Will You Follow Where Your Conscience Leads You?
When I started writing this I thought "I'm laying a trick question on my readers." For what is a conscience if not a conglomeration of beliefs and social norms laid down upon us from the generations past. Just like people say nowadays in reference to families "what is functional" the same can be said about the conscience. How do we know if our consciences are functional and based on correctness? And then whose idea of correctness? And in regard to the question, are you prepared to follow where your conscience leads you? Even if your answer is yes, how do you know where it is leading you is even right? And what makes you right about that? Why is your conscience more right than someone else's?
I thought comparing what the religious and non-religious think about conscience might help me in my considerations but it did not. In fact it confused me more. I reflected on the differences in approaches and applied them to the nation's and the world's social consciences. I found that our nation's division at this point in time to be personally confusing. The strictly religious views seemed less forgiving and judgmental than the secular viewpoints, creating in my opinion, a true oxymoron.
So in a nutshell, this is what I have learned about the conscience. Surprisingly, even though I was raised a Christian and have strong family ties to Christianity from way back, my personal conscience leans more towards the secular, believing that we are indeed a compilation of factors that impact and formulate our personal reasoning.
What is conscience?
Conscience is the inner feeling or voice that is viewed as the guide to determine the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior. Generally it is felt to be a built-in sense of what's right and what's wrong and generally controlled or inhibited by ethical and moral principles.
What factors influence your conscience?
Generally speaking influences on conscience can be broken down into categories: non-secular (religious and spiritual) and the secular (philosophical and scientific).
Morality views related to religious beliefs, regardless of the faith, relates directly to the sense of right and wrong, good and evil. Coupled with this religious view is the thought that applied reason has no influence.
Philosophical views are often describe the conscience as "practical reasoning" and achieved through contemplation, meditation, and higher thought and while the philosophical viewpoints are considered by many to be spiritual, the strictly religious consider it secular in nature.
Proponents of this view believe, like those of mainstream science, that moral reasoning is influenced by accepted beliefs garnered from learned religious cultures, parents and peers or other controlled environments, and not necessarily the part of rational consideration.
Instinctual - that an increased sense of conscience is a natural occurrence that drives and allows us to live together in groups or conversely formed by the growth of civilization as a means of living in larger groups.
Intellectual - that once adulthood is achieved, moral and other social instincts learned by the family would naturally occur.
Natural - that it would occur naturally similar to natural selection.
Regardless of faith or lack thereof, and whether or not you choose to connect conscience directly, indirectly or not at all to faith, the words inner divine presence, implies that we acknowledge, regardless of its source, an internal awareness of a collection of universal principles related to current moral standards and which dictates our motives.
What happens when social norms are skewed due to either a conscience which is over-inflated with self- or group-righteousness or conversely the opposite and either permeate society without equal weight? I believe the imbalance of the collected conscience has created the craziness that is permeating our world right now, regardless of what side of anything you sit on simply because there is no happy medium. So, maybe the better question to ask ourselves is not will you follow where your conscience leads you but do I know why my conscience is leading here and should I follow?