Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Problem of Conscience I

Scott Bradley

Here I go, wading into an issue of incredible complexity, unsure of where it will lead, knowing full well that it will arouse offended dissent. But wait; isn't this a place for the exchange of ideas, a place to learn together? I have my way, but never would I require that it should also be yours. If that way is stated emphatically, it is because it is emphatically mine.

I have mentioned that I have a deep sense of "falling short". This is, in fact, probably the greatest burden I carry. I feel incredibly guilty. Guilty of what? Not of murder, or theft, or any other crime which willfully inflicts harm on others. What then? It is my failure to be at peace. I have deeply rooted anger issues.

I know this. And because I know it, I explore the causes and seek strategies to transcend them. As to the causes, I am aware of many. But I will not share them here; unhappy experience has taught me that to indiscriminately expose and share such things only opens the most tender parts to the plunge of the knife. Is it not sad? Sad for me, yes, in that I have found no intimate capable of non-judgmental support. But sad, too, for us all in that such intimates are so incredibly hard to find.

That I feel such a burden of guilt is, I believe, largely a consequence of an inflated sense of conscience. Conscience is something integral to the human experience, something affirmable. But conscience, like all things human, is susceptible to distortion and abuse. Being a psychological phenomenon, psychological complications attach to it.

A consequence of a distorted sense of conscience is, needless to say, a distorted sense of falling short. It is not that one does not fall short, but that one is oppressed by the fact. But if it is true that I am deeply aware of my mess, is it also the case that those who are not so aware have no similar mess? I think not. What they lack is not the mess, but the awareness of the mess. Perhaps this is simply projection, but I don't think so. My guess is that to be human is to be a mess. My guess is that you are a mess.

It might be argued that without an awareness of one's mess, it is unlikely one will find the leverage necessary to transcend it. But conscience is also a creature of degrees; a healthy conscience, like the discriminating mind itself, is one that knows it place. It knows its limits. It knows it is not a reflection of Reality. But these limits are not the negation of conscience; where conscience fails to inform and guide one in the avoidance of words and deeds which harm others, this, too, is a failure of conscience to find its place.

Our various religions and philosophies of life all turn on some perceived understanding of the meaning and ramifications of conscience. For my particular mess of an inflated conscience, I find the Daoist approach the one most promising of transcendence.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. Yes, you are right. I am a big mess too!

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