Friday, June 25, 2004

Examinations of Conscience

If there's one great idea that European Catholicism ever devised, it was the programmatic examination of conscience. If you've experienced pre-Vatican II Catholicism, you've seen what I mean. I'm not sure it was eliminated entirely in Vatican II "reforms", but I wouldn't be surprised.

Alright, I'm being mean. It clearly has not: this is a more traditional form, and this is a modernised version. Note that I don't necessarily agree with all the sins listed there ("using your vote wrongly" is an odious perversions of religion -- traditional 1850s American Catholicism is very clear on this).

It's the procedure, not the specific offenses listed there. In fact, it might be a good idea for anyone concerned with the consequences of his own actions to make out his own list of offenses, centered around his individual desires to avoid causing certain harms and to achieve certain goals, and do a real examination of his conscience every night before falling asleep.

I am not a moral absolutist, but I do believe in the conscience and the importance of developing and exercising it. Indulge a crap metaphor, please: if the will is the team of horses pulling the cart of the conscience towards one's personal goals, the conscience is the harness that keeps the horses under control. Neither will nor conscience is good for anything without the other.

And, while I'm at it, I'll attack rationalization. Rationalization is the instinct of the consciencious person who does not want to admit they've done something wrong. Everyone does it, and that is exactly the reason we should examine our consciences. Failure to admit that one's will has been exercised towards the wrong goals, or that pursuit of the right goals has had forseeable but unintended negative consequences, is insidious and blinds people to the power of their own beings.

Dammit. I am not a self-help guru! These things just interest and bother me.


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