Saturday, August 16, 2008

Evil and Natural Moral Law

In the series The Problem (?) with Evil I have focused on God's disconnect from the cause of evil - us actually. It really isn't part of the question of whether the existence of evil proves the non-existence of an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God - but the question of what God does to promote good and discourage evil amongst the creatures that were "made in his image" is an important one.

Obviously, as Santiago put it in the Street Prophet's comment threads, it would be "less than satisfying" if God just sat back and watched while we used our freedom to do evil to each other. Not only that, there has to be mechanisms by which God uses us to accomplish his aims even in, and using, people who do not believe in him. So the question here is:

Does God Actively Encourage Good and Constrain Evil?

I believe God does. Two of the four witnesses God uses are forms of conscience:
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
  • Synderesis, or deep conscience: Cannot be erased, cannot be mistaken, and is the same in every single human being. The only way to tamper with it is by self-deception - to tell yourself you really do not know what you know. It includes the knowledge of inviolable goods like friendship; of formal norms like fairness; and everyday moral rules like "Do not murder".

    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.

  • Conscientia, or surface conscience: J Bud gives "at least" nine ways surface conscience can be blurred or err (and asks you to 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.
However, even if we twist our deep conscience at the surface conscience level in the above ways it still is there to point us the right direction and convict us of wrong actions.

Conscience has a number of faces:
  • In cautionary mode, it alerts us to the peril of moral wrong and generates an inhibition against committing it
  • 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 . . .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.
Our conscience therefore acts as teacher, judge, or executioner depending on the mode it operates in. It is also one witness to the character and plan of God - as said above our deep conscience 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.
However, whatever one thinks the source of deep conscience is - the actions of deep conscience are clear:
"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. Budziszewski.
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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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