Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Natural Law: The Five Furies of Conscience

[Number six in a series]

This continues to look at the concept of natural law - primarily tied to ideas presented in What We Can't Not Know, by J. Budziszewski (J Bud from here out) - almost everything below is an idea from J. Bud.

As I posted in in "Natural Law: It's Source and Discernment":

The curiosity is that those things that natural law theorists would say comprise the natural law cut across cultures, time, religion, and philosophy - in other words they are nearly universal. The reason is that these are general revelations of God that overflow from His character because we are all created in His image. That, of course, leads us to the means to discern it: we look in the moral codes of the whole planet for those similarities that appear - those things that we "just know" are right and wrong.

In the chapter "Some Objections" in the book linked above Budziszewski raises an objection and answers it:

Objection: "You natural law thinkers seem confused about whether natural law comes from God, from nature, from conscience, or from reason.

Answer: Traditionally, the authority of natural law has been found in the Creator, its content in the design He has imparted to us - which is also part of the design, and which includes deep conscience as a part.
However, our deep conscience is warped by our own surface conscious:
Romans 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate . . . 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.

J. Bud analyzes how the conflict between our knowledge (deep conscience) and beliefs (surface conscience) shows up. He talks about:

The Five Furies of Conscience

Conscience has a number of faces:
  • In cautionary mode, it alerts us to the peril of moral wrong and generates

  • In accusatory mode, it indicts us for the wrong we have already done.
The most common way this happens is through the first fury: remorse. J. Bud points that this is the least of the furies: we do not always feel remorse when we do wrong, and some people never feel it. Even if we do not feel remorse, guilty knowledge
generates objective needs for confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification. These other furies are the greater sisters of remorse: inflexible, inexorable, and relentless, demanding satisfaction even when mere feelings are suppressed, fade away, or never come
This leads to the most harrowing mode:

  • In avenger mode, it punishes the soul that does wrong but refuses to read the indictment. How this works is easy to grasp. The normal outlet:
    1. of remorse is to flee from wrong;
    2. of confession is to admit what one has done;
    3. of atonement is to pay the debt;
    4. of reconciliation is to restore the bonds that have been broken; and
    5. of justification is to get back in the right

    If we do not do "feed" the furies the right way; then they will be fed in some other way - driving our lives further out of kilter. For example:
    1. we do not flee from wrong, but just from thinking about it;
    2. we compulsively confess every detail of the story but the moral;
    3. we punish ourselves again and again offering every sacrifice but the one demanded;
    4. we simulate the broken bonds of intimacy by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves; and
    5. we seek not to become just but to justify ourselves.
The Purpose of the Furies

J. Bud presents the greater purpose of conscience as not to inform us of moral truth, but to motivate us to live by it - driving our lives out of kilter is the exhortation of last resort. Therefore, "pursued by the five furies, a man becomes both wickeder and stupider in a progressively downward spiral: more wicked because his behavior becomes worse, more stupid because he tells himself more lies."

Of course, he intended to become wicker and stupider - that is what obstinacy and denial are all about. J. Bud points out (as anyone who has experienced redemption by "bottoming out" will know) the persons only hope is to become even wickeder and stupider than planned - to become so wretched that they come to themselves - or God. He posits that what is called "the left hand of God" may be the left hand of His mercy; and that perhaps, in order to eventually soften a heart he will let it become even more rocklike.

This is obviously hard on everyone around the fool but no less drastic means may be available in order to preserve free will - which God seems intent on preserving. God seems willing to do almost anything to save a soul; and then the souls impinged on by that soul; and then . . .

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly