This last week in my walks and sittings my thoughts kept returning to the topic of the conscience, on which, I know, there has been a preponderance of writings by many scholars. My ramblings here are simple and inspired by others. I am not contending to be among a high level of thinkers. Nonetheless, as a human being the topic bears a certain amount of my concentration.
Here is what I’ve been contemplating: It seems we can all agree there are some people who are heavy laden with a severe conscience and some who are not. My thoughts have been inspired by an old novel writer, R.A.F. Gravesend who used the term “again-bite” for a severe or the conscience of remorse. Since he wrote his novels during the first ten years of the twentieth century (1910 – 1916) this term “again-bite” was unfamiliar to me and I haven’t heard of it in our modern short sound bite vernacular either. To me however, the description appears and even sounds like a catchy sound bite (forgive the pun). For the opposite deportment of a person, Gravesend used the description “an easy conscience.” He said, “these have been accepted as the determining factors of happiness or the reverse.”
This past weekend in reading one of his early novel short stories I was inspired to thoughts about the conscience in my daily walk and musings. I suppose it isn’t too far fetched to think that my unconscious mind was already twiddling with these kinds of thoughts as the season of Lent was approaching and which now is upon us fully. My twiddling thoughts were mostly about circumstances; I don’t think the word, “conscience” actually had percolated as yet. So thanks to R.A.F. Gravesend his comments stimulated the brew. His name had nothing to do with it I believe, just coincidental since in Lent we are as Christians to reawaken ourselves to the very fact that we are made from dust and to dust will return.
Gravesend’s comments on the conscience pretty much began and ended with this statement, “Of course there is an element of truth in the “easy conscience” view, but it begs the whole question. A particularly hardy conscience may be quite easy under the most unfavorable conditions—conditions in which the more feeble conscience might be severely, afflicted with the “again-bite.” And then it seems to be the fact that some fortunate persons have no conscience at all; a negative gift that raises them above the mental vicissitudes of the common herd of humanity.” [Dr. Thorndyke Mysteries Collection, “The Case of Oscar Brodski.” 1910. Kindle book ]
That statement got me thinking; so when back to my computer I checked the dictionary for clairity of the meaning of the word “conscience.” The definition given was, “The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong: Let your conscience be your guide.” This topic stayed with me and kept surfacing so I decided to write this out as I began to create a couple of my own characters to illustrate the two types “again-bite” and the “easy conscience.” This by no means exhausts he possiblities. I can see fodder for more novels.
I will give two examples that I can think of now to illustrate of these two types of consciences. Imagine, as most of us are, a person of a modest, middle-class prosperity who has a benevolent smile and goes about one’s business with most regularity. Suppose this person is not greedy or thriftless, but frugal, and careful in planning, also eminently a person of judgment. Now in all appearances this person is righteous or one of right behavior thus a happy person and one with a clear conscience. However, it is not without possibility that this same person could be a crook of high order but one with a hardy conscience or no conscience at all. Or as our early Christian Pauline teaching describes “as an conscience seared with an iron.”
[1 Timothy 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron]
The reverse type of character, or the “again-bite” conscience person may be an outwardly distasteful personality; one who is irregular in business dealings, forgetful, distrustful, and disagreeable most of the time to those in their proximity. This person may have more occasion to be smitten by his own “again-bite” conscience in almost all human exploits. This person may be self deprecating while in the presence of others; they may be insufferably commenting to others of their personal dismay over their mistakes and false dealings. To others many of those “false dealings” seen in that persons own eye, may actually be quite human behavior and not so false. These kinds of human digressions has been identified as venial sins, warranting only temporal punishment [ According to Roman Catholicism , a venial sin (meaning “forgivable” sin ) is a lesser sin that does not result in a complete separation ] and not mortal sin [These sins are considered “mortal” because they constitute a rupture in a person’s link to God’s saving grace: the person’s soul becomes “dead”, not merely weakened.] According to Gravesend this kind of conscience in a person would be in the category of a weak or feeble conscience; this person is continually being snake bitten as he put it with the “again-bite.” This self judgment, the experience of the reoccurring, cutting self awareness of one’s personal failures in actions and in character of rightness could bring on deep remorse.
During my musings on the feeble or the hardy conscience and the results that those deep realities can create in a persons life, the mirror began to shift in my direction. In the first day of Lent now, I wonder in my own self examination, am I seeing clearly? Am I? Am I willing or able to look square into this “mirror” and let my conscience reveal to me my character and let it take full command of revelation? It seems to me this particular process of self examination has been identified as an experience where one comes before one’s God with and in complete humility (a contrite heart) or/and in the words of ancient texts, in “fear of God”? Foremost in my thinking today, can I be truly penitent, wistful, pensively sad, and melancholy of any wrong ? Now that is something to think about.