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Conscience is the voice of God within us Discuss

In order to discuss whether the conscience is the result of the voice of God within us or whether in fact it is the result our psychological and sociological influence, we must firstly understand what a conscience is. One scholar who stated that the conscience was the voice of God speaking to us from within was St Augustine (334-430). He saw it as the law of God within our hearts, and stated that therefore it cannot be questioned and stated that it allows us to have an innate capacity to understand the difference between good or bad, right or wrong (men see the moral rules written in the book of light which is called the truth, from which all laws are copied). However this view of the conscience being an innate sense which cannot be questioned raises the moral issue of what happens is our conscience is instructing us to act in a way that most would argue as morally wrong, surely our conscience could be misled or misinformed, which would ultimately cause us to act immorally. Some therefore may state that Aquinas view that the conscience involves the use of reason is a more logical approach, as it allows for the possibility of error and states that our conscience can be mistaken, he states just following ones conscience is not always right, as if our principles are wrong then our conscience will make wrong decisions. Although Augustine did also argued that the conscience is an innate sense that God has given to all and that in every circumstance it should be turned towards good and away from evil, this does not necessarily mean that the person will be virtuous. This being because he believed that humans are less than perfect as we are born with original sin because we are all descendents of Adam. At the fall of grace sin entered the universe, resulting in Gods creation being corrupted and distorted. In order to do the right thing a person needs the grace of God, as God is the only source of all goodness and it is through his grace that God directs us to do the right thing. However this raises the question as to whether this implies that only a Christian believer can do a morally good act, as his theory sates that the conscience only woks through the grace of the Christian God, surely this could imply that Augustines approach to the conscience is a reductionist approach as only applicant to religious believers? Also if we are only capable of doing a moral act through the dictation of God, to what extent can a Christian be said to be making a free moral decision, surely if we are reliant on God to dictate us we are in fact not really making our own moral decisions? Augustine therefore saw the conscience as the most important element of decision making, an act is only right if it is done though grace and if the motivation behind it is to love god, as he stated that the conscience is an outpouring of Gods love however the questioned then raised about where non-Christians conscience come from, in this case maybe the conscience in fact is something that is instilled and learned from influence of the society, culture and family of which we are brought up in. The 19 century theologian and Roman Catholic, Cardinal John Henry Newman also however stated that the conscience is the voice of God in the mind and heart of man in turn helping individuals in moral decisionmaking, and although accepted Aquinass account of the conscience being the voice of reason (this being based on the principle of Natural Law) adopted a more intuitionist approach to the conscience. He believed that when following ones conscience a person is simultaneously following a divine law given by God, although by implying that our conscience follows a universal moral law it would state that we would in turn all agree upon the same morality, however in reality what some believe as moral another may see as immoral (example = some may see fighting for their country as a moral act however others may see any form of conflict as totally immoral). He saw conscience as the messenger from God conscience is a law of the mind...a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to use behind and veil and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ, therefore when we use our intuitive moral knowledge to make decisions it is in fact God speaking to us. This therefore may explain why we feel guilt as it is felt when we are not following Gods intentions however it also raised a question as to whether we really have free will, as if God enters our lives and takes control of dilemmas surely we are just Gods puppets and not actually free at all?. Newman stated that the conscience was more than just simply a law of the mind for Christians (other approaches imply however that conscience is the law of mind, Freud stated our super-ego is a
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controlling, self moral code the imposes rules upon the ego which in turn tells us how to act in the interest of society) as it springs from the divine source and is used in order to detect the truth set out by God. But what happens if God who is the divine source that our conscience springs from tell us to do something which in fact would conflict with our conscience (example = in Joshua 8 the lord says to Joshua to take a whole army with him and attack the city of Ai and wipe out all of the men and woman in the city, however this would go against our conscience that killing is morally wrong, and that if someone does something to us does not mean that we should do the same back as this according to our conscience would makes us just as bad). Newman stated that the conscience is the moral aspect of the relationship humans have towards God, it tells us of Gods existence and nature. However does this means if the faculty of conscience points to God, that atheists are unable to have a conscience, this however cannot be true as would not explain why non-Christians can live morally blameless lives which would therefore imply that there must be a different kind of secular law that an atheists conscience follows in order to make moral decisions. Newman saw the conscience as an independent source and that therefore it holds a greater authority than any human civil law, and although a devout catholic stated I toast the Pope, but I toast conscience first and stated that we are obliged to do what we sincerely believe to be right even if we are mistaken. This however can also imply that in fact Gods teachings contradicts themselves as Catholics are more obliged to go with their conscience than the teachings from the church, but surely if the bible is the word of God it should be same as the voice of God speaking to us through our conscience (example = our conscience may say no to suffering, therefore when facing the issues surrounding euthanasia, may allow for it as it would prevent the suffering of the individual however the bible states that euthanasia is wrong as it does not preserve life instead takes life away). The Anglican theologian Joseph Butler also viewed the conscience as the voice of God within. Similar to Newman, Butler saw the value of Aquinass approach of reasoning but relied on a more intuitionist approach. As a philosopher he believed that the most crucial thing which distinguished human kind from the animal world is that humans possess a conscience it is in human nature (There is a principle of reflection in men by which they distinguish between approval and disapproval of their own actions...the principle of man...is conscience). Also in connection to Augustines view that the conscience gives us an innate capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong, Butler also believed that the conscience could determine and judge the rightness and wrongness of different actions and thoughts (this was also similar to the approach of Aquinas whereby the conscience is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and based on this make moral judgements). Therefore he stated that the conscience holds a very powerful position in human decision-making, it is the final decision maker and therefore is the ultimate moral authority had conscience strength as it had right, had power as it has manifest authority, it would absolutely govern the world, however if Butler was right in the claim that the conscience is the ultimate moral authority than why do some people still commit horrific acts, why for example did the Nazis although their conscience told them killing was wrong still follow Hitler, surely this would imply that in fact he was of higher authority than their conscience? Butler stated that the conscience was at the top of the hierarch of human nature, it is superior to reason and emotion and take priority over everything. Butler similar to Augustine and Newman identified the conscience with God, he believed that conscience was a persons God-given guide to right conduct, and therefore its demands must always be followed, however if the conscience is acquired God as part of humanity than why are some people still evil, how come some people still turn into criminals if God has given every human a conscience for which is innate and gives intuitive judgements instantly? Some would therefore argue that in fact conscience is not the voice of God within, but instead is socially and culturally conditioned, and comes from external influences, for example Skinner would state that the conscience is classically conditioned, it develops from the reinforcements of acceptable forms of behaviour by positive/negative reinforcement and punishment. Freud, who wrote from the psychological view of the conscience, and stated that the conscience is nothing to do with the voice of God but instead is the result of our early upbringing.