Archive for Questioning

Our conscience must be developed

Can conscience alone judge the worth of an action? People commonly assume that it can. When we are accused of wrongdoing, we sometimes defend ourselves by claiming our conscience was clear. The implication is that if we didn’t feel guilty when we did it, then we can’t have done anything wrong. Although certainly convenient, this logic does not hold. People can do many bad things with a clear conscience. A murderer may have no sense of guilt or shame whilst committing his crime, and yet we would not absolve him of wrongdoing. Therefore, conscience alone cannot judge whether an action is good or bad.

Some people view conscience as an impulse that comes directly from God. They equate following their conscience with following the will of God, and thus see conscience as an absolute moral guide. This view is incorrect. Our conscience does not come from any outside source, but is rather a reflection of our own inner beliefs and values. If such values are indeed aligned with the will of God, then our conscience will follow suit, but this may not be the case. It is important to realize that our conscience is only based on our current understanding. It is not infallible.

This does not mean that we should ignore our conscience. On the contrary, going against our conscience is never a good idea. However, we do need to realize that our conscience must be developed, and thus by implication, can be distrusted. Clearly we should never act against our own values, but we must still be open to the possibility of changing these values. We can only act based on what we know at the time, but we should always strive to increase this knowledge.

Therefore, developing our conscience is an important pursuit in life. It is easy to cause pain in this world, and it requires great insight and thoughtfulness to minimize this. We must think about our actions and how they make others feel. We must evaluate our values and our understanding of human nature. Our feelings are not the ultimate guide to right and wrong – they simply reflect our thoughts. Hence we must think about what is truly good for ourselves, for others, and for the world. Only then can our conscience properly develop, and only then can our actions be congruent with the right way to live.

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Is our spirituality about finding happiness or finding Truth?

How do we view spirituality? What are we trying to find? Some of us see spirituality as a search for Truth, and many popular religions claim to know this Truth. Others view spirituality more as a quest for happiness, looking for a set of beliefs or practices that will bring this about. Both of these goals are perfectly natural: The quest for Truth is worthwhile and important, and the desire for happiness is common to us all. Nonetheless, it is important to be clear about which particular goal we are aiming for.

If our goal is to find Truth then a certain approach is appropriate. We must inquire with no restrictions on what we might find. The Truth could be good or bad: We cannot believe something because we would like it to be true, we can only believe it because we think it is true. Thus, we must question with an open mind and accept whatever we discover.

If our goal is to find happiness, then our approach is different. We are looking for a way of living that makes us feel good. The primary goal is not Truth. In fact, we may even find ourselves wanting to believe things that we think are untrue. For example, we may find it comforting to believe that a God-like figure watches over us, and yet deep down consider this possibility unlikely. In such situations, it is foolish to delude ourselves and believe something untrue. However, we can acknowledge the idea as a useful way to think, even if not necessarily factual.

Problems arise when we are confused about our goal. We may state that we are looking for Truth when deep down we are really just looking for happiness. This can result in us defending beliefs that make us happy – such as the belief in a God-like figure – even when another part of us thinks they are untrue. Such conflicts are less likely to arise when we are clear about our goal. Although we may be reluctant to distinguish between searching for Truth and searching for happiness, it is well worth doing. The two are related, but not identical, and our journey will be more directed and less confusing if we know exactly what we are aiming for.

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