. They suppressed their consciences– What is the conscience? The Catechism defines it thus: For Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God, This is his conscience, there he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths… (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) # 1776). So, in effect, the conscience is the voice of God within us. God has written his Law in the hearts of every human person.
Thus, in terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. There may be certain higher matters of the Law that the conscience must be taught (eg. the following of certain rituals or feasts days etc.). But in terms of fundamental moral norms, we have a basic and innate grasp of what is right and wrong. Deep down inside we know what we are doing. We see and salute virtues like bravery, self-control, and generosity. We also know that things like murder of the innocent, promiscuity, theft, destruction of reputations etc are wrong.For all the excuses we like to make, deep down inside we know what we are doing, and we know that we know. I have written substantially about conscience elsewhere (HERE).
But notice that it says that they “suppressed their consciences.” Even though we know something is wrong we often want to do it anyway. One of the first things our wily minds will do is to try and suppress our conscience. To suppress something is to put it down by force, to inhibit or to try and exclude something from awareness or consciousness.
The usual way of doing this is through rationalizations and sophistry. We invent any number of thoughts, lies and distortions to try and reassure our self that something is really OK, something that deep down inside we know isn’t OK.
We also accumulate false teachers and teachings to assist in this suppression of the truth that our conscience witnesses to. St. Paul wrote to Timothy: For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:1-3).
It is quite an effort to suppress one’s own conscience and I would argue that we cannot ever do it completely. In fact the whole attempt to suppress the conscience is not only quite an effort, it is also very fragile. This helps explain the anger and hostility of many in the world toward the Church. Deep down they know we are right and often, just the slightest appeal to the conscience to awaken its voice, causes quite an eruption of fear and anger.
So here is the first stage in the anatomy of a sin: the suppression of the conscience. In order to act wickedly and not face deep psychological pain of significant guilt these men in the story first suppress their conscience in order to shut off the source of that pain. Step one is underway.
2. They would not allow their eyes to look to heaven– In order to sustain the fictions, stinking thinking, rationalizations, and sophistry that are necessary to suppress the conscience, it is necessary for one to distance himself from the very source of conscience, God himself.
One way to do this is to drift away from God though neglect of prayer, worship, study of the Word of God and association with the Church which speaks for God. Drifting away may become more severe as times goes on and the refusal to repent becomes deeper. Drifting soon becomes absence and absence often becomes outright hostility to anything religious or biblical.
Another way that some avert their eyes from heaven is to redefine God. The revealed God of Scripture is replaced by a designer God who does not care about this thing or that. “God doesn’t care if I go to church, or shack up with my girlfriend etc.” On being shown scripture quite contrary to their distorted notions of God they simply respond that Paul had hangups, or that the Bible was written in primitive times.
Culturally the refusal to look heavenward is manifest in the increasing hostility to the Catholic Christian faith. Demands growing increasingly strident that anything even remotely connected to the faith be removed from the public square. Prayer in public, nativity sets, Church Bells, any reference to Jesus or Scripture in schools, etc. It must all be removed according to the radical seculars who refuse to turn their eyes heavenward or even have anything around that reminds them to do so.
The cumulative effect is that many are no longer looking to heaven or to God. Having suppressed their conscience they now demand a Godless public square. Still others reinvent a fake God, a false kingdom, an idol. Either way, the purpose is to isolate and insulate the self from God and what he reveals.
This makes it easier to maintain the rather exhausting effort of suppressing the conscience.
So for these men in the story, step two in engaged and it further supports the suppression of conscience necessary to commit sin without the pain of guilt.
3. And did not keep in mind just judgment– Finally lets throw in a little presumption which dismisses any consequences for evil acts. This of course is one of THE sins of our current age. There are countless people, even many Catholics in the pew and clergy too who seem outright to deny that they will ever have to answer to God for what they have done. But of course this is completely contrary to Scripture that insists that we will indeed answer one day to God for what we have done.
This final stage of presumption is meant to eliminate the salutary fear that should accompany evil acts. The sinner at this stage has had some success in alleviating the psychic pain of guilt and even a lot of the fear that used to accompany sin when the voice of conscience was less layered over and muted.
But, even after suppressing the conscience and refusing heaven’s influence, still some fear remains so now an attack is made on any notion of consequences. Perhaps the sinner exaggerates the mercy and patience of God to the exclusion of God’s holiness which sin cannot endure. Perhaps he denies the reality of hell which God clearly teaches. Perhaps he denies that God exists at all and holds that there is no judgment to be faced. However he does it, he must push back the fear the punishment and/or judgment.
Here then is the anatomy of sin. Having suppressed the conscience, the voice of God to the extent possible and having removed oneself from heaven’s influence, and then denying that anything of negative consequence will come, one is freer to sin gravely. It is as though one has taken a number of stiff drinks and anesthetized himself sufficiently to proceed without pain.
But guess what, it’s still there deep down inside. The voice of conscience remains. Under all the layers of stinking thinking and attempts to insulate oneself from the true God, deep down the sinner still knows what he is doing is wrong. Even the slightest thing to prick his conscience causes increasing unease. Anger, projection, name-calling, ridiculing of anyone or anything awaken his conscience will increasing be resorted to. Sin is in full bloom now and repentance seems increasingly difficult or unlikely. Only great prayers and fasting by others for him will likely spring him loose from the deep moral sleep he is currently in. Pray for the conversion of sinners.
Why should we care about euthanasia as present in Britain? I care because we are following in their footsteps. How soon before Obama-care mandates cost cutting methods effecting care of the elderly and the weakest among us. Abortion is only the beginning! How opposed to “First, do no harm, or, in Latin, primum non nocere,” a medical injunction of the “Hippocratic oath” is this:
“THEY WISH FOR THEIR BABY TO GO QUICKLY. BUT I KNOW, AS THEY CAN’T, THE UNIQUE HORROR OF WATCHING A CHILD SHRINK AND DIE
Here is an abridged version of one doctor’s anonymous testimony, published in the BMJ under the heading: ‘How it feels to withdraw feeding from newborn babies’.”
The voice on the other end of the phone describes a newborn baby and a lengthy list of unexpected congenital anomalies. I have a growing sense of dread as I listen.
The parents want ‘nothing done’ because they feel that these anomalies are not consistent with a basic human experience. I know that once decisions are made, life support will be withdrawn.
Assuming this baby survives, we will be unable to give feed, and the parents will not want us to use artificial means to do so.
Regrettably, my predictions are correct. I realise as I go to meet the parents that this will be the tenth child for whom I have cared after a decision has been made to forgo medically provided feeding.A doctor has written a testimony published under the heading: ‘How it feels to withdraw feeding from newborn babies’
The mother fidgets in her chair, unable to make eye contact. She dabs at angry tears, stricken. In a soft voice the father begins to tell me about their life, their other children, and their dashed hopes for this child.
He speculates that the list of proposed surgeries and treatments are unfair and will leave his baby facing a future too full of uncertainty.
Like other parents in this predicament, they are now plagued with a terrible type of wishful thinking that they could never have imagined. They wish for their child to die quickly once the feeding and fluids are stopped.
They wish for pneumonia. They wish for no suffering. They wish for no visible changes to their precious baby.
Their wishes, however, are not consistent with my experience. Survival is often much longer than most physicians think; reflecting on my previous patients, the median time from withdrawal of hydration to death was ten days.
Parents and care teams are unprepared for the sometimes severe changes that they will witness in the child’s physical appearance as severe dehydration ensues.
I try to make these matters clear from the outset so that these parents do not make a decision that they will come to regret. I try to prepare them for the coming collective agony that we will undoubtedly share, regardless of their certainty about their decision.
I know, as they cannot, the unique horror of witnessing a child become smaller and shrunken, as the only route out of a life that has become excruciating to the patient or to the parents who love their baby.
I reflect on how sanitised this experience seems within the literature about making this decision.
As a doctor, I struggle with the emotional burden of accompanying the patient and his or her family through this experience, as much as with the philosophical details of it.
‘Survival is often much longer than most physicians think; reflecting on my previous patients, the median time from withdrawal of hydration to death was ten days’
Debate at the front lines of healthcare about the morality of taking this decision has remained heated, regardless of what ethical and legal guidelines have to offer.
The parents come to feel that the disaster of their situation is intolerable; they can no longer bear witness to the slow demise of their child.
This increases the burden on the care-givers, without parents at the bedside to direct their child’s care.
Despite involvement from the clinical ethics and spiritual care services, the vacuum of direction leads to divisions within the care team.
It is draining to be the most responsible physician. Everyone is looking to me to preside over and support this process.
I am honest with the nurse when I say it is getting more and more difficult to make my legs walk me on to this unit as the days elapse, that examining the baby is an indescribable mixture of compassion, revulsion, and pain.
Some say withdrawing medically provided hydration and nutrition is akin to withdrawing any other form of life support. Maybe, but that is not how it feels. The one thing that helps me a little is the realisation that this process is necessarily difficult. It needs to be.
To acknowledge that a child’s prospects are so dire, so limited, that we will not or cannot provide artificial nutrition is self selecting for the rarity of the situations in which parents and care teams would ever consider it.