Thursday, March 25, 2010

Freedom of Conscience PartII


Moral life, then, is evolutionary. It is a dynamic dialectic of fact and possibility, of the actual and the ideal. We must look for ideal human nature not in the past but in the future. And the key to that future is the creative moral freedom of humans. In this evolutionary framework natural law should no longer be understood as based on a static structure or essence; rather, it represents a statement of conditions for humanity’s own growth seen as a possibility and a task to be freely accomplished.
Conscience within this perspective is a developing form of self-awareness; it is to be understood as the deepest self-consciousness of humans insofar as it acts as a power of discrimination, deciding in every choice what will promote authentic selfhood and what will stand in its way. Humans on the moral level are characterized by self-development. They perceive every choice as a choice between authentic and inauthentic humanity. They see their life as having a meaning Only they can give it through free choice. Moral obligations can only be accepted; they cannot be imposed. A psychologically mature adult can be called on to commit his freedom; he cannot be called on to submit it. For as long as a human is not directing his or her or own activity on the moral level he or she is not to that extent a free agent. Consequently, to the degree that he or she is not a free agent, he or she or is neither a responsible nor a moral person.
As Ignace Lepp notes, the evolution of moral conscience takes place according to the same general laws that govern the passage of individuals and social groups from infancy through adolescence to maturity (Lepp, 1965, p. 8). The growth of human psychic life will always proceed from instinct to rational self-development, and should culminate in a continuous process in religious self-donation. On the level of religious life, conscience is transposed into love itself. Sin on this level becomes the refusal to be for others. Freedom is a true moral value for religious life only when and to the degree that it promotes a superior form of personal and community life. The fullness of moral life is to be found precisely in that act by which one establishes oneself as person in a community of persons.
With a personal community, the false notion of conscience is the idea that we are each equipped with an exclusively private source of moral information, that we have a conscience in isolation. Today’s identity crisis, its sense of alienation, and its crisis of faith are all related to the problem of the proper relation between person and institution. As John Sisk points out, modern man has been conditioned to think disjunctively of the relation of person to institution (Sisk, 1968). Institutions are the objective expressions of the communal and social aspects of ourselves. The institution tends to become the other, the enemy, only insofar as we are alienated from a part of ourselves, If a conscientious decision is really to be mine, I must make the effort of self-discovery; and I can do this only in communion with others. I cannot discover myself in isolation. Therefore, I cannot have a conscience in isolation.
If, as Vatican Council II declared, the Church in its essential reality ought to be an interpersonal community of love, then the achievement of true moral freedom and adult responsibility is a necessary condition for authentic religious life in the interpersonal community of the Church. Also, there can be no true moral authority unless a community is one of free persons. A community based upon power and subservience produces not authority but domination. Our call in Christ is a call to share in a community of love, a community in which each member retains his full personal responsibility and, consequently, his full personal freedom.
In the teachings of Paul, the negative aspect of the law was its inability to give life, precisely because it remained an external norm which did not contain in itself the dunamis, the power of life (Fitzmeyer, 1967). The law schooled man in preparation for Christ, the end of the law. The law was a temporary disposition of God permitted until mankind reached the maturity in which it would be able without a pedagogue to respond to Christ with an adult and personal commitment. The principle of Christian activity is no longer merely in the external listing of “do’s” and “don’ts” but, rather, in the internal whispering of the dynamic Spirit. Love in Paul’s teaching is the fulfillment of the law because it is itself a dynamic force impelling humans to seek the good of others. Ideal spiritual adulthood for the conscience would consist in this: that the compass of love would point the direction so unfalteringly that the external law is no longer needed. In such a human the law has been so fully assimilated, its deepest implications so much a matter of personal experience, that it has become a conscious instinct and an infallible power of discrimination. If we can assume that there has been a gradual assimilation of revelation within the community of the church, then, what the Council seems to be telling us is that perhaps today the Christian community is in a position to begin to live out Paul's concept of the new freedom which should characterize a follower of Christ in a more perfect manner than ever before.

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