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Friday, July 20, 2007

freedom, conscience and fundamental option: a synthesis

“Morality is of the highest importance - but for us, not for God.” – Albert Einstein
All humans are moral. In talking about human morality, freedom, conscience and fundamental option are components that are referred to. These things that comprise human morality are the central concerns of this research, hoping that at the end of the paper, a realization will have been made regarding the moral imperatives of human mind.
Freedom, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraints in choice or action.”[1] Given that human beings are alive because of desires, constraints stand opposed to choosing or acting on such desires. The necessity or coercion of not having to pursue these desires is opposed by freedom, a reason why humans like freedom and dislike oppositions to freedom. We do not welcome the presence of constraints, impediments and burdens; when they are absent, there is a cause for rejoicing because we can say we are free.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that the power of voluntary choice—his conception of freedom—is related to moral responsibility.[2] Hence, in choosing to pursue desires, humans must do so voluntarily. It becomes not praiseworthy if humans perform involuntary actions, such as when a pilot is coerced into landing his plane in order to avoid a raging typhoon. The case does not present freedom, even as it looks like the pilot may have followed his moral responsibility of protecting his passengers from dangers posed by the storm. For humans to be truly free, we must consider moral responsibility in exercising our power of voluntary choice. Whatever desire motivates us into action, we have the freedom to think and decide about what promotes this desire as a way to achieving it. It is within our power to choose if this desire will bring us harm or good to the point that our decision will be able to tell whether we will become good or bad persons as a consequence of deciding for or against pursuing our desire.
The aforementioned situation is that which relates freedom with conscience and fundamental option. We are free but this freedom must be done in the light of moral responsibility. This is a dictation of our conscience, which reminds us that God has set out moral laws meant to give us human dignity as we obey them. Our obedience to these laws serves as our fundamental option, because the free will given to us by God is itself meant to be exercised under God’s moral standards.
With free will, human beings have the freedom of choice or self-determination. Given a scenario, persons could have done other than what they did after resolving a decision. Having done what they did and not otherwise, they followed their self-determination. Determination and free will are somewhat paradoxical in that the former holds that all human actions are generated wholly by preceding events instead of the exercise of the free will.[3] As it is, free will is the faculty of choice and decision that performs a rational act after complete deliberation. However, when God—the Creator who gifted humans with free will—has laid out His laws, He intended that humans obey them. Human beings will exercise their free will to choose to do good by following God’s commandments or to do bad by disobeying the same. If they do the latter, they are accountable to the subsequent human moral component.
The next component of human morality is conscience, which means “an ability or faculty or sense that leads to feelings of remorse when we do things that go against our moral values, or which informs our moral judgment before performing such an action.”[4] In a religious viewpoint, conscience is that which bothers humans when something evil was committed, or that which informs them of an action’s rightness or wrongness right before it is committed. When a good thing is done, the conscience is not aroused to unbraid guilt, but when a bad thing is done especially to someone who does not deserve such evil, the conscience will haunt restlessly.
It is in the nature of human conscience to remain silent over good actions and to shriek over bad ones because God has advised all men to “love thy neighbor.”[5] When humans do not comply, they disobeys God’s commandment and their conscience haunts them. Only when they confess their sins to God will they be able to clear their conscience.
According to the Bible, the true Christian may have any of the three different types of conscience: a weak conscience, a defiled conscience, and a pure conscience.[6] A weak conscience is an untaught conscience because it lacks knowledge of the Bible to the extent where it is extra sensitive and brands some activities as “sins” even as they are not wrong insofar as Biblical teachings are concerned.[7] Christians with weak consciences call activities like eating meat originally offered to religious idols as wrong whereas the Bible does not condemn these in the first place. Knowing the Bible increasingly gives humans the power to strengthen their weak conscience[8] in order to see activities in consideration of God’s Words rather than of man-made Church’s culture. Meanwhile, a defiled conscience is that which has not been heeded.[9] This means that the conscience is violated when humans defy their own conscience. Finally, a pure conscience is that which is free from any offense against God or against humans who have been neglected by his fellows.[10] It is always having the ability to look God or any person in the eye knowing that there was nothing between them that had not been confessed and corrected.
However, humans would offend God or fellowmen through sin if they did not maintain a pure conscience.[11] The defiled conscience through the guilt of sinning creates several effects. One such effect is having an unacknowledged offense before God and the consequential lack of courage needed to plead for spiritual growth. The desire for closeness with God through Christian sharing or Bible studying is dramatically lessened.[12] Also, a guilty conscience debilitates humans from talking to others about God because they can be accused of not having made right.[13] Lastly, continuously carrying a guilty conscience through sinning destroys spiritual lives because of the lack of closeness with God and other Christians.[14] Sinning that wrecks the conscience may be combated when humans go for a pro-God fundamental option.
The third component of human morality, fundamental option, “refers to a theory of morals according to which each person gradually develops in a basic orientation of his or her life, either for or against God.”[15] If one’s life is fundamentally dedicated to the love and service of others, this fundamental direction is for God. On the other hand, if one’s life is entirely dedicated to self-love and self-service, this fundamental direction is against God.
It is important to follow a fundamental option for God because being moral is required by God when He laid out His commandments. These laws are absolute truths that are accessible to all human beings. Because of this legal universality and the fact that moral law is rooted in the human condition, the moral law should be followed by all people notwithstanding their varying cultures. After all, there always remains the yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it in the depths of the human heart no matter how dissipated that person is from God.[16] In such a way, all human beings’ original goodness will figure when they are weighing between fundamental options for and against God.
One important area of fundamental option which can assist humans in becoming moral beings is the fundamental stance that presents the total moral direction that human lives are taking.[17] Dividing this into more specific pieces, daily decisions and actions that compose our entire behavior, the fundamental stance gathers together our little actions to form a bigger picture that can please God because of its general morality. If everyday is lived following the directions of God, then the fundamental option is being lived.
The fundamental option shows how the roots of Scripture run deep with ideas of our covenant with God through our hearts.[18] Since our heart should be seen not merely as a pumping organ but as a source for God’s love, it is helpful for us to see divine love and matters of the feelings and conscience as central to the heart. This role of fundamental option in shaping our morality becomes possible by divinely inspiring the heart in using the freedom for determining the goodness that our lives should pursue.
Having seen how freedom, conscience and fundamental option interweave for Christians to live more purposeful lives under the guidance of God’s laws, I realized how tremendously blessed yet at the same time, how greatly answerable humans are for the free will given us by God. I understand that possessing an inherent power of choice makes me a master of the ship that’s my own life, but that knowledge makes me responsible too of recognizing the greater captain that God is. If I so much as steer my boat in such a manner that I see a bigger god in myself than in the universal Supreme Being, I am sure to lead my life toward the road to perdition, so to speak. I understand that my conscience will be there to remind me that something amiss was being committed; after all, it is aided by my good will, by the use of the emotions, by the practical experience of living and by all external assistance[19] in considering the right and wrong in my conduct. I am aware that all humans would need divine assistance to make their knowledge of God and knowledge of moral duty adequately comprehensive, clear, constant, effective and considerably sufficient.[20] Here, the fundamental option for God comes into the picture in order to complement with the human conscience in leading human beings to the right direction.
Myself acting freely as a human being indeed introduces the moral act: whatever tiny or tremendous thing I undertake, there begins the question of doing it right or wrong. For instance, if I go take a test unprepared, will it do me any good to cheat so as to have better chances at passing the test, or do me any bad to rely on stack knowledge, hopeless about breaking through the passing mark but maintaining an unblemished honesty record? To cheat or not to cheat during an examination is itself a test for the fundamental option of choosing what good is it that I yearn for: is it the initial good of making the cut, or is it the ultimate good of remaining honest? I can act freely to feel good when I pass, or to avoid violating at least two orders in God’s Decalogue by not cheating. Cheating is popular and is something even, say, politicians have resorted to if only to sustain power and not just to pass their mark, but something popular such as this is not always right if it has to be studied in an ethical perspective. God gave us the free will intending that we make use of it to uplift His glory. Since I will be accountable for my own actions whenever I follow my free will, I want to follow what God will approve of. I want to be morally responsible for whatever I do, since free will is linked to moral responsibility.[21] This way, God and the society will not have to condemn me and, instead, regard me highly for freely willing to be morally responsible for my action. My conscience dictates that I hold my moral responsibility in a favorable light, so this will be interpreted by my action that’s good by ethical standards. This, of course, is informed by fundamental option for God. Everyday is an opportunity for me as well as for other people to do actions that are oriented towards answering God’s call.[22]
My fundamental decision to choose between bipolar options is always informed by the circumstances that have shaped me to be the human that I am at present. Having been raised as a Christian in this predominantly Catholic nation, the teachings in the Bible are the guideposts by which I attempt to live my life. I may be far from being saintly, yet I believe that I am trying my very best to be for God always—loving God, obeying my parents, respecting my siblings, being sincere to others as well as to myself—seeing that an option for good is an orientation of myself toward goodness, which is always associated with the unchanging and enduring God. Conversely, an option for evil is tantamount to becoming one with evil, as when one abandons his faith in God and put prime worship in material wealth or hedonistic lifestyle. The conscience here is so defiled that one has forgotten to delineate between what is ethically right and what is ethically wrong. Humans may be free to do what they will, but they are responsible of their actions. Hence, it is better to choose a fundamental option that manifests progressive actions toward God because the conscience will not bother the concerned and their orientation will be pro-God.
This reality suffused with the themes of free will, conscience and fundamental option is especially true to my social sphere. Whenever I am confronted about my one-degree separation from people of certain renown, local celebrities for example, I got to thinking about the cosmetic surgery not a few of them are openly undergoing time after time in their bid to defy the elements of time or to enhance their God-given looks. Do these people commit an act of defiance against God by altering their natural beauty? They follow their free will, but is their conscience unbraiding when cosmetic procedures supposedly improve what God gave to them naturally? Since they capitalize not only on their supposed talents but also on their physical allure, are they against God each moment and the whole time they go under the knife? The basic option of appreciating the uniqueness of person that God granted them is everlasting, granted that what’s superficial is fleeting and will vanish anyway. Still, some dare choose what’s earthbound-durable. Their very actions show that their orientation may be selfish instead of divine because as a whole, the outcome of their freedom of choice may have little impact on their conscience. Therefore, their negative fundamental option serves themselves more than it does God, as catered by their vanity and, on a deeper level, loose morals.
Meanwhile, I assess that non-Christians may still be choosing God in their virtues that mirror their most deep-seated beliefs.[23] I hold in high regard the very believers who might have not known Christ for one reason or another but still pursue His godly equivalent in their lives. God may come to them in the form of a rock, a rainbow or a storm, and they concede to the fact that the events happening to them are being woven by the invisible hands of a Supreme Being. They might have not named this Being as God, but to them, the blessings of rain and harvest and the deemed curses of volcanic eruption or epidemic are permitted by God to unravel to them the powerful entity that God is. In short, they are laudable for their pursuit of moral acts in the context of their good although non-Christian lives. This is in stark contrast to a baptized Christian but does not live a life of one who believes in God. “Santong kabayo,” a song succinctly puts it, is that Christian whose fundamental option should have been guided by what is morally good taught him but will break one or all of the Ten Commandments at the slightest provocation. These two polar profiles share consistency in their repeated rightness or fatal flaws, solidifying every particular decision into the fundamental option of being for God or against God. Both cases show the practice of free will, but whose results are opposite because the former choose to become godly while the latter choose to be a hypocrite. The latter, needless to say, does not have a well functioning conscience anymore because the way of their ill hearts are moving away from morality.
Since my individual choices or any other person’s for that matter are influenced by fundamental options, I crystallize my ultimate decision to be for God or for myself, depending on whether I gravitate toward good or I lean toward evil. I freely will to be for God under the pains of a guilt-ridden conscience. I see that little things done for the greater glory of God is possible, so I am assured that even the smallest deeds get magnified in the eyes of God. It is not in vain then to resist the temptation of lying when truth merits more, or of abusing friends’ academic helpfulness when persistence to study for exams ranks far better. As mentioned, I may be a dream away from being beatified by the Vatican, but the satisfactorily united moral life I lead now is a life replete with considerable virtues and prudence, I admit with all humility. I understand the constancy and essence with which humans like me should keep the covenant with God that is none other than His laws, and by abiding by these commandments through my daily actions great or small, I conscientiously choose to be good and I freely will to be for God.
Time will come when I will perish and along with this material body goes away my temporary human free will. In my everyday dealings with others and events, I get educated and my morality develops such that I become wise in decision-making. While white lies may save me at some point, I opt to be truthful. While hate or quarrel could bring out the human in me, I choose to love. Ultimately, I decide to be conscientious since this fundamental option fuels my moral living. I along with other human beings cannot choose any better.
I Corinthians 8:1-13.
I Corinthians 8:7.
I John 3:21-22.
I Peter 2:12.
I Peter 3:16.
I Timothy 1:5.
I Timothy 1:18-19.
II Timothy 1:13.
Acts 24:16.
Aristotle. Thoughts on Freedom. From
Accessed on July 12, 2007.
Catholic United for the Faith. Fundamental Option. From . Accessed on July 14, 2007.
Catholic Encyclopedia: Conscience. From
Accessed on July 13, 2007.
Conscience. From Accessed on July 13, 2007.
Dave Arch. The Conscience. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
Determinism. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
Free Will. From . Accessed on July 12, 2007.
Karen Shields-Wright. Reflections: Fundamental Option and the Virtues of the Provider. Dynamic Chiropractic. (United States: June 15, 1998, Volume 16, Issue 13.)
Merriam-Webster. Definition of Freedom. From
Accessed on July 13, 2007.
Matthew 22:36-40.
Pope John Paul II. Veritatis Splendor. From ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor_en.html. Accessed on July 12, 2007.
Psalm 32:1-5.
Stephen Torraco. Fundamental Option. From Accessed on July 14, 2007.
Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
Thomas G Lederer. Catholic Moral Theology: “Whose Sin is this Anyway?” From Accessed on July 13, 2007.
Titus 1:15.
[1] Merriam-Webster. Definition of Freedom. From Accessed on July 13, 2007.
[2] Aristotle. Thoughts on Freedom. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
[3] Determinism. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
[4] Conscience. From Accessed on July 13, 2007.
[5] Matthew 22:36-40.
[6] Arch, Dave. The Conscience. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
[7] I Corinthians 8:1-13.
[8] I Corinthians 8:7.
[9] Titus 1:15.
[10] II Timothy 1:13, I Timothy 1:5.
[11] Acts 24:16.
[12] I John 3:21-22, Psalm 32:1-5.
[13] I Peter 3:16, I Peter 2:12.
[14] I Timothy 1:18-19.
[15] Torraco, Stephen. Fundamental Option. From Accessed on July 14, 2007.
[16] Pope John Paul II. Veritatis Splendor. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
[17]Lederer, Thomas G. Catholic Moral Theology: “Whose Sin is this Anyway?” From Accessed on July 13, 2007.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Catholic Encyclopedia: Conscience. From Accessed on July 13, 2007.
[20] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. From Accessed on July 12, 2007.
[21] Free Will. From . Accessed on July 12, 2007.
[22] Catholic United for the Faith. Fundamental Option. From . Accessed on July 14, 2007.
[23] Shields-Wright, Karen. Reflections: Fundamental Option and the Virtues of the Provider. Dynamic Chiropractic. June 15, 1998, Volume 16, Issue 13.

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