Thanks for these comments.
I found them a very useful further contribution to this discussion
and towards trying to fathom out precisely what our conscience
It seems to me that one
of the big problems out there in the minds of people today is
that, in simple terms, the world divides herself into two broad
categories into what truth is. (With a further split in the second
category, making a total of three.) Across both of the divisions
I think we can make a universal assumption that all people do
seek the truth. As you would put it, that seems to be "hard-wired"
into us. Somewhere deep, deep down in each of us we all do have
this passionate need for a sense of the absolute, for certitude,
for these answers that we would define as "The Truth". This really
is perhaps one of the most passionately held quests in the human
spirit. Witness to this are the many people from martyrs to terrorists
and suicide bombers who will even endure death to uphold what
their version of "Truth" is. The truth is we're all pretty passionate
about getting to the truth, if you'll excuse the play on words.
The question though is: which truth? And how do we determine if
we have finally got it?
What you are arguing, seems
to me to accord to a large degree with what I take the Church
to be arguing in this matter of the Primacy of Conscience.
The difficulty, it seems
to me, is that we have two basic paradigms today of the nature
of truth. Some people, and not too many centuries ago I suspect
this would have been all or at least most people would have looked
towards some external authority, such as the Church. The Church
told us what the truth was. We learned these "truths" and then
you didn't think about it much more in your life. One merely endeavoured
to conform one's life to those given truths. There is still a
significant sector of the population in the world that still operates
in that paradigm. In the total world I suspect it is still a majority.
In the educated, affluent, socially sophisticated first world
I suspect it is now a minority.
So what is the alternative
paradigm to that?
I suspect that somewhere
in about the 18th and 19th centuries philosophers and thinkers
began to slowly intuit another sense of where truth is to be found.
At first most people didn't much care, or understand, or follow
the debates being held by the egg-heads. This changed in the early
20th century with some of the great breakthroughs in science when
we (humankind) began to move from a Newtonian frame of the reference
to the relativistic frame of reference postulated by Einstein.
Even though most ordinary jane and jims would not have much of
a clue about Einstein's Theory of Relativity or Heisenberg's Uncertainty
Principle, they do pick up that the paradigm has changed. Or they
pick up that there is now an alternative one to the one their
parent's worked in, through such things as science fiction writing,
popular films and television series such as Star Trek, Star Wars,
Dr Who, etc., etc., etc.....
What's the big difference
from the old paradigm?
There is still a set of
truths in the new paradigm. Einstein's great insight though was
that truth (in his case certain scientific truths) were always
dependent on their frame of reference. To define truth one not
only needed to define whatever it was that you were calling "the
truth" (for example the velocity or mass of a particle) one also
needed to define from what frame of reference one was speaking
for that truth to be able to be translated into some more universal
or absolute sense of truth. E=mc2 was the equation that tied this
together and there was one absolute truth (so he thought) that
did apply irrespective of the frame of reference. This one absolute
was the speed of light. (Interesting thought there that we have
so much associated Christ with light eh!). All other scientific
truth outside the speed of light though was always RELATIVE to
its frame of reference.
This use of the term "relative"
is different to the sense that some in the Church use the term
relative when they postulate that absolutes have been thrown out
the door and all truths have become relative. The scientist has
a concise understanding of relative in this sense that "to know
the full truth about something" we do need to know not only the
quality or quantity of what we are observing (such as its colour,
its weight, its speed etc. etc. etc.) we also need to specify
our own frame of reference. This provides little difficulty to
a person who has studied a bit of science, such as myself or my
children, it is virtual nightmare territory to a man like my father
who almost thinks we are some kind of Martians because of the
language we use.
I think part of the problem
for the Church is that its prime recruiting ground has tended
to be in the humanities rather than the sciences. Those who have
gravitated up towards the top of this institution and who are
responsible for its outward communication tend to operate in the
older paradigm and they simply do not understand this newer paradigm.
There are notable exceptions to this as there are always exceptions
to a general rule. I would suggest that one of the greatest exceptions
is the Pope himself. I think he does understand what he is dealing
with -- and has gone out of his way to try and get his head around
this problem and the two different ways of "seeing truth". Many
others under him have not and are virtually totally in the dark.
They are still trying to impose on the world the first paradigm
of the meaning of truth and the world simply will not wear it
because, either through their scientific frame of reference or
their quasi-scientific frame of reference (picked up from watching
the latest release of The Matrix) they simply no longer conceive
of "Truth" in the same absolute sense that their parents and grandparents
did. Part testimony to this is the great exodus from the Church
going on in the West.
Their parents and grandparents,
and a lot of leaders in the Church, and a lot of the other people
who are still stuck in the first paradigm, interpret all this
to mean "they no longer believe in any truths" and go on from
that into their "the sky is falling in, the sky is falling in"
rituals. The sky is not falling in but I do think there is some
basis for their concerns. It is not as great as they think there
is. I do think there are many people out in the world today who
are sort of stuck midway between the two paradigms and are awfully
confused. They have half an understanding of the new paradigm
and they are, as those in the first paradigm are so worried to
say, tending to a belief that there is no truth and they are now
free not to believe what their conscience tells them but what
their feelings tell them.
In other words, the real
confusion we need to be dealing with is not between two different
understandings of what truth is, but two different processes by
which we define truth -- or, should I say three different processes.
The first is the old paradigm (the truth is external and absolute
and held in a place like the Pope's head or the Vatican), the
second is what I loosely dub the Einstein, scientific paradigm
(where the frame of reference needs to be stated alongside the
parameters describing "the truth"), and now we have this third
one where some in the population have not quite got their heads
around this "frame of reference" business and have taken this
shortcut to believing that "the truth is how I feel now" (it is
relative but in a different way to what the scientist or Einstein
mean by relative).
I think Dr Pell's problem
is that he believes he can either force the whole of the world
back into the first paradigm or he simply does not understand
that there are these other two paradigms out there (or he is confused
somewhere between these two approaches). He cannot though treat
human beings as though they are idiots and have to be spoon-fed
what truth is.
What I like about what you
are writing, and what I pick up from what the Church is trying
to get at in this concept of Primacy of Conscience, is that the
properly formed conscience is the only place we have where we
can really understand all this stuff. Conscience (which is the
place where God resides in each of us) is the place where we determine
truth. Conscience is the place where we have to sort through all
these rules and laws the Church has and where we apply them to
sort out what is the truth in the particular moral dilemmas we
are facing in our day-to-day lives, as we sit at our computers
or walk down the street.
To take the example I used
the other day in "Am I my brother's keeper?": to sort out what
I have to do when I come across the poor bugger who's fallen off
his bike the Church is not standing there to tell me exactly what
to do. She has given me the broad set of rules but I have to sort
through how they intersect relative to each other to find what
is "the truth" for the particular dilemma or moral choice I am
The challenge for the Church
is to show people what is the difference between their feelings
and their consciences, to show how the processes of mental reasoning
and intuition and these external reference points (such as the
rules in a Catechism) all interact with conscience. It is not
to try and mount an argument that people do not have consciences,
or that their consciences are not important.
As I wrote in one of my
earlier posts, this is a profound insight on the part of the Church.
It is deeply profound. We cannot afford to have this insight "publicly
rejected" in the way Archbishop Pell is suggesting. I would go
so far as to say the future well-being of the Church, and her
ability to communicate to the world at large, may well turn on
*Just in the last six months or so there has been a new scientific
hypothesis put forward that even the speed of light though might
not be as absolute as we have taken it to be since Einstein.