The Conscience of our Modern Infidels, and its Perversity
We have said that conscience is the voice of God, and that, to act against it is to commit sin. But in our day, it has become fashionable with a large number of men to get rid of religion.
A man, who wishes to gratify his evil desires, without shame, without remorse, says: ” There is no God; there is no hell: there is no hereafter, there is only this present life, and all in it is good.” He looks upon conscience as a creation of man. He calls its dictate an imagination.
He says that the notion of guiltiness which that dictate enforces, is simply irrational. When he advocates the rights of conscience, he, of course, in no sense, means the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to him, in thought and deed, of the creature; he means only the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and eating according to his judgment or his humor, without any thought of God at all. He does not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but he demands what he thinks is an American’s prerogative, to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting any one unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. With such a man the right of conscience means the very right and freedom of con science to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Law-giver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations j to be free to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that, and let it go again; to go or not to go to Church, to boast of being above all religions, and to be an impartial critic of each of them; in a word, conscience is with that man nothing else than the right of self-will. Such is the idea which a very large number of men have of conscience, Their rule and measure of right and wrong is utility, or expedience, or the happiness of the greatest number, or state, convenience or fitness, order, a long-sighted selfishness, a desire to be consistent with one’s self. But all these false conceptions of conscience will be no excuse before God for not having known better. The idea that there is no law or rule over our thoughts, desire, words, and actions, and that, without sin or error, we may think, desire, say, and do what we please, especially in matters of religion, is a downright absurdity. Our intellect is formed for truth and cannot help thinking according to truth. The intellect is not a faculty or power, which is, in itself, free, as the will is. Wheresoever it sees the truth it cannot help embracing it. It is not free to accept or to reject it, except when ignorance puts the mind in such a state as to render it unable to see the truth. Whenever the mind sees the truth, it is forced to accept it. When the mind does not see the truth it is inactive “it does nothing.. If, in this case, it asserts one proposition rather than another, such assertion is merely an act of the will, and not an act of the intellect. For instance, if I am asked whether the moon is inhabited, I can assert that it is, merely because I choose to do so. But I am not compelled to make this assertion by any evidence, for I do not know. But if I am asked, to how much two and two amount, I cannot choose my answer: I am forced to say “four.” The intellect, then, is bound to acknowledge the truth when it sees the truth. But the will may deny it. The intellect of any man cannot help acknowledging the existence of God, and of the first principles of right and wrong. But a perverse will may deny these truths.
Of all things that are good for men, truth is, without doubt, the greatest good.
Truth is the good thing for the intellect. As the eye was made to receive light, and the ear to receive sounds, and the hand to do all kinds of work, so the intellect was made to see and embrace the truth, to unite itself with the truth, and to find its repose in truth alone.
Truth is the good thing for the heart. The heart is bound to love something. Now, when the intellect does not show it a true, honest object of love, the heart is sure to soil itself in a sordid love.
Truth is the good thing for society. If truth does not guide its steps, society must fall into misery, and setting itself against the divine laws of the universe, will speedily be brought to utter ruin.
Truth is the good thing for men. They cannot attain their ultimate end “they cannot reach eternal goodness, except by means of the truth. So necessary is truth for men that the Son of God came down from heaven to teach them the truth.
Truth, then, is above all good things; it is a greater good than wealth and honors; it is above life and death, above men and angels. God is the only fountain of truth; truth alone leads to him, as it comes from him who is Truth itself. If this be so, what right can there be for anyone to obscure the truth, to rob men of the truth, to proclaim errors under every attractive form, to proclaim errors to every class of men? No, there is no such right. Reason and conscience condemn such impious license. How impious, then, all those who deny or pervert religious and moral truths f who sneer at what is good, in the present, and in the future, for the intellect and will of man? How detestable are they who entangle men in the subtle webs of sophisms, and expel religion and morality from the heart of men? who instil doubts and disputes about social truth which is the only stable foundation on which nations and empires can tranquilly repose? Most execrable men, those who assume the right to insult the Lord and to destroy man. When God gave to man a free will, he intended that man should freely choose what is good and reject what is evil, in order thus to gain merit– a privilege which is denied to beasts, for they blindly follow their instincts.
But who can be foolish enough to think that God, in giving man a free will, dispensed him from the observance of His laws? God is infinite goodness, justice, wisdom, mercy and purity, in order that, as he himself hates all wickedness, injustice, error, and impurity,, so man also should do the same. Hence it is impossible that God can concede to man a license to commit acts utterly repugnant to the divine nature, and also repugnant to the nature of man, who is made in the likeness and image of God.
Our use of liberty, therefore, must be consistent with reason; it must be based upon a hatred of all that is evil, unjust, unkind, false, or impure; and upon a strong desire to attain to all that is good, and true, and perfect.
What, then, are the worst enemies of the liberty of man? First, that ignorance and error which prevent him from distinguishing clearly that which is just and right from that which is evil and false. Secondly, his passions which keep him from embracing the good which he knows and sees, and induce him to desire that which he knows to be bad. Thirdly, any powers or authorities external to man, which prevent him from doing that which he knows to be good and which he desires to do; or force him to do which he sees to be unlawful, ad which he shrinks from doing.
Taken from The Greatest and The First Commandment (1881)