From whence comes conscience?

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From whence comes conscience?

Post by DoubtingTom » 04 Feb 2019, 10:19

Yesterday I took my boys to a friend’s superbowl party without my wife. Our whole family was invited but she chose not to attend with us, telling me that doing so would violate her conscience. I fully respected her decision as we have gone to this same party the last few years without her and she is not into football at all.

This comment from her about conscience got me thinking though. Where does our conscience come from? I am defining conscience here as one’s inherent sense of right and wrong.

My working concept is that conscience must come primarily from one’s upbringing and culture. My wife grew up in a family that was very strict on sabbath observance. TV of any kind was never permitted. My upbringing was very orthodox but Sundays often included watching football with my dad and brothers. For us, it was family bonding. Even as an orthodox believer, watching football on Sundays never bothered me or my conscience.

When we lived out east, my wife was surprised when our EQP invited our family over for dinner and football one Sunday. And even more surprised when our Bishop hosted a large Super Bowl party that amounted to basically a ward activity. Clearly in that ward the culture was such that watching football was ok. My wife never felt comfortable doing that even though her Bishop clearly was.

Clearly one can overcome one’s upbringing and culture and engage in activities that may at one time have violated one’s conscience. Examples that come to mind are a Jewish person who chooses to leave the faith and breaks kosher for the first time or an ex-JW celebrating her first birthday. Or drinking one’s first Coke after an upbringing that forbade all caffeinated beverages. These could violate one’s conscience at the time even though logically the individual knows there is nothing inherently wrong with these activities.

Should one pay attention to one’s conscience? Should one see conscience as coming from God even though it differs so widely between individuals? Is it healthier to trust your conscience or to challenge why you feel the way you do about certain things?

My thoughts on this are very young and I’m interested to hear your perspectives.

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Re: From whence comes conscience?

Post by On Own Now » 04 Feb 2019, 10:33

Should one pay attention to one’s conscience? Yes, if they want to.

Should one see conscience as coming from God even though it differs so widely between individuals? Yes, if they want to.

Is it healthier to trust your conscience or to challenge why you feel the way you do about certain things? Some will find one way healthier, some the other.

My point is this. Conscience is absolutely the most individually personal aspect of our being. I have no problem with people having their own inherent sense of right and wrong, so long as it does no violence to others.

In your football scenario, I will point out that while you said "family bonding" you described it as "male family bonding". In my own case, my dad and I loved to watch football together, but my mom wasn't interested. It didn't have anything to do with sabbath observance.
"Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another." --Romans 14:13

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Re: From whence comes conscience?

Post by dande48 » 04 Feb 2019, 13:18

DoubtingTom wrote:
04 Feb 2019, 10:19
Should one pay attention to one’s conscience? Should one see conscience as coming from God even though it differs so widely between individuals? Is it healthier to trust your conscience or to challenge why you feel the way you do about certain things?
My 2 cents:
-Our conscience is a tool. It allows us to take certain mental shortcuts so we don't have to fully think things out. Like all mental shortcuts, it's good for making quick decisions, but unfortunately it can be manipulated and lead to wrong conclusions.
-Religiously, people see their conscience as coming from God. But, since conscience was differ widely between individuals, this causes many to view with antagonism those who act differently. Since God wouldn't tell different people contradictory things, it can only be supposed that someone who acts in a way that goes against "what God has told you", is listening to the devil.
-Your gut is there for a reason. If you feel off about a situation, chances are there is a good reason why. There's a saying that goes "Don't ever take a fence down, until you know the reason it was put up." If you are going to act against your gut, that's when you should really think things through and assess the situation.
"The whole world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel." - Horace Walpole

"Even though there are no ways of knowing for sure, there are ways of knowing for pretty sure."
-Lemony Snicket

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Re: From whence comes conscience?

Post by DarkJedi » 05 Feb 2019, 07:06

I suppose from the very orthodox view, our conscience is "the Light of Christ." I've always had a hard time figuring out what the difference is in the Light of Christ vs. the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, I do believe we all have an innate goodness, and if that's the Light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, or something else entirely it doesn't matter because I'm good with it. I am not a psychologist or an anthropologist, but I do believe all people have the innate knowledge that killing another human is wrong (for example). I also believe upbringing does have something to do with our inner voices and feelings and that this is part of our conscience. Therefore, my conscience can be different from yours (IOW, you may have feelings of guilt for things that I do not). Generally speaking I think we should follow our consciences.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Re: From whence comes conscience?

Post by Roy » 06 Feb 2019, 10:11

DarkJedi wrote:
05 Feb 2019, 07:06
I do believe all people have the innate knowledge that killing another human is wrong
I understand that some few do not have this innate knowledge, but I agree that most do. Speaking very broadly, I think there are some things that we do not do because they feel wrong and other things that we do not do because there are negative consequences to doing them (regardless of how we feel about it). There is overlap between these two categories.

I suppose "conscience" is a combination of innate feelings, upbringing, and fear/anxiety about triggering negative consequences.

I also just noticed that it is spelled "Con-Science". ;)
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Re: From whence comes conscience?

Post by Reuben » 07 Feb 2019, 02:52

I think of conscience as the result of unconscious processes that leave us with an "avoid" reaction and anticipatory guilt or shame. The fact that the processes are unconscious doesn't make them dumb - in fact, they're very smart, predictive, context-sensitive, state-sensitive... and highly programmable, especially early in life. By definition (of "unconscious"), they're not directly observable, but the feelings they surface are, as well as maybe a prediction or two. Self-reflection and self-study can sometimes allow access to the underlying reasoning, or at least decent guesses about it.

I think the elephant-and-rider metaphor is a pretty good framework for thinking about this, whether God is influencing the elephant or not.

It's obvious to me that identity plays a role. When I was still attending, coffee felt like a temptation, even though I was certain drinking it was a made-up sin. After I stopped attending and was in a state where feeling less Mormon made me feel better in general, the health benefits (let's not delve into it here) and desire to remove "Mormon" as an identity made coffee feel like little more than a good idea. My reaction to it switched from "avoid" to "approach."

Experiences like that, as well as knowing just enough social psychology to be dangerous, lead me to believe that conversion mostly entails changing allegiences. In a profound way, it changes almost every context you make decisions in, which metaphorically roots out your old conscience and replaces it with a new one.
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