I originally wrote this to be a two minute speech. It was out of scope of the prompt for the organization that I wrote it for, as well as quickly becoming to lengthy. But rather then letting it languish on a harddrive and disappear I thought I would let it have a life on the internet. The ideas I present and the language I use aren’t simple. But the concept that I present is deceiving as to its simplicity. Have a gander, and maybe leave a comment below.
I recently saw an image stating “I don’t need a religion, I have a conscience.” The idea behind this says that religion is an antiquated method that has as its sole purpose instilling moral and ethical guidelines within a person. As transcendent or enlightened individuals we no longer have need of a religion to create these values because our conscience should suffice as that authority. The ability for our conscious to determine this is part of an all inclusive worldview – or the totality of our beliefs about reality. It can be hard to test a worldview in its entirety. But if we determine the foundations of a worldview and then test those we can quickly determine the stability of the worldview as a whole.
Conscience is defined as “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behaviour.” So what happens when you allow your conscience to guide your actions? Let’s look to the Central African Republic, the ‘CAR,’ where Christians are actively engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims. If you ask the Christian members of the CAR, as has the BBC, they can very easily justify their actions with socio-economic reasoning. So is this ethnic cleansing morally right? If you were to ask their conscience, and we allow our conscience to what define right and wrong, then yes the ethnic cleansing is morally acceptable.
But the near universal condemnation of the global community for the cleansing, however, would disagree. But on what grounds? In the 3 news articles that I read, it was never explained why the ethnic cleansing is wrong. Most of the articles, in fact, avoid calling the cleansing wrong and call it many things designed to make you subconsciously embrace their conscience’s decision that this ethnic cleansing is in fact wrong but with no justification. It is a decision of their conscience that you should not kill another person and that it is more terrible should you do so based on whatever religion that person embraces.
See, the practical out flowing of the idea “I don’t need religion, I have a conscious” is that everyone is allowed to make up their own moral and ethical guidelines. And those guidelines cannot be questioned because they are guided by that transcendent and infallible inner voice. At the very worst, the conscience of the CAR is childlike – and needs to be guided to a transcendent state by the global community. But the Christians of the CAR still aren’t wrong- their conscience says so.
So here is a war of two competing consciences. Who wins? The one with the means to force the other to embrace their worldview. But if a religion is just a framework for moral and ethical guidelines and the conscience can set the same guidelines with as much or more authority then an age old religion, as our quote implies, then wouldn’t fighting a war to force another to accept the views of our conscience not become paramount to an ethnic cleansing? If we apply thought and extrapolate to the end consequences of allowing our conscience to to become the final authority for what is morally right and ethically wrong in our lives, we can easily see the outcome of this worldview. That outcome is a world where everyone does what is right in their own eyes and there can be no consequences for when someone’s right is our wrong.
So what about religion? Do we need it? If we’ve just shown that using conscience as a moral authority gives way to the ability to create differing worldviews of what is right or wrong. One could posit that something external is needed. So does a religion fill that void of an external source? I would say no. Again, our quote “I don’t need religion, I have a conscience” implies that religion provides a required framework for what is right or wrong much like a conscience but that a religion includes the unnecessary weight of rituals and tributes to appease some god with the intent of gaining reward instead of punishment.
So we don’t need either a conscience or human defined religion to determine what is right in our world. The fluidity of moral and ethical truth that results damns their ability to maintain that authority. The Christians in the CAR have allowed their conscience to redefine the morals taught within Christianity to create a pocket exception that allows them to continue with their ethnic cleansing.
What we need is an external being with the authority to define moral absolutes. Christianity puts forth a God who is infinite, almighty, and the Creator of the Universe. If He created the universe, would that not give Him the authority to define what is right or wrong? At that point, Christianity is no longer a religion with rituals and tributes – it becomes a set of truths that impact everyday life and eternity. And part of those truths are whether or not ethic cleansing have pocket exceptions or not. And the finally, the most important truth is that when ethnic cleansing is condemned as a result of the Word of God it is not a debate of consciences. It is a debate of what God says is right or wrong and in the end there is that is no debate at all.
In the end, neither religion neither conscience nor religion can determine the moral absolutes of a worldview which is a summation of the reality in which we live. The Triune God who sent Himself as His Only Son to pay the penalty for the very sins which broke our communion with Him and who Lives within us and speaks to us the Holy Spirit.