Rationalization and the Death of Conscience

By Susan Lockhart

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English playwright Robert Bolt's 1960 drama, A Man for All Seasons, is the true story of 16th-century martyr and Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, who, because of his faith, refused to endorse King Henry VIII's desire to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Of course, Henry VIII does marry Anne Boleyn, upon which the Parliament of England passed the Act of Supremacy and the Succession to the Crown Act 1534, establishing the Church of England with Henry at its head, and requiring an oath recognizing Henry's new wife as legitimate and their children as lawful heirs to the throne. Anyone refusing to take the oath was guilty of treason.

Thomas More was subsequently executed by the King for his defiance, and is portrayed in Bolt's work as the ultimate man of principle, arguing repeatedly that a person is defined by his conscience. The play itself is exemplary of Bolt's notion of "men who know what the world is and how to be comfortable in it"; that is, forsaking one's conscience for convenience's sake. The playwright has More declaring this: "When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again."

Bolt's work very much illustrates the tension between conscience and immorality; godliness and worldliness. This pressure has always existed and we see it amply wrought, even today.

The conscience is our innate ability to separate right from wrong. We all have one issued to us by our Creator God. Romans 2:14-15 explains, "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them." (Emphasis mine).

It is the mechanism by which one can hear the voice of God; sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, but always urging us to do what is right and to avoid evil. The word conscience is a combination of the Latin words scire ("to know") and con ("together"), and literally means "co-knowledge." It is knowledge together with ourselves. It is Thomas More's "his own self in his own hands." Our conscience is beyond reason and intellect, and it knows our inner thoughts and motivations.

When our conscience pesters and scolds us, we become anxious. Psychologists explain that we have what they define as a "defense mechanism" — rationalization. This involves explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a way that seems rational or logical to our sinful hearts; in other words, inventing a plausible explanation, thus avoiding the true reasons for our actions.

Rationalization is a form of self-deception. And let's face it: human beings are sinners. Depraved and born into sin. Left to our own guidance, we enjoy sinning and we don't want to stop. But the "gatekeeper" action of our conscience — if it is functioning at all — will alert us to undesirable thoughts, motivations and behaviors.

Our conscience is overruled by rationalization. Divorced from discernment, the unacceptable becomes acceptable because we excuse it away. And the more egregious and habitual the sin crime, the greater the deceit, until the total obliteration of the conscience and permanent rationalization result. Moral disorder perverts reason, and reality becomes inverted. A false reality is established.

This is what we are seeing in America today: two realities, one true and one false. Frankly, if you are going to perform or celebrate morally objectionable acts, and indeed, define yourself by them, you'd better have a way to plausibly persuade yourself and others that it is right. Convincing yourself that your actions are acceptable is rationalization; convincing others involves the bludgeon of political correctness. Both are components of the false reality.

Speaking prophetically, Isaiah tells us what happens when rationalization, and its evil fruit, political correctness, runs amok: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (Isaiah 5:20-21). And when government, schools, popular culture, social media, talking heads, and the Church itself validate and spread the politically correct false reality, it becomes even more ubiquitous and entrenched. (This also demonstrates why the "increase in knowledge" spoken of in Daniel 12:4 is an important component of end times eschatology.)

Because the world erroneously sees the conscience as a defect that robs people of self-esteem and self-concept, it publicly rationalizes bad behavior on a societal level through political correctness, many times mandated through force of law. People become public advocates of their own narcissism, moral failures and malice. The very term "politically correct" is objectionable. It is not that a thing is "factually correct," but instead, a thing is to be perceived and accepted as "correct" simply for political purposes. Political correctness is a way to sugarcoat lies and falsely present those as truth, while simultaneously misidentifying actual truth as, for example, bigotry, racism, hate speech, or just general "meanness." Political correctness is a burden willingly accepted by those who would give up logic and freedom (generally religious freedom and freedom of speech) in favor of moral degeneracy.

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Published on 7-13-2015