to see. Where there is a void of truth, evil floods in without restraint. Those who are seekers of freedom and truth and then embrace freedom and the truth are the only restraints to pure evil in the world. If you think being a restraint against evil is a daunting obligation, it is. I am thankful that Christ has assured me that my life in this world is just one of two lives I will live: one temporal and the other eternal. Courage in the midst of conflict is a gift from God; foolishness disguised as courage in the midst of conflict is a deception of the devil. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn aptly warned: “. . . from ancient times, declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end” (A World Split Apart, 1978 Harvard University commencement address). This ends a brief exhortation brought to you by the liberty of conscience.

Can a person be without a conscience?

The depth of evil in the world suggests that the answer to this question is, “Yes!” Sometimes, we hear the phrase, “He has no soul.” or “Her behavior suggests that she has no conscience.” In reality, both statements are inaccurate. The word soul is used improperly to refer to the conscience; however, the soul and conscience are not synonymous; they are distinct. The soul is each person’s true and eternal self; the conscience is the “guardian of the soul” and an indicator as to whether or not a person is morally strong or weak. It is not necessarily an indicator of one’s spiritual state; the conscience is not an indicator of one’s salvation. A good conscience is evidenced by moral and ethical thinking and living, which is or at least more consistent with biblical truths; that is, the character of God.  While the conscience can be corrupted (weak, defiled, evil, or seared), it cannot be destroyed. A good conscience will be a good guardian to the soul and an influential and productive guest in civil society. To the degree that the conscience is corrupt, the soul, the human being, is left unprotected by its moral indifference and, therefore, is free to roam without checks and balances, able to do the most heinous of acts imaginable. The fact is that everyone has a conscience. The problem arises when a person chooses or is indoctrinated from childhood and in liberal institutions of “higher learning” to ignore God-given moral principles. These people are denied or choose to deny the aptitude to live as divinely created human beings. Instead, they become misguided, self-centered and potentially destructive beings reflecting more animal-like behaviors than human. The depth to which their consciences have sunk leads to the horrors of total depravity.

Conclusion

A mature conscience is a vital protection for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and more importantly, for a life lived to promote loving kindness, justice, and righteousness. The conscience is a morally sensitive and necessary component of every human being if he or she is to be spiritually, emotionally and physically productive in life and genuinely free from human nature’s natural inclination to despise moral authority. When it is denied expression or squelched by government fiat or moral obfuscation, it remains or becomes immature and is, therefore, unable to protect as divinely intended. Once government legislatively props up one school of thought over another, the consciences of many are handicapped and bigotry and persecution follow. With the force of law, the government propped-up school of thought no longer needs to survive on its own merits, a challenge to which all philosophies and religions should and must submit. All schools of thought must be open to debate in the public square. Without scrutiny or with the power of government behind one particular school of thought, the possibility of bad ideas initiated by one group going unchallenged and implemented is predictable and extremely dangerous.

To survive in a world of disparate thought, freedom of conscience must be protected. Unfortunate in the minds of some, but nonetheless true, this protection of conscience is only achievable in a Judeo-Christian environment that honors the Golden Rule: “However you want people to treat you, so treat them” (Matthew 7:12). Love of God and one’s neighbor ensures that treatment of others is moral and selfless. Honoring this tenet has produced greatness in the West while its disregard has brought disaster to the West and throughout the world. The history of humanity is awash with destruction and death because it chooses to ignore God’s grace and guidance. A good conscience is a terrible thing to lose.

Finally, being offended by the opinion of another person or group is not a criminal act on their part; it is a natural corollary to life in a free society that treasures debate in every field of study. In fact, my personal contention is that a mature conscience, bolstered by a moral outlook on life—especially one that respects the divine rights to life, liberty, and the realization of one’s full potential—breeds a healthy confidence that is difficult, if not impossible to offend, simply because other ideas are no longer a threat, but an opportunity for deeper understanding, even if such a study results in the rejection of the idea. A good conscience is an indispensable moral defense against humanity’s natural inclination to self-destruct. When it is devoid of divine influence and doused in moral decay, the evil conscience is a destructive force that must be confronted and defeated, hopefully through debate.

From the passage below, it is obvious that modern liberalism isn’t the new social remedy that will bring forth the great human utopia. As is always the case with secular humanism (modern liberalism, progressivism, and socialism), the reality is always the exact opposite.

Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood,
 And sin as if with cart ropes;
Who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it;
And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near
And come to pass that we may know it.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
And clever in their own sight.
Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine,
And valiant men in mixing strong drink;
Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.

Isaiah 5:18-23 (NASB

[1] See Revelation 2:20—the word “tolerate” is used only one time in the New American Standard Version, of the Old and New Testament, to translate the Greek word, aphiemi: to permit. The word condemns the Church at Thyatira for tolerating Jezebel, whose teachings lead God’s people astray into immorality and false religion.

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I am a published author, co-author and editor of 13 books, written numerous articles, taught online at Liberty University and Grace College (Indiana), and appeared on numerous radio and TV programs. I am a theologian, bioethicist and retired veteran.

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