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    The counter argument to Dr Pell on Primacy of Conscience C...
    Posted by BrianC on June 2, 2003, 6:02 pm

Continued from Primacy of Conscience B...

Let me turn now to my third argument which is both theological and practical.

I do not believe it can be possibly disputed now that we (the human person) are in the midst of a long process of evolution. I do not mean this in some simplistic Darwinian notion of descending from the Apes. I mean it in the sense that through time we are gaining more and more knowledge of who we are and what our relationship is to our environment, to other species, to one another (the meaning of "love one another"), to the universe and cosmos around us and ultimately of an understanding of our relationship to this Mystery at the very heart of each life and all life that created and sustains the whole friggin' deal. Teilhard de Chardin described this process as of us being in a great journey of convergence towards God.

As time goes by we can obviously see that we are gaining enormous understanding of how we work physically through medical science. We live much longer than our forebears because of these advances in this process of evolution in our thinking or knowledge. We have much more knowledge today about the physical ways in which we work as males or as females. Children and women dying in childbirth was once a very common hazard in life. In the Western world today it is hardly something that is classified as a hazard. It occurs rarely.

It can be argued that parallel with this evolution in knowledge of our physical world and make-up, there has also been an evolution or growth in our knowledge of our emotional and intellectual dimensions of "being". We still have an enormous lot to learn about the processes that go on in the human brain, or in the human emotions – wherever they are located or controlled, but surely it cannot be denied that we know a heck of a lot more about these things than was known in the time of our parents or grandparents.

I would argue from just looking at my own children and comparing them to myself or my father, that in the ordinary course of their living they use a higher proportion of their brains than I would have been doing at their age and a quantum leap from the amount of neuron activity that would have occurred in the mind of an average twenty year old back in the 1930s when my father was their age. (I am not arguing that they always use it for useful things. I am merely arguing that the neuron activity has most probably increased enormously. This is part of the evolutionary or growth process I am trying to point to.)

By a process of comparison and logical deduction it seems to me that a similar process of evolution and growth has been going on in the fourth, or spiritual, dimension of our "being". We are evolving, growing or as Teilhard would have put it "converging towards God" in our theological understanding of who we are as human beings and what we are supposed to be doing as human beings if we are to fulfil our Divine or God-given destiny.

In this frame of reference I've just been writing in, is it not logical to conclude that there has been a process of both increasing sophistication and increasing simplification (insight) into our self-understanding of our spirituality or – in simpler language still: what it means to be truly "a child of God"? I think the answer is "yes". I also think this development in theological thinking of this notion of "Primacy of Conscience" is intimately linked to this contradictory (paradoxical) process of how something can be becoming increasingly sophisticated and increasingly simple at one and the same time.

Dr Pell seems scared that the doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience is too simplistic and, because of that, is being misread or misunderstood by people. While I believe there is some cause to take on board his caution that the doctrine is being misunderstood, I do not believe he advances sufficient argument as to why it should be "publicly rejected". The pathway forward is to explain it better not to pretend this theological insight does not exist!

Allied to this third argument is something I'd like to explore in the practical area of how we live our lives today. Over the course of my lifetime, which by good fortune has coincided with these great developments in theological insight since Vatican II, I believe there has been a sea-change in our understanding of moral theology. The meaning of how we discern right from wrong. In the past the process of moral discernment was presented and taught to us as what I describe as a "hoop-jumping" exercise.

Let me explain what I mean here – and try and distinguish it from how the world (meaning most educated people) hazily discern how they have reason these things through today.

My early Catholic moral education was not much different to that which my father was given some 35 years before me. Moral choice was presented to us as a fairly simple process like this: "There are a whole pile of rules out there that you have to learn. You will find them in such places as The Ten Commandments and the Catechism. Your business in life is firstly to learn those rules and secondly to just follow them. Once you have learned those rules basically all you have to do is make sure you do not disobey any of them and, if possible do the works of charity and loving of neighbour good things they also tell you to do. The process of ėgetting to heaven' is basically a process of making sure you do enough of the good things and not doing many or any of the bad things."

For ease of description I have labelled this as a "hoop-jumping" model of moral theology. The process of "getting to heaven" is basically presented as a process of jumping through hoops not unlike the process a child goes through of passing exams to advance into the next grade. You do this and this and this, and do not do that and that and that, and you will pass to the higher grade or, in the whole of life situation we are talking about here, you'll "make it to heaven".

What I would argue is that there has been a process of evolution and change going on not only in the field of moral theology but out in the wider community as to how we discern what is right and wrong. People still sin. I am not denying that. But I know I think, and more so my children, think in an entirely different way to the way in which my father endeavoured to make moral choices.

I provided a practical example of this the other day in my post on the subject of "Am I my brother's keeper" illustrating how two people in almost identical circumstances can be acting morally and immorally. (It is archived here: http://users.bigpond.net.au/viastuas/Reflection/78156.html) That example provides a very graphic illustration of this process I am about to describe.



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