We all have the freedom to follow our own conscience. But, please, let`s not do it blindly! Catholic moral theology promotes the necessity of having an informed conscience. This means more than following our gut on difficult issues. And it definitely means more than trying to rationalize our own preferences and choices.
Cultivating an informed conscience is work of the mind and the heart. If taken seriously, it can be hard work indeed. It requires the same skills as those needed in a productive dialogue.
First, we acknowledge that we are entering into the process with certain leanings and biases. These might be due to our beliefs or preconceived notions of right and wrong in this specific situation. Or, they might be due to what we wish was right or wrong in this specific situation.
Second, we listen. We seek out the current voices in the dialogue. Catholics look to scripture and the teaching of the Church. Where does the Church stand on this specific issue? And, more importantly, what reasoning is used to support this stand? Why is this the truth that I`m supposed to believe? If it is a controversial issue, what makes it controversial? What are other voices saying? What is their reasoning?
Thirdly, we bring our own voice and experience into the dialogue. How does this truth relate to my own experience? Can I embrace this truth in its entirety, not at all, or is there a large grey area that remains unanswered?
Finally, we must face the task of discerning what is right for us. Discernment requires balancing the head and the heart. And, yes, the gut too! Seeking wisdom in prayer allows for the voice of God to have an all- important vote in the process.
The blind obedience of the past must not be replaced with mindless relativism. The world has too many loud voices that claim to have the truth, while producing no substance. It is time to study issues carefully, and ponder them prayerfully. It is time to take on the responsibility of cultivating an informed conscience.