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    The counter argument to Dr Pell on Primacy of Conscience D...
    Posted by BrianC on June 2, 2003, 6:11 pm

Continued from Primacy of Conscience C...

The post-Vatican II model of moral theology that seems to be emerging seems to view the process of "getting to heaven" in a sea-change new way. In this the process of "getting to heaven" is seen as a "way" of thinking and acting. Life is viewed as a complex puzzle of moral choices. The model is not one of "hoop jumping" but more like a game of "snakes and ladders" except instead of chance determining if we land on a snake or a ladder our moral choices are the determinant (or maybe someone can come up with a better descriptor). How we get to heaven is by training ourselves to be able to make the correct moral choices. Unfortunately this is not easy because the rules are not simple as they were in the "hoop jumping" model but are actually very complex. (For example; just look at the number of rules in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church – some 800 pages – compared to the 60 or 70 pages we had to learn in the slim Penny Catechism of my childhood.) And they interact with one another. What might be morally correct in one situation might be morally wrong in another situation that is almost identical. The Church, and no one in the entire world, can actually write out all the possible permutations of how these rules and laws interact with one another. That final process has to take place in the individual human mind, emotions and conscience. This again is, as I see it, the insight the Church is trying to lead us to in this doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience.

In the example of the "Am I my brother's keeper" illustration I provided the other day, the person who operates in a "hoop jumping" frame of reference tends to read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in an unsubtle or simplistic way. It is perceived as something of a black or white presentation as to how we are called to respond to someone who has literally fallen down on a road and broken their leg. They seem to lack the capacity for abstract thinking as to how one moves the paradigm of what is being presented there to other moral scenarios. For example the person I was referring to in the second post cannot see how that parable could possibly apply to a person who was injured not in a physical way but in a non-physical way by words through defamation.

I would argue to those who believe there is merit in Dr Pell's argument that the doctrine on Primacy of Conscience ought to be publicly rejected that this flies in the face of how the thinking of most ordinary, intelligent people is evolving and changing today. It is a path backwards towards the moral thinking employed by cavemen and women.

What people are crying out for today is some guidance from the Church as to how we go about making the correct moral choices in life. I am not suggesting that society is necessarily "crying out" in an articulate way as to what they want. I am certain though that they do know that they do not want the "hoop jumping" alternative that is suggested by what Dr Pell seems to be wanting to take us back to.

We (educated, socially sophisticated humankind) are crying out to the Church "show us how to make the correct choices in our lives". What this translates into is "show us how to use our consciences to choose between these often difficult moral choices and dilemmas so that we do choose the long term benefit of truth in preference to the sort term benefit of emotional feel-goodness".

Sadly, I think Dr Pell's solution is actually dangerous because it fails to recognise almost totally that "hoop jumping" Catholicism is as much driven by the drive for emotional security as opposed to the search for real truth. The "hoop jumper" often wants simple answers because they make him or her feel good and really could not give even a tinker's curse as to whether truth is part of the equation.

Dr Pell is as guilty of pandering to the emotions as much as those whose arguments he is seeking to oppose with this proposal. I believe the doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience is an essential and critical part of Catholic theological insight, understanding and teaching today. It needs to be properly explained – not overturned or rejected.



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