Friday, January 27, 2012

War on Conscience, or War on Truth?

We are hearing lots of talk about conscience rights and religious freedom now that  Kathleen Sebelius and Obama have teamed up in an attempt to force the Catholic Church to act against its own teachings by providing insurance for contraceptive (and worse) services to its employees.

Still, as I have listened to and read the arguments about the violation of religious freedom and the abandonment of “conscience clauses”, I have had some nagging doubts and a little confusion rattling around in my brain. Certainly I believe that we, as Catholics, are protected by the 1st Amendment, and that we must not be required to violate our consciences regarding the teachings of the Church.

However, those same terms are also used by non-Christians to justify their position on various issues, which is often incongruous with the teachings of the Church.

Indeed, the argument for the right to “follow one’s conscience” is also used by dissident groups within our Church to justify their disagreement with Church teachings, and to justify actions they take that are opposed to the Church. “I’m following my conscience,” people in these groups say, “therefore, I am doing the right thing, and it’s not a sin.”

The problem, of course, is that when the Church talks about conscience, She means a properly formed conscience. That means a conscience that is formed according to truth. And that means truth taught by the Jesus and the Church instituted by him, which is the “pillar and bulwark of the faith”.

As I was puzzling over this issue, a Culture of Life Briefs e-newsletter appeared in my email inbox; the title was “Whose Conscience? Which Religion? The Enemy is Paritally Us”. This little article by Dr. Christian Brugger addressed exactly the questions I was mulling over.

The sentence in Dr. Brugger’s article that probably struck the strongest chord in my mind was this one:

I think the problem to a certain degree is that none of us any longer believe in truth.

Yes. We are unwilling to say that the Church is right. We are only willing to say that the Church has a right to its own religious beliefs.

That fact seems to be borne out by a recent poll highlighted by Michael Voris on The Vortex. The poll appears to indicate that, as Voris puts it, “85 percent of Catholics simply reject the idea of the superiority of Christianity [as a means to a better world]. This is an impossible situation to square with Our Blessed Lord’s command to go out and baptize all nations.” (The Vortex episode is at the end of this post.)

Dr. Brugger explains further that, since we no longer believe in the truth (all emphases mine):

…we talk rather about opinion, consensus and party platforms. We reduce moral judgment and religious belief to sectarian "rights," with the full implication that no moral judgment or religious doctrine is timelessly true. In order to avoid sectarian conflict, we agree to tolerate the ideas of the other side. But we believe they (i.e., the other side and their ideas) are stupid and our side is right. And rightness -- and this is the clincher -- is an essentially subjective concept, no connection to truth. Of course, to sever rightness and truthfulness is philosophically untenable. But dammit we're Americans, not philosophers.

So when we talk about Obama “waging war on religious liberty” or “trampling conscience rights”, we run into a problem: those on the other side think they’re waging a war on our oppressive religious dogma. Says Dr. Brugger:

Ten out of 10 conservative blogs and sites after the HHS decision announced: "Conscience is under attack!" "Religion is under attack!" Rubbish. Truth, reality, human welfare is under attack. "Conscience" to the other side means subjective moral opinion; and when it's our consciences they're referring to, it means dangerous moral opinion; and "religion" means bigotry. Of course they're going to oppose it. But we -- all of us -- have supported the public rhetorical instruments by which those terms have become morally inert.

Morally inert…yes. I think Dr. Brugger has hit the nail on the head. Our arguments for religious freedom and conscience rights lack the force of moral certitude. We say, “This is what WE believe, and we have a right to believe that way and follow our conscience.” And the other side says the same thing right back at us: “Well, that may be true for you, but it’s not true for us.” By insisting simply on a right to believe, we have embraced the terminology of moral relativism.

But when you enter Truth into the equation, things change. When you say, “This is immoral”, you bring the discussion to a new level.

Unfortunately, we have forfeited that possibility over the years because of our unwillingness to defend the truth, as opposed to our individual right to believe what we believe as Catholics. In other words, we no longer believe that what we believe is the Truth; we only believe that we have a right to believe it.

And that puts us on the same level as any other moral relativist.

Dr. Brugger concludes:

Yes, there is a lot of anger over Obama's radically illiberal policy. But that anger is only rightly felt if it concerns the violation, not of legal or even constitutional rights, but the violation of truth. We need to stand up and say confidently and resolutely to Kathleen Sebelius, her thugs at HHS and her puppet-master in the White House: Your view is false and untrue; it radically violates human good and is destructive of communal integrity.

Words are important. When we use the right words, we put the discussion back on the plane it should have been on all along.  And if we don’t do this, Dr. Brugger suggests:

…we'll all end up like Dr. Seuss' North-going Zax and South-going Zax, puffing out our chests, standing nose to nose with our enemy, barking out disagreements devoid of understanding of the deeper problem.

I think Michael Voris has some good insights as to those problems. Watch these Vortex episodes:

Here's the link to the one mentioned above - can't get the Youtube to load.

See also: "No Soldiers for the Army? Voris Has a Point"

and "Freedom? Conscience? Truth!"

Watch this one, too:

And...this one of Rick Santorum's statement:


  1. Awesome, and completely true. This is why I think we've got to make this more than just a political fight, as Thomas Peters at CatholicVote wants to do, and make this HHS issue a war for the souls of the membership of the Church. We must have bishops and priests give sermons defending Catholic Truth now! Defending the Doctrine itself, not just the political over-reach of the Obama Administration. But I see almost no bishops doing so, they are all framing this as a constitutional issue, because they don't want to have to fight that battle within the Church. They may also be afraid that alot of their internal support will go away if they start condemning personal contraceptive use, sterilization, etc.

    We converts are crazy! We actually believe this stuff!

  2. The problem, I am afraid, consists in the decision of the Church after the Council to perceive in the American Revolution an acceptable alternative to the hideous murdering insanity of the French Revolution.

    It looks very much to me like our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI- the last of the conciliar Popes, and the one who would determine the fate of the Council's vision- looked to the American Experiment as something with which the Church could settle, as something into which She could enter into a dialogue, adopting some of its notions at least pragmatically ("religious liberty" being the profound one) and achieving a......hate to say it but.....Hegelian synthesis which would take the form of a "New Evangelization".

    It must have sounded good at the time.

    1. As Rick said, the problem of Catholics using these words stems from the attitude of Church herself. In fact, the problem comes from within the documents of the non-dogmatic, pastoral Council themslelves! (see Dignitatis Humanae) Jay, your words come as a breath of fresh air as I read various commentaries on this HHS travesty. The recent Vatican-SSPX discussions surely spent a good deal of time on this very question and let us pray that our spiritual leaders in Rome are starting to clue in on the contradiction between the perennial teaching of the Church and the modernist notions "religious liberty" and "freedom of conscience". Archbishop Lefebvre wrote an excellent little study of the issue in "Religious Liberty Questioned" (available from Angelus Press) and an SSPX priest just last week had a concise commentary here: (Libertas Ecclesiae versus Libertas Religionis)

  3. Rick and Agronomist: your comments are thought provoking. If you see smoke rising from the vicinity of Eastern Oregon, it is my little brain working hard at consolidating these notions and others I've been meditation upon. ;-) Thanks.


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