Here we will consider the question in bold below. However, we will break this study into four parts.
- How do we form a mature conscience?
- The origins of the modern Secular morality.
- The issue of pride.
- Do our political divisions match our religious divisions?
Are The Conflicts That Arise Because Of The Differences Between The Christian Worldview And Secular Morality The Cause Of Our National Divide?
Human conflict is nothing new. It is the stuff of entertainment, our personal experience, fairytales, and dreadful, shattering wars. We don’t actually seem to need much of a reason to fight each other. What we need is a good rationalization, a good rational lie. Still, we usually try to avoid conflict if for no other reason than because our survival demands it. Sometimes, given the awful casualties of war, hordes of men ferociously charging directly into intense enemy fire, even that motive does not seem sufficient.
So, how do we keep ourselves from fighting each other in the United States? Why do we call killing each other wrong? When we cannot settle them any other way short of violence, why do we go to court to peaceably settle our differences? Why? Why do we define some things as good and some things as evil?
How do we form a mature conscience?
What, at a very basic level, is the process we use to decide the difference between good and evil? Don’t we each have a conscience? Don’t we each consult our conscience? When Jack is tempted to steal something from Jill, don’t we hope Jack’s conscience will hold him in check? Where did that conscience come from?
Were it possible that a human creature could grow up to manhood in some solitary place, without any communication with his own species, he could no more think of his own character, of the propriety or demerit of his own sentiments and conduct, of the beauty or deformity of his own mind, than of the beauty or deformity of his own face. All these are objects which he cannot easily see, which naturally he does not look at, and with regard to which he is provided with no mirror which can present them to his view. Bring him into society, and he is immediately provided with the mirror which he wanted before. It is placed in the countenance and behaviour of those he lives with, which always mark when they enter into, and when they disapprove of his sentiments; and it is here that he first views the propriety and impropriety of his own passions, the beauty and deformity of his own mind. To a man who from his birth was a stranger to society, the objects of his passions, the external bodies which either pleased or hurt him, would occupy his whole attention. The passions themselves, the desires or aversions, the joys or sorrows, which those objects excited, though of all things the most immediately present to him, could scarce ever be the objects of his thoughts. The idea of them could never interest him so much as to call upon his attentive consideration. The consideration of his joy could in him excite no new joy, nor that of his sorrow any new sorrow, though the consideration of the causes of those passions might often excite both. Bring him into society, and all his own passions will immediately become the causes of new passions. He will observe that mankind approve of some of them, and are disgusted by others. He will be elevated in the one case, and cast down in the other; his desires and aversions, his joys and sorrows, will now often become the causes of new desires and new aversions, new joys and new sorrows: they will now, therefore, interest him deeply, and often call upon his most attentive consideration.The Theory of Moral Sentiments – Econlib
Here are the observations I made ten years ago about that passage from Smith’s book.
So it is that we learn from others which acts deserve approbation and which deserve condemnation. Yet should a man leave off the development of his conscience at this point, his conscience will still be of little use. We all know how easy it is to fool another. When we can do that which is evil when no one is watching, why should the approbations and condemnations of others overly concern us? When no man can see into the secret recesses of another’s mind, who is there to condemn self-centered pride?
Why does a man or a woman seek a clear conscience? Is it because we have faith in the All-Seeing Spectator — the Deity who knows our every thought and deed? What does it mean to believe in the Holy One, Almighty God? How profound is the change in a soul when that soul knows the love of God?FOR THOSE WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED – Citizen Tom
Is it impossible for some one who has no regard for God to form a mature conscience? In Adam Smith’s day that would have been the conventional wisdom. Today? Consider how this article begins.
According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 44 percent of Americans say that it is necessary to believe in God in order to “be moral and have good values.” Or put differently, a majority of Americans—around 56 percent—think that you can be moral and have good values, even if you are an atheist.Atheism, Morality, and Society | Psychology Today
Essentially, Secularists use observational data to “prove” that Secularism doesn’t lead to low standards of morality. Are they right? Without the belief in God, how does one form a mature conscience? A Christian is supposed to study the Bible and use Biblical teachings as a guide. What does a Secularist do?
How does a Secularist get a conscience? There are few references. Here, 3 Ways to Get a Conscience – wikiHow, is one I managed to find. Atheists, however, seem to more interested in proving they have a conscience than developing a mature conscience. Here are some examples.
- Do atheists have a conscience? | News24
- Putting God out of the ethics business | Psychology Today
- I’m a contented atheist. My conscience is my only god (irishtimes.com)
Do people who call themselves Christians form mature consciences? When the people who call themselves Christians don’t actually care what the All-Seeing Spectator — the Deity — sees, the answer is no. The process of forming a mature Christian conscience, part of the process of sanctification (What is sanctification? What is the definition of Christian sanctification? | GotQuestions.org), requires us to give some time and thought to God. What we must do to keep His commandments? Christians must study the Bible and obey its teachings.
- How to Get and Keep a Good Conscience | Unlocking the Bible
- Conscience Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary (biblestudytools.com)
- Is Your Conscience Captive to God? | Desiring God
- What is the conscience? | GotQuestions.org
Why do Christians turn to God for wisdom? Through His Word, that is what our Lord has told us to do.
Forming a conscience, however, involves more than just studying the Bible.
We must use the Bible and prayer to search our conduct, our words, our deeds, and our thoughts.
Arguably, because we have not taught our children a high regard for the Bible, even most of the people who call themselves Christians have not formed a Christian conscience. Consider these surveys:
- The State of Theology
- New Barna Poll: The Christian Church is Seriously Messed up. (pulpitandpen.org)
- In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace | Pew Research Center (pewforum.org)
So, we have something of enigma. Secularists claim to have consciences, but it is not clear what they use to form these consciences. Christians claim it is important to carefully form our consciences, but many self-identified Christians don’t take the time to use the Bible to help them form their consciences. If not the Bible, what basis do Secularists and these negligent Christians use to form their consciences? That will be the subject of Part 4B.
As we proceed, we need to remember our limitations. What we are doing here is speculative, especially when we try to apply any conclusions we might make to specific individuals. Consider .
None of us can look at another and discern his or her heart. Few of us fully reveal our true self to our self. Therefore, we each know what others tell us, and we can see some of what others do, but we can only guess what God thinks about another person. Guesswork is not good enough for any of us to judge another person’s heart and soul. We can someone else’s judge words and deeds, but we cannot judge another person.
This is the fourth installment in this series. What were the first three?