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Religion and the Conscience
Religion and conscience are often associated with one another.
There is no Hebrew word for conscience.
Plays a part in many biblical stories
Jonathon Gorsky (1999) argues that the conscience can be seen in stories like
when Joseph is tempted by the wife of Potiphar, Joseph resists. A commentary suggests that
he was about to give in when his conscience showed itself in the form of his father's face.
Accounts of where sinful acts caused the sinner a profound sense of sin in the heart. This
could be seen as an indicator of conscience, however the conscience does not necessarily
point out the right path to take.
Rabbinic literature talks of the existence of evil and good inclinations (good inclinations are
supported by the Torah and reason).
Gorsky notes the tensions and conflicts with traditional sources when it comes to matters of
the conscience e.g. the role of women in the sources.
In the New Testament St. Paul mentions the conscience many times, he describes it as
an awareness of what is good and bad. He also says it can be mistaken and weak.
St. Jerome saw it as the power to distinguish good from evil: `the spark of
conscience...with which we discern sin'
St. Augustine of Hippo saw conscience as a tool of observing the law of God
within human hearts `men see the moral rules written in the
book of light which is called truth...'¸saying that God gave us our
conscience to help us determine his law (which is laid down). He identified the conscience as
`the voice of God' speaking to us (which we must seek within us). He believed that
this intuitive activity revealed most God-like behaviour, which in turn brings us into close unity
Ron Greaves (1999) says in Islam an understanding of the centrality of revelation is
key in understanding the role of the conscience in Islam.
Islam means surrendering to the will of ALLAH, therefore any idea of an individual internal
moral authority is alien to Islam, and the conscience's working cannot be relied upon.
The social dimension of the conscience can be found in the idea of UMNAH, the Muslim
community as a place where Islamic law is lived out.
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Sutfi tradition is an exception, where there is a sense of an individual awareness of
conscience as the soul must be held ready for the grace of illumination.
Scholarly thinking on the conscience
He saw the conscience as a faculty or device by which we make moral decisions, it helps us
distinguish right from wrong (rather than it being an inner knowledge).
He thought people tended towards good and away from evil, this is THE
SYNDERISIS RULE.…read more
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IGNORANCE, this is culpable ignorance as factors are within the realms of
your duty to know about.
Anglican priest, theologian.
Wrote that the most crucial thing that distinguishes men and women from the animal world is
the possession of the faculty of conscience and reason.
Being human involves being moral.
Saw conscience as the final decision maker `There
is a principle of reflection in
men by which they distinguish between approval and
disapproval of their own actions...this principle in man...…read more