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Making Moral Decisions 101

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In his personal journal earlier this week (a locked post, so I am not linking to it), an atheist friend mockingly posted about the new seven deadly sins. A rather snarky conversation broke out in the comments among several people of an anti-Catholic bent. Sister Mary Martha did a good job with her commentary on the story itself, but I want to address one of the remarks that appeared in the journal. Since it was a locked post, I will keep this quote anonymous.

I guess the argument is that, if you're not sure whether it's a sin or not, you offend God by running the risk. It might be a sin, but you don't care; you're ignoring the question entirely, and even God can't stand to be ignored.

I was annoyed by the assumption that blindly faithful religionists don't devote any intelligent thought to this issue. In fact, any well-catechized Catholic (sadly, a rara avis these days) can provide the answer. (In all fairness, the comment was in regard to an unfortunately worded quote by the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary.)

When in doubt as to whether something is a sin or not, we can arrive at the solution ourselves with confidence that we are not offending God. He asks we do only two things:

1. Follow our consciences.
2. Make every effort in good faith to form our consciences according to his teachings.

Of course, many people have a firm grasp on #1 while wholly ignoring #2. It should be obvious that we need to form our consciences, though; after all, even the worst criminal can twist his malformed conscience to justify his evil acts.

Formation of conscience can include referring to the Catechism, asking priests and other catechetical authorities, and generally remaining well-informed on Catholic teaching on those issues that cause us trouble.

Although lots of rules can be specified for any particular moral question -- rules upon rules, until we are drowned in scrupulous rules -- a basic, organic approach, a "rule of thumb", is these two steps. This is what I follow. Step two is the ongoing work of a lifetime, and that preparation is what makes step one work.

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Anna said...
March 16, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

While I'm all for the follow and form your conscience route, I think the poster still has a point. It IS a sin to do something when you think it might be a sin, but aren't sure. I think those who are inexperienced in life are most likely to have a conscience which is unsure.

RCB said...
March 17, 2008 at 11:30 AM  

Thanks for your comment. I think we are both right. First, I know I did not give the context for the quote, but it was meant sarcastically. Even in sarcasm, the poster came to a good conclusion.

It is indeed a sin to do something that might be a sin when you're not sure. In fact, I think that is a sin even if the thing in question turns out not to be. The sin is in not doing "due diligence" or informing one's conscience. Taking an "I don't care" or "God will understand" attitude is wrong.

I think a lot of people who are very experienced in life might still have unsure consciences. Making moral decisions takes practice. I guess that's Moral Decision Making 201!

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