Some Thoughts on the Pew Research Conscience Survey

A recent survey by the Pew Research Institute found:

...most Catholics say they look inward for guidance in their lives. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (73%) say they rely “a great deal” on their own conscience when facing difficult moral problems, compared with 21% who look to the Catholic Church’s teachings, 15% who turn to the Bible and 11% who say they rely a great deal on the pope.

There are a couple of problems with how the survey was conducted and how the findings are presented. One problem is that it seems to be based on an incorrect definition of "conscience." The conscience is the process of reasoning and evaluation by which general principles of morality and behavior are applied to particular situations in order to arrive at a decision on how to act. So, when the survey is presenting "the Catholic Church's teachings" or "the Bible" as alternatives to "one's own conscience," it's presenting a false dichotomy (or a false polychotomy, as it were). When one looks to Church teaching to make moral decisions, then one is using one's own conscience to make those decisions. When one looks to the Bible to make moral decisions, then one is using one's own conscience to make those decisions. The act of applying the Church's teaching or Biblical instruction to the particular situation in front of me is an act of my own conscience.

It was instructive to ask people how often they look to the Pope for moral guidance. The Pope, in this case, represents not so much a source of general principles, but rather guidance as to how the general principles in the Bible and in Catholic teaching should apply to certain modern questions of morality. However, the Pope's direction is not generally going to apply to the specific moral quandries that we encounter day to day. Rather, it could apply to the big things, like how to decide for whom to vote in an election. Therefore, the seemingly low number might not reflect the level of disregard for the Pope's teachings and exhortations so much as the level of opportunity. However, it is disappointing that the survey didn't bring up the question of whether people look to the instruction of their local priests and bishops. These are the Church leaders to which we, as Catholics, should be looking for our day-to-day guidance. The Church is a hierarchical body, and the way we approach the Church for guidance should reflect this.

However, that has its own problems, at least for me personally. When it comes to the questions of teaching and juridical authority, I have no problem with looking to the Church hierarchy. Of course, everything is viewed in the light of the constant universal Church's Tradition and teaching, so sometimes I need to "adjust" my approach to a local Church leader's instruction. But when it comes to looking to Church's leadership for guidance in my decision-making, there just seem to be too many examples of poor judgment.

For example, the other day I had occasion to review the initial reports of then Bishop, now Cardinal, Dolan's disappointment with the Obama administration in its low treatment of conscience rights, when it came to the HHS mandate's applicability to contraceptives. Here's how it was written up in the National Review article:

Dolan said he met with the president weeks ago in the Oval Office to talk about the law. Dolan said the president gave his promise the provision would go away, but it hasn’t. “It seems to be at odds with very sincere assurances that he gave me, that he wanted to continue to work with the church in these endeavors and views and projects he shared a passionate interest in, so I can’t figure it out,” Dolan said.

“When I left the Oval Office, where I was very grateful for his invitation to be there, I left with high hopes. That nothing his administration would do would impede the good work that he admitted and acknowledged in the church,” Dolan said. “And I’m afraid I don’t have those sentiments of hope now.”

Now, it seems to me beyond surprising that someone who had been elected as president of the USCCB, and someone who was on the select list as a Cardinal, would be so gullible. I didn't hear or read that Dolan had made similarly hopeful remarks prior to the announcement which prompted his disappointment regarding Obama's intentions, but had I heard them I know I would have immediately known that we (the Catholic Church) were going to get shafted. I, just a lowly parishioner in the hierarchy of the Church, would have had the wisdom to see what apparently the president of the USCCB did not.

This is, perhaps, one reason that so few Catholics bother to look seriously towards the Catholic hierarchy for conscience formation. Our shepherds really seem clueless, sometimes.

A Possible Explanation for Modern Imbecility?

When something is monumentally off, it cries out for an explanation.

Something is monumentally off in America, today. We've gone far beyond allowing the fanciful arguments against displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public schools rule the day, just because our high court is susceptible to fanciful arguments. Today, people engaged in homosexuality, as such have special rights. Today, we allow people of the same sex to pretend to get married, and then we force everybody else to go along with it. Think about that: We literally compel people, by law, to go along with people of the same sex playing at being married. Today, we allow people to pretend that their sex is whatever they want it to be, regardless of what it actually is, and force people to go along with it. Think about that: We literally compel people, by law, to go along with people playing at being a different sex than they are. And let's not forget the millions of babies we're killing.

What's so astounding is not so much that a few idiots in legislation (you really don't have to be all that smart to get elected, you see) or even fewer jerks on a bench of justices could come up with these laws and policies. What's astounding is that there seems to be broad public support for them. Not that I believe even close to a majority of people support this foolishness, but enough support it that we seem to see support for it wherever we turn.

That's what cries out for an explanation. How do we explain such astounding imbecility on the part of a significant segment of the American population?

Well, here's a thought: For nearly six decades, until it was banned throughout America in 1996, cars have been spewing tetraethyllead—known to adversely affect intelligence (among other things)—into the air. This is the anti-knock chemical in the leaded gasoline that used to be ubiquitous. Now, even though we're not putting it into the air, anymore, it's certainly settled into the soil, possibly showing up in food, and just generally making itself available for exposure to children.

Could this be what's going on? Could sixty years of exposure to a toxic chemical be what's causing people to be just plain stupid? Is it too much to hope that we just have to wait long enough for the lead we've pumped into the environment to work its way out of the system, and then people will start displaying a modicum of intelligence once more?

It would be really nice if this, or something along these lines, was the answer. That would at least mean the alternative, that people are being willfully imbecilic, is not true. Because if it is true, then things are going to get worse—much worse.

The Greatest Travesty in the History of the World

The greatest travesty in the history of the world is not the Crucifixiion of Jesus, but rather it is every person who fails to avail himself of the redemption won for him in Jesus' Passion. In this Year of Mercy, we should remember that Jesus, in His Sorrowful Passion, has redeemed every single human for every single sin against the Justice of the Father. With so great a price paid, what a horrible travesty it is, when any single person fails to accept the beautiful prize that was won for him with that price.

Some of the Good Hates

Having pointed out the modern liberal annihilation of the word "hate," depriving it of any meaning by giving it almost every meaning conceivable, I think it might be worthwhile to spend some time recollecting what the word actually means, and even considering some worthwhile applications of it. Applications of hatred itself, that is—not just the word.

The thing about the word "hate" is that it's not a "shade of meaning" kind of thing. If you're trying to evaluate whether an emotion or reaction to something is "strong enough to be considered hate," then it isn't hate. Yeah, maybe it falls into one of the definitions you might find in a dictionary. But dictionaries are just based on the ongoing, changing usage of words within the language and culture. Hate—real hate, the kind that means something, the kind that matters—actually has two meanings, and both are pretty clear-cut. The first is directed at a person, and it means "to wish evil on another." Obviously, for the Christian, there's no situation in which this kind of hate is allowable. We may be tempted to it, but it's never the right answer to a situation or a person, even an evil person.

The other meaning of the word, though, can be directed at both people and things. We might be tempted to think of it as just "strongly dislike," but it's more than that. If that were all "hate" meant, then hatred wouldn't be a bad thing. It wouldn't even amount to an accusation. No, hatred is more than just a strong dislike. To hate something is to wish for the complete eradication of it. Although we often throw the word around the word loosely, we generally know that we're using hyberbole when we do so. For example, I might say that I "hate ketchup," but I don't really mean it. My wife will say that she "hates" mustard, and while she would be perfectly happy in a world without mustard, she doesn't really mean that she specifically wants the world rid of it. Those are just examples of everyday exaggerations that all of us use. To really hate something, though, is to specifically want the world rid of it.

Again, obviously this is never acceptable when directed at a person or group of people. But when we start thinking of it in relation to an idea, behavior, or situation, then we can see that there are plenty of things we can—and should—hate. For example, we should hate cruelty. Even though we might sometimes, ourselves, feel like we want to be cruel to someone, we know it's wrong. Even if we are among those who think pain is sometimes a necessary tool, we know it's wrong to inflict pain for the purpose of inflicting pain. We are completely right to eagerly wish for the complete eradication of cruelty from the world.

Here are some other things we can (and should) hate:

  • genocide
  • murder
  • pornography
  • human enslavement and trafficking

We can also reasonably hate things that aren't related to human behavior:

  • earthquakes
  • hurricanes
  • cancer

But what we're called to hate, as Christians, is sin, and this is something we should hate in every form. This is why it's so easy for the hate-blamers to twist our valid hatred of sin into the accusation of hatred for individuals or groups. As Christians, we absolutely should hate:

  • abortion
  • homosexuality
  • fornication
  • artificial means of birth control

All of these sins, and more, should be hated by Christians. They should be hated firstly because they offend God, but right after that in the priority of reasons is that these sins destroy the souls of those who commit them, and we should love those people. In fact, our love for people should propel us all the more to hate the sins those people commit.

Test New b2evolution Upgrade

I just upgraded my b2evolution installation. This is a test to make sure everything is working.