If it doesn’t feel wrong, then it’s right, right?

(Note: I’m presenting an argument in this post and I think I have the right answer, but I’m not 100% beyond a shadow of a doubt sure. I’m inviting friendly debate because I really am seeking the truth.) How many times have you heard this statement: It doesn’t feel wrong, so it’s right. Maybe you’ve even said it. But let’s think about it some more. If it doesn’t feel wrong, then does that really mean that it’s right? I’ve been pondering this problem for a while and I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you, to bounce off of you, and you can let me know what you think, whether you agree or disagree, whether you find these ideas helpful or not. And we’ll go from there. Alright? Okay, let’s go then.

An experience I had a few weeks ago comes to mind. I had company from out-of-town staying with me and they wanted to check their email, but I don’t have internet access at home. Or rather, I don’t have an account. But one of my guests discovered that other people in the neighborhood do have internet access and he suggested that I just use theirs.

“Didn’t you know you could do that?” He asked, somewhat surprised at my apparent “ignorance”.

“Well, yes. I’ve noticed their systems listed as available wireless networks when I was using my own wireless router.”

“Then why don’t you just log on using theirs?”

“Because that would be stealing,” his wife chimed in.

“Precisely,” I said, somewhat surprised at his apparent ignorance.

“It’s not stealing. The signals are just floating around out there. It doesn’t bother me at all to use them. Not at all.” A smug smile slid into place on his face.

“I’m not sure that the fact that it doesn’t bother you actually makes it right to do it.” Well, at least, I thought, he isn’t picking on me for being Catholic. That’s a relief. Sort of.

“I don’t see any problem with it.”

Was he arguing with me? Or himself?

He proceeded to use the internet and apparently it did not bother him. I even signed on to check some messages myself. When he came into the room and discovered me online, he was elated. A little too elated. “Awright, I corrupted you!”

I felt suddenly dirty, as if I had fallen into a muddy puddle. I signed off and shut down the laptop. And I haven’t done that again. When I said it was wrong, I was right. When I went along, I was wrong.

So here’s a question for you: If he thought it was okay to “use” the signal that was “just floating around out there”, then why was he so glad that he had “corrupted” me, to use his own words? What is the difference between his conscience and mine? And his wife’s too, if you recall; she’s the one who said it was stealing. So she knew and I knew, but he didn’t. Or said he didn’t. But did his own words belie that? Why would he consider that he had corrupted me unless he actually did know that it was stealing, but had chosen to ignore that fact and do it anyway because it suited him to do so?

I have another example. This one comes from a different kind of experience. I’ve known a few people who have diabetes. If you know anyone who suffers from this, then you know how careful they have to be about their circulation, especially in their extremities. Numbness in fingers, hands, toes, and feet can lead to serious trouble, injury and even death. Burns and cuts are particularly dangerous. A numb finger or toe does not feel pain and does not send a warning signal to the brain, enabling the person to take steps to avoid further danger or to handle danger already present.

Are you catching my drift?

Your conscience is like that warning that lets you know that danger is present, that warns you to take steps to protect yourself. Now our central nervous system takes care of physical pain and signals for us. Even so, we are taught, most of us as young children, to avoid such things as open flames and electric eyes on stoves. And most of us, I hope, are taught when we are young the difference between right and wrong. But I think that there are very many people who in recent years have convinced themselves—and others—that there is no real right and wrong, no truth that can be known, that all we have to do is follow our own way and do what we want to do because we are free and freedom means having the power to do just as you please.

Really? Does it? Does freedom mean unlimited freedom? And truth, is there really no truth? Is it impossible to know the truth? Do these sound like sound teachings? Sound philosophy? Does this sound like the thinking of someone who has a properly formed conscience?

Ah, and now we are getting at what is precisely the problem: People are attempting to follow their consciences having neglected to first form those consciences. Unlike our bodies which function largely on their own, with some input and training from us and parents and the like, our consciences must be formed by someone else, someone whose own conscience is already formed. Left to ourselves, we will grow and develop much like animals.

But, wait! There are those who tell us everyday that animals are exactly what we are!

Yes, they do. And they are wrong. Dead wrong. We do share a lot in common with the animals. Our physical nature, our bodies, much of our form, we do share. But that isn’t all we are. If you see only with your physical eyes, the physical is all you will see. But man is endowed with a higher vision, a higher way of seeing that no animal can even imagine. Reason separates human from animal. (And I’m using a capital R there even though you can’t tell it since the word began the sentence.) And Reason isn’t all that separates us. I don’t imagine there are any animals sitting around right now, thinking, reasoning and imagining how to build a space telescope or how to deal with the problem of conservation of human habitats.

(And tell me, while I’m thinking about it: how is it that the people who insist that we’re just animals like the other animals also insist that we human animals have an obligation, a duty, to save the other animals? Why doesn’t some other animal have an obligation to save us, huh? Clearly, those people know very well that we are different, far different from any of the animals on this planet. It’s just another example of people wanting to believe whatever they want to believe while ignoring the truth, no matter how clear it is.)

Formation comes from without. No one forms a conscience on his own in a vacuum. We don’t teach ourselves language. If a child is raised from infancy in a place removed from people, say, surrounded by animals, he will not develop language on his own. He will not talk. He may make guttural sounds, but he will not develop words and language. These things are learned from other humans and passed on to other humans. They are learned in families and larger groups. We are taught how to use words, how to speak, how to identify objects and things and ideas and safety and danger, and when to stand and when to run, and how to tell right from wrong.

Animals don’t know right from wrong. They may know that if they make a mess in the house, they’re going to get yelled at or thrown out into the backyard, but they don’t have an understanding of the moral difference between right and wrong, and certainly they don’t understand good and evil. Some people don’t seem to understand that either. Some animals do seem to sense when someone has evil intentions toward someone they (the animals) identify as theirs. But then there are cases of thoroughly despicable and evil people having pets who are loyal to them no matter what. So even that loyalty, in the end, only gives further evidence of that lack of discernment about good and evil that man has. Or can have. Or should have. Needs to have…

We’ll be exploring further in the days to come what conscience means, and formation of conscience, in other posts. Until then you can learn more in the Catechism of the Catholic Church*. As always, comments are welcome and thank you for reading. Peace be with you.
___________________

Notes

*The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a treasury of knowledge, of sound doctrine and moral and social teaching. Start there and with the Bible, which the Catechism references throughout, along with the Fathers of the Church, Church Councils down through the ages, and much much more. The Catechism is a precious gift. I carry a mass market paperback copy with me everywhere I go, along with my personal-size study Bible.

A Treasury of Catholic Doctrine

Catholic Moral Teaching

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About Disciple

I am a pro-life activist, blogger, writer, poet, singer songwriter, musician, photographer, nerd, bookworm and Mac fan. I have two dogs, one of whom is well-travelled. (I had three for a while after adopting a senior dog, but he has now passed away, and the pack is back to two girl dogs. One was born after, the days of mammoth road trips.) And the most important thing is: I was received into Holy Mother Church in 1996 and, through the grace of God, I love Christ and His Church more with every passing day. Thanks be to God!
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6 Responses to If it doesn’t feel wrong, then it’s right, right?

  1. kirsten says:

    because since you used the stolen internet as well. either he *really* wasnt wrong…. or he isnt alone in his sin.

    The Devil knows very well that it is far easier to “go along” with a group. for good. or for ill….. which is why the Society being so full of sin is so hazardous to people….

    • Disciple says:

      Hi again, Kirsten. :)

      You know, I’ve been thinking some more about this, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened. I’ve kept myself from doing it again and have faced down the temptation every time it’s reared its head, which I was secretly proud of myself for doing. Ah, pride…

      I spoke with a dear friend this morning who happens to be a former Protestant minister and is a theologian and one of the most faithful Catholics I’ve ever known. And he’s not sure I presented my case in the most convincing way. Well, he actually said that I am arguing from innuendo and haven’t made my case at all.

      This is my week, it appears, to be humbled in all sorts of ways. Thanks be to God!

      (Did that sound convincing? Lord, make it so!)

      It still feels like stealing to me. It still seems wrong. My conscience bothers me about even signing on for the little while that I did sign on, as I related in the story above. But maybe I’m wrong. In any case, this only serves to make my further point about how necessary is the formation of conscience. The intellect is involved and learning must take place, we must learn and be trained. I need to learn more, we all need to learn more.

      I’m not prepared to reverse my statements, though I am prepared to admit that I need to do more thinking and I think I even need to do what my friend suggested, which is ask someone who knows canon law. And yes, I do think it’s that important. I want to get it right, especially if I’m going to write about it here. I don’t want to mislead anyone. And if it turns out that I am totally wrong, I will revise accordingly and provide a notice of what I’m revising and why.
      I am not prepared yet to do that, but I do admit the possibility that I may have to later. We’ll see.

      Either way, it really does seem like stealing to me and I will continue to not sign on to other people’s accounts until such time as it can be truly made plain to me that it is not stealing and my conscience can accept it.

      I don’t see that happening, btw. I don’t see my conscience being able to accept it. I think I used to accept so much as being acceptable that the Lord is trying to get through to me that certain things are not acceptable, no matter how convenient or inconvenient or acceptable or unacceptable they might appear to myself or to others.

      Or I’m developing a bad case of scruples and should be looking very hard at something else I’m doing and over-compensating by looking at this thing so hard instead.

      I’m getting a headache now. St. Therese, pray for me, pray that I will be given the gift of childlike simplicity! Amen.

      Peace be with you, Kirsten. Thanks for reading and commenting again. :)

  2. J.W. Wartick says:

    Oooh excellent seeing you delve into philosophy more often! I think you have the makings of a case here and should try to develop it more. It quite reminds me of the “argument from reason” in one of its varied forms.

    If I may be so bold, I might suggest reading a work on logic to tighten up those debate skills (Norman Geisler’s “Come, Let us Reason” is a very good introduction… and I’m sure there are tons of web sites out there that have info on logic, probably even classes).

    In any case, I personally quite enjoyed your post. I think situations like you describe here often tend to develop because once someone “tests the waters” so to speak, we feel more comfortable with the situation.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Catholic, but Ignatius of Loyola has some pretty interesting works on the area of not being lead into temptation. I tend to think that we can’t do so on our own volition (we are sinful by nature… so it would be impossible for us to go on in life without sin on our own), but there are ways in which God helps us keep from sin.

    • Disciple says:

      Hi, JW :) *waves*

      Thanks for your comment! :) I’m torn on this one, torn between wanting to explore it further, and in another direction, wanting to write poetry and music and discuss the psalms and leave arguments and philosophy behind. But if the teachings can’t be applied in real life, then what good are they? Argh. So I can’t leave it alone until I figure it out. Or until someone else figures it out and lets me know. ;)

      By “sinful nature” do you mean “concupiscence”, the stain of original sin, our woundedness, or do you mean “total depravity”? (I remember that you’re not Catholic, but I don’t remember your thought on that matter right off the top of my head.) In Catholic thought, the sacrament of baptism gives us an inflow of sanctifying grace that removes this stain, but we still have the effects of sin which lead us to tend toward sin. But God does indeed have even more ways to help us stay away from sin. The other sacraments come to mind, along with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, of course, the Eucharist. The Eucharist, when received by a soul in the state of grace and with the proper interior disposition, remits venial sin and increases grace in our souls too.

      The more generously we respond to grace, the more we make an effort to correspond to it, the more we love God and neighbor, the more grace and charity God can pour into our souls and hearts. The more we love, the more we can love. This is something it has taken me so long, not to understand, but to begin to practice, to begin to live.

      May the Lord continue to pour His grace and love into your heart and soul, JW, and also in mine. Peace be with you.

      (From one who feels that she is only just beginning to be a) Disciple

      • J.W. Wartick says:

        I believe in total depravity. I don’t think that on our own we can come to God or do any spiritually good work. People can do good works on their own because, as the Bible says, even unbelievers have the Law written on their hearts.

        Once God calls us to faith, through Scripture and baptism, the old Adam dies and we are saved. But sin is ever a call to us (and too often we give in!).

        Anyway, I think all of your posts are quite good. I like what you said at the end here–just beginning to be a disciple. That’s how we are our entire lives! Isn’t it awesome though, to delve into some of the philosophy and love the Lord our God with all of our minds?

        Anyway, I need to get to work (I think about philosophy and Christianity all day while I’m there :D).

        -J.W.

        • Disciple says:

          I agree with what you’re saying about how we tend, on our own, toward sin. It’s the effect of sin, even after the stain of original sin has been removed through baptism, we still suffer from the effects of sin. Our intellects are darkened and our will is wounded. But not completely, that’s where the spiritual regeneration comes in. But it certainly is a constant and daily (and hourly and minute-ly and second-ly) struggle that we wage against temptation and only by God’s grace and with God’s grace can we struggle, much less succeed. I understand that there are Christian communities that do teach that this means “total depravity”, that’s something that the Catholic Church doesn’t share with those communities (perhaps communions would be a better term?). But we do share very much: the necessity of God’s grace, the fact that we do, indeed, tend to do what we wouldn’t and not do what we would. Saint Paul was spot on (as usual) writing about the weakness of the flesh. I love Saint Paul more and more as times goes on and I discover more and more how much I don’t know about theology or morality or anything else. It’s true! The more I learn, the more I row my little boat out into the vast open waters of the ocean of Christian wisdom, the more I feel that at any moment I may sink beneath the waves on a foggy and stormy dark sea.

          And then I remember that I am just one little disciple in the Body of Christ and I close my eyes and ask Him to help me and guide me and show me the way. Then I grip the oars again and get back to rowing, watching the shore rise slowly into view through the slowly rising fog.

          Sometimes it does my soul good to stop talking and writing and instead open my Bible and dive into the deep waters of the Word.

          Lord, teach me Thy ordinances and guard all my ways.
          Saturate me to the depths with Thy Law,
          make my ears ring with the words of Thy prophets,
          lift up my heart that I may sing Thee a new song.
          Help me to be Thy servant,
          a true disciple
          and not in name alone.

          Peace be with you, JW. And thank you for your very kind words about my rambling posts. I write exactly the way I talk, one long ramble after another. I imagine that one pretty much either enjoys it or finds it totally annoying. ;) (I know what you mean, btw, I think about this stuff all the time too. All the time, 24/7/365. All the time. I never thought it would happen to me but I am in love with Christ and His Church and I wouldn’t trade this situation for anything. Not anything at all.)

          Disciple

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