Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reason Informed by Faith by Fr. Rich Gula: Formation of Conscience

Our moral choices are reflective of our personal character and vision, and this character and vision are directly shaped by our experiences in the world.  In “Chapter 10: Formation of Conscience,” however, there are two discussions of prime interest in how we form our conscious choices.  The first discusses how the media and entertainment shapes our imagination and values, thus influencing our moral choices.  The second, and more important, presents an analysis of several questions we answer in making moral choices, and it is here that I have discovered great wisdom and insight.
Fr. Rich cites William Fore’s book Television and Religion: The Shaping of Faith, Values, and Culture and how it surmises that media is usurping the role of the church in our lives. Fore’s ideas are even more relevant today with the role of the internet and social networks.  Fore argues, moreover, that television (and I would add internet and social networks) is the place where people establish their world view. Fr. Rich elaborates here by pointing out that even “family” shows portray a lack of marital fidelity, and popular sitcoms present characters that live the single life and use sexual innuendo to gain acceptance and elicit laughs.  These programs represent a world that is in direct conflict with the gospel message and rob us of the beauty and depth found in images and stories of truth in the gospel message.  Although there have been pioneers in television such as Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the secular, prime-time norm is a message of violence, self-serving behavior, and sex.  Fr. Rich, furthermore, discusses the world of advertising and media’s even deeper influence on what we see and how it influences both a skewed vision and our developing character. Our vision and character are influenced by the various experiences we have in our world, but we must strive to form our imaginative experiences, and those of our families, through scripture and the meritorious lives and teachings of Christian tradition.
Daniel Maguire’s The Moral Choice presents several important questions we must consider in forming our conscious decisions. Of all the questions Maguire proposes, there are two that make us think most critically about our moral choices.  First, is the why. When we consider why we do something, it should point to our motivation and reason for choosing to do our actions.  The why, in essence, points toward either the motivation of charity or something other than love. Honesty, Fr. Rich explains, is the ethical challenge that shapes our integrity that we face in approaching the why, and a “whole-hearted wanting is the only sound basis for our why.”  
In understanding critical moral choices, we must also look at the what if.  This, consequently, looks beyond the here-and-now to the extending consequences of our actions. The what if, then, is detrimental to the what and the why of our moral choices in that it looks beyond the immediacy of the choice to the impact it has on the future and any influence the moral choice may have on other future moral outcomes. Fr. Rich gives several pertinent examples including euthanasia and shoplifting.  Each, according to his argument, has ramifications on future decisions and can set precedent for more negative moral behavior.  An example Fr. Rich does not mention, however, but that illustrates the what if extremely well, is Pope Paul VI’s decision to uphold artificial contraception as inherently evil in his 1968 publication Humanae Vitae. Even though the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control established by St. John XXIII in 1963 published a majority report that recommended to approve artificial birth control, Pope Paul VI chose to side with the minority report and condemn artificial contraception thus upholding the papal moral decision on birth control in Casti Connubii in 1930.  Although this is one of the most contested decisions in the Catholic Church, even moral dissenters can at least appreciate the pope’s reasoning by considering the what if.  On p. 373 of The Catholic Catechism, Fr. John A. Hardon points to the argument made in Humanae Vitae that contraception “is inseparable on a moral plane from either abortion or sterilization.” The contraceptive mentality, many classically-minded traditionalists argue, ushers in an abortive mentality.  The what if in this case leads to a grave offense against humanity and life, and, in my opinion, is relevant to understanding the pope’s moral judgement on this controversial teaching.
What else is the next step from Maguire’s The Moral Choice.  The what else explores options that spring out from the morally dangerous what if scenarios.  Using the above example, the what else in this case clearly aligns with the Church’s teaching, which came out of Humanae Vitae, regarding natural family planning.

I am currently reading Reason Informed by Faith by Fr. Richard Gula, S.S.  While reading the text, I will occasionally share some of my notes and observations.  All concepts are taken from Fr. Gula’s text, but I have added my interpretation, voice, and analysis throughout. Taking personal liberty, I have skipped documentation and in-text citations.  Enclosed are my notes and thoughts on a given text and nothing more.