Continued from Primacy of
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
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
That example provides a very graphic illustration of this process
I am about to describe.