A World Without Conscience

In his book Endowments of Man, Archbishop Ullathorne considers what human society might be like if people did not possess a conscience:

“That we may better understand the power of conscience, and what man would be without its light and guidance, let us suppose it withdrawn from the human breast and extinguished in the race of man. God shall no longer assert His justice in the soul, or inspire her with the fear of His judgments. Man is left to his unbounded self-seeking: his pride and his sensual appetites have no curb, no restraint, any longer. His imagination is let loose, without fear or restraint, upon his natural propensities and passions. There is nothing any longer left to withhold him but opinion and human law. There is nothing to curb him within.”

“But when conscience is lost, what becomes of human law? Where are its principles to be found? Where are its rights? and where its sanctions? What ground, again, is left on which to build a public opinion? When the conscience of right and wrong has taken leave of the soul of man, where can it be found in the social life of man? Where, again, must we look for the common sense of what is, or is not, becoming, which is the foundation of public opinion, since that also takes its rise from the human conscience?”

“Nothing is left to hold man to rule but the force of that external legislation which prohibits the violation of its laws in open day, leaving free licence to secrecy and the night. The eye of human law searches nothing but public wrong; it cannot penetrate into the breast of veiled iniquity, nor reach the deeds that are committed in secret. . . . It cannot visit those hidden springs in the man from which all evil issues into day. It cannot deal with the sources of corruption. It knows nothing of sin, but only of certain open acts of injustice. The cognisance of sin is the mighty work of the ever-wakeful conscience, which is seated in power close by the spring of the human will; enlightening, guiding, arguing, entreating, rebuking, encouraging; rewarding the good and punishing the evil deeds.”

“Were the conscience removed from its office, and its light withdrawn, the cupidities, the lusts, the self-seeking propensities of men, would be like a world of prisoners let loose in the dark, each running against the other, each overthrowing the other, each in pursuit of his own licence and liberty; the whole multitude contending against each other, where all are seeking one and the same thing. Thus whilst each one sets his will and pleasure upon his own gain, and is bent on satisfying his own pride, indulging his own cupidities, and satisfying his own lusts, what rivalries, what jealousies, what contentions, what shocks of destructive conflict, would there be in the world, bestrewing the earth with the savage remnants of human nature, reduced to the condition of the fool who said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

About SaintlySages

Sayings of Catholic saints and sages: spiritual food for meditation and reflection.
This entry was posted in Bible, Catholic, Christianity, Easter, Faith, Prayer, Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.