The Psychology of a Sinful Conscience and the Danger Posed by AMORIS LÆTITIA
The Psychology of a Sinful Conscience
An unease of conscience, regret and self-loathing accompany sin in a person whose conscience is healthy—I know this from personal experience. I also know how conscience can be darkened (made unhealthy), how one’s heart hardened and how those warning signs become dull. This happens after making a particular decision that you know full well is against your conscience. How does conscience go dark? How do we become deprived of the voice of God echoing in our heart?
How does Conscience Go Dark?
Conscience goes dark when we stop listening to God and we make that bad decision. However, normally—being sufficiently present to one’s self—a person can hear and follow the voice of their conscience. Coming to our senses is a key teaching that has its origins in the Gospel of Luke. Like the prodigal son, we must come to our senses, recognise our sinful tendencies, and repent of them.
The spiritually healthy practice being present to themselves through an examination of conscience. Having come to their senses they are able to hear their (moral) conscience – present at the heart of every person, enjoining him/her at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. Our (moral) conscience becomes an objective judge of our particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil (Catechism, 1778).
Why then do we often fail to hear the voice of our conscience? Is it like an app that has stopped working?
The answer lies somewhere in the fact already discussed – that every person must be sufficiently present to themselves in order to hear and follow the voice of conscience. This requirement of interiority counteracts the distractions of daily life that distract us from self-reflection, self-examination or introspection (Catechism, 1779). Hence, the catechism heeds us to return to our conscience, question it, turn inward, and in everything you do, see God as your witness (St Augustine).
That’s some good advice. But it is more than life distracting us. I know as I am a serial sinner!
Resisting Coming to Our Senses
Another problem in hearing (let alone discerning and forming) our conscience lies in our own biases. The big problem arising out of Amoris Laetitia is that it suggests that conscience is a subjective personal decision made by weighing up (pre-moral – a reference to proportionalist doctrine) evil and then choosing what is reasonable. This just lends itself to our affirming our own opinions.
Guess what? These opinions and attitudes are based on what we think, reflected in the way we live our lives! Naturally, if conscience was merely subjective, it would never condemn our current lifestyle and allow us (justify, give reason, enable us) to continue without need of conversion. Hence, our resisting coming to our senses is due to more than distraction. At the heart of our resistance are our own biases that justify our own chosen lifestyle!
The big problem arising out of AMORIS LÆTITIA is that it suggests that conscience is a subjective, personal decision - allowing people to affirm their biases
Our resisting coming-to-our-senses is due to more than distraction. At the heart of our resistance are our own biases
Confirmation Bias Dulls God's Voice
Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek, interpret, and create information that verifies our existing beliefs (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2014). That is why our conscience must be objective, rather than subjective. Otherwise, conscience will only affirm our own biases, not allowing ourselves to be sufficiently present to ourselves and God who speaks to us at the depth of our hearts.
"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths" Catechism, 1776).
Kassin, Fein, & Markus. (2014). Social Psychology, 9th Edition