Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Conscience, the Furies and Proverbs 29:1

Sweet Georgia Peach looked at

Proverbs 29:1 A man who hardens {his} neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (NASB)
in her diary "Broken Beyond Healing"; and asked
What is this verse telling us? What is beyond God? Also tied up in this is a concept of Christian brokenness. Do we want to be healed? Do we want to be permanently broken?
For those that do not remember, I believe in natural moral law, a subset of natural law.

I did a series of posts here and at Street Prophets on natural law. Two of those posts (at least) - "The Four Witnesses" and "The Five Furies of Conscience" - speak to the issues (and the mechanism) raised by Proverbs 29:1; XT's excellent post on Judas; and actually ties into many of the Blogathon on Forgiveness posts.

After all, if I am going to be convicted of my sin, and then repent (or not) after I realize I have done wrong, it will be my conscience that drives that repentance: people can point out my errors to me all day long but in order for me to act on that I first have to agree its wrong.

Most folks believe in conscience, I just think there are two levels
According to theologians of the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), the conscience is divided into two parts. Synderesis (probably a misreading of suneidesis) is the faculty in human beings that knows God's moral law; this faculty remained unaffected by the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Conscientia is the faculty by which human beings apply the moral to concrete cases; it dictates what should or should not be done under particular circumstances. Whereas synderesis cannot err, conscientia is fallible (Encarta)
Deep conscience is the reason a person who says they do not believe in right and wrong may shrink from murder; why even a man who murders may have pangs of remorse; and why even if the man has deadened himself to remorse shows other symptoms of deep-buried guilty knowledge.
The ways our surface conscience can err are numerous (compare Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis, Question 94, Articles 4 and 6):
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.
. . . underneath the results of this bad reasoning is still the witness of deep conscience, no matter how "twisted and falsified on its path into current awareness".
Now we get to Proverbs 29. What happens when we violate our deep conscience?
Conscience has a number of faces [teacher, judge, and executioner]:
  • In cautionary [teacher] mode, it alerts us to the peril of moral wrong and generates an inhibition against committing it

  • In accusatory [judge] mode, it indicts us for the wrong we have already done. The most common way this happens is through the first fury: remorse . . . 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 [executioner] 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.
What happens if we continue to ignore that indictment - if we "harden our necks against the reproof" of the furies?
. . . 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 . . . the persons only hope is to become even wickeder and stupider than planned - to become so wretched that they come to themselves - or God.
In other words, they become broken and, either they then feed the furies correctly, or . . .

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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