Plantinga’s argument in Not the Way I’ts Supposed to Be is that we know that something is off. We know that the world, while not unreal, is closer to a fun-house mirror than reality. As discussed last week, if this instinct is called conscience then the argument drives the definition of sin toward ethics. A solution to this is to label sin as part of our broken being, including the part that is the conscience, and call upon the conscience anyway. Another solution is to continue to seek something above the conscience.
From the Michell paper cited in footnote 20, “‘Sin’ is able to occupy the disputed territory [between the boundaries of moral responsibility and those of corporate responsibility] in such a way that it matters profoundly as we intuitively feel it does, although it is not strictly or straightforwardly moral.”
Everyone has the instinct that something is wrong because everyone has an ego and a drive to make the world as they wish. It’s not an especially Christian or even theistic argument- even assuredly economic-minded philosophers such as David Hume start their ethical framework with this instinct.
But sin is about something bigger than you. It isn’t about what you are supposed to do, it is about who you are supposed to be. All of you, even your conscience, is caught inside that definition, not above it. As another footnote 20 reference, Dalferth, states (referring to Fischer writing in another language): Accordingly, ‘Love God and they neighbor’ is not a moral or transmoral injunction but a parenetic reminder of what I am as God’s creature and how I should accordingly live my life if I want to be true to my identity.”
Given that we are stranded in this muddle with little to help us, it is reasonable to say that damaging the conscience can damage a closely linked thread to God. Martin Luther stated in his defence at Worms that “to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.” And of course St. Paul makes broad allowances for conscience in 1st Corinthians Chapter 10. Plantinga has a fantastic section in this chapter where he states that “by flouting the deliverances of his own conscience, a person breaks trust with God,” going on to refer to such as an experience as “committing moral suicide” and “shooting themselves in the conscience.”
Murdock writes, “Religion is the… love of that demand. Kant’s impersonal call of duty inspires respect, awe, fear, but not love.” (p. 146) A rule-bound religion is a disaster for faithfulness to God, for Shalom, and for a spiritually held understanding of sin. Every great religious revival has been a revolution away from a rule and toward conscience: the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Methodists. The Journal of John Woolman, Quaker is a fantastic testament to the kind of connection with God afforded by a religion that supports individual conscience.
The best book I have ever read on how to maintain this kind of love doesn’t mention religion at all. The book is Leadership and Self-Deception. It is written as an extended parable and at the point where the protagonist has a change of heart, he is mystified as to how it happened. The answer: “You questioned your virtue.” Or perhaps, you looked to something above your conscience as a route to God.
This post by loafingcactus originally published on loafingcactus.com.
We are reading one chapter per month, starting with chapter 1 in February. Read the kick-off post for this series.
Endnote 20 references: A long work by Marilyn McCord Adams is referenced. Here is a 15 minute interview with her on Philosophy Bites.
If you have JSTOR access, you can get these referenced articles:
Attfield, D.G. (1984, June). The morality of sin. Religious Studies. 20(2):227-237
Mitchell, B. (1984, June). How is the concept of sin related to the concept of moral wrongdoing? Religious Studies. 20(2):165-173
Dalfoerth, I. (1984, June). How is the concept of sin related to the concept of moral wrongdoing? Religious Studies. 20(2):175-189
Dalfoerth references: Fischer, J., Anrede als Handlung. Skizze zu einer handlungstheoretischen Rekonstruktion der logischen Strucktur christlicher Ethik, theol. Diss. Tubingen (1982).