Friday Sermon: Conscience

This is a country where almost everybody claims to be religious, starting and ending every sentence with “God”. Yet wickedness and sadism are at the very center of our hearts. What a country of godless people! DevilsSimon Kolawole

Yeah! We all claim to be religious, yet wickedness and sadism, corruption and brigandage pervades the nation. Even as a collectivity, there is no social conscience. All those who would have served as the conscience of the nation have absconded and joined our socio-economic tormentors. We are therefore left in the lurch. The recent spate of revelations of high-wire corruption has brought to the fore the issue of moral and social conscience. For a man to dip his hands into the pension fund of innocent citizens who have worked to save all their lives, smacks of a total lack of conscience. For a man to squander billions of dollars on father Christmasism, is tantamount to a total lack of conscience and hardheartedness. When a group of leaders sit down to share monies meant for the provision of vital infrastructure for the people, then social conscience has taken flight.

Conscience is an aptitudefacultyintuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong. Moral judgment may derive from values or norms (principles and rules). In psychological terms conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his/her moral values and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when actions conform to such norms.

Conscience is linked to a morality inherent in all humans, to a beneficent universe and/or to divinity. Commonly used metaphors for conscience include the “voice within” and the “inner light”.

The Islamic concept of Taqwa is closely related to conscience. Taqwa refers to “right conduct” or “piety”, “guarding of oneself” or “guarding against evil”. The Quran says that Allah is the ultimate source of the believer’s taqwā which is not simply the product of individual will but requires inspiration from God.

But to those who receive guidance, He increases the (light of) Guidance, and bestows on them their Piety and Restraint (from evil).

(Quran 47:17)

In Qur’ān Allah talks about how He has perfected the soul, the conscience and has taught it the wrong (fujūr) and right (taqwā). Hence, the awareness of vice and virtue is inherent in the soul, allowing it to be tested fairly in the life of this world and tried, held accountable on the day of judgment for responsibilities to God and all humans.

By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right. (Quran 91:7-8)

According Al-Ghazali, although events are ordained (and written by God in al-Lawh al-Mahfūz, the Preserved Tablet), humans possess free will to choose between wrong and right, and are thus responsible for their actions; the conscience being a dynamic personal connection to God enhanced by knowledge and practice of the Five Pillars of Islam, deeds of piety, repentance, self-discipline and prayer; and disintegrated and metaphorically covered in blackness through sinful acts.

Catholic theology sees conscience as the last practical “judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins a person to do good and to avoid evil. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful”.

Conscience can therefore be viewed as the practical conclusion of a moral syllogism whose major premise is an objective norm and whose minor premise is a particular case or situation to which the norm is applied. In such cases, the person is culpable for the wrong he commits.”  Thus a good conscience is associated with feelings of integrity, psychological wholeness and peacefulness and is often described using adjectives such as “quiet”, “clear” and “easy”. “Modern vernacular describes conscience – not too badly – as whatever it is that makes us behave well when nobody is looking …

The word “conscience” derives etymologically from the Latin conscientia, meaning “privity of knowledge” or “with-knowledge”. The English word implies internal awareness of a moral standard in the mind concerning the quality of one’s motives, as well as a consciousness of our own actions. Conscience is accompanied in each case by an internal awareness of ‘inner light’ and approbation or ‘inner darkness’ and condemnation as well as a resulting conviction of right or duty either followed or declined.

According to the Islamic Sufis, conscience allows Allah to guide people to the marifa, the peace or “light upon light” experienced where a Muslim’s prayers lead to a melting away of the self in the inner knowledge of God; this foreshadowing the eternal Paradise depicted in the Quran.

Thomas A Kempis in the medieval contemplative classic The Imitation of Christ (ca 1418) stated that the glory of a good man is the witness of a good conscience. “Preserve a quiet conscience and you will always have joy. A quiet conscience can endure much, and remains joyful in all trouble, but an evil conscience is always fearful and uneasy.”

John Stuart Mill believed that idealism about the role of conscience in government should be tempered with a practical realization that few men in society are capable of directing their minds or purposes towards distant or unobvious interests, of disinterested regard for others, and especially for what comes after them, for the idea of posterity, of their country, or of humanity, whether grounded on sympathy or on a conscientious feeling.

Social conscience presupposes a willingness to set aside one’s desire for the greater good of all.

Conscience was a major factor in the refusal of Aung San Suu Kyi to leave Burma despite house arrest and persecution by the military dictatorship in that country.

Conscience was a factor in Peter Galbraith‘s criticism of fraud in the 2009 Afghanistan election despite it costing him his United Nations job.

Conscience motivated Bunnatine Greenhouse to expose irregularities in the contracting of the Halliburton company, for work in Iraq.  We can go on and on: But can we say the same for our men of the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm’, who have abandoned their role as the ‘conscience of the nation’ and the ‘Ombudsman of the people’ for juicy lucre; having teamed up with the ‘Raiders of the Nation’s Arch’. Nor can we say the same for members of the ‘learned’ profession who today, make fantastic copy for our dailies; regaling us with tales of corruption in the temple of justice.

Coming back to the people, we lack social conscience; hence we tolerate all that has been going on. There is no doubt that in some other climes, a fraction of what has transpired in this country in the last five years would have been enough to spark off a bloody revolution. Here, our docility and timidity has become legendary and degenerated into a state of moral disintegration and lack of conscience: Which we stupidly call ‘the resilience of Nigerians to hardship’. What a foolish description.

The impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo in 1878 that, “one must never let the fire in one’s soul die, for the time will inevitably come when it will be needed. And he who chooses poverty for himself and loves it possesses a great treasure and will hear the voice of his conscience address him every more clearly. He who hears that voice, which is God’s greatest gift, in his innermost being and follows it, finds in it a friend at last, and he is never alone! … That is what all great men have acknowledged in their works, all those who have thought a little more deeply and searched and worked and loved a little more than the rest, who have plumbed the depths of the sea of life.”

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) presents the Conscience-in-Media Award to journalists whom the society deems worthy of recognition for demonstrating “singular commitment to the highest principles of journalism at notable personal cost or sacrifice”. The Ambassador of Conscience AwardAmnesty International‘s most prestigious human rights award, takes its inspiration from a poem written by Irish Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney called “The Republic of Conscience.” Winners of the award have included: Malala Yousafzai, singer and social justice activist Harry Belafonte, musician Peter Gabriel (2008), Nelson Mandela (2006), the Irish rock band U2 (2005), Mary Robinson and Hilda Morales Trujillo (a Guatemalan women’s rights activist) (2004) and the author and public intellectual Václav Havel (2003)

Conscience is a judge having spiritual quality that differentiates between right and wrong.  Common sense and conscience are given to everyone but their use is not common.  Conscience is like inspiration.  When a man does something wrong, deep in his heart he feels guilty.  In the words of the Quran it is called “Nafs-e-Mutminah”, The contented self. It is a virtuous self-differentiating between good and bad according to divine injunctions.  The latter is “Nafs-eummarah”, the evil self.  It does not differentiate between good and bad.  It is a demonic and vicious self.  The Quran regards such vicious and cruel people worse than animals and hard stones.  Such people of hardened hearts are tyrants, oppressors and terrorists.  For their petty material and worldly gains they can go to any extent even to kill people indiscriminately.

We find great lessons in the concept of death but only people with living conscience learn the lesson.  The prophets have been regarded as conscientious men.  In Sura “Sad” the Quran says:

 “And remember our servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, men of true strength and inner light.  We purified their sincerity through sincere remembrance of the Abode.  They were in our sight, truly of the company of the Elect and the Good”. (Quran 38:45)

The men of conscience are instructed to impart justice under all circumstances.

O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts [of your hearts], lest ye swerve, and if ye distort [justice] or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

(Quran 4:135)

Let us listen to the voice of conscience because pure and noble conscience is the boon of God, which is the second form of rationality, intuition and even revelation. The living conscience makes a man a living personality close to human kind and God.

The moral conscience is part of the natural instinct (al-fiṭrah) that Allah embedded within the human soul. Allah said:

So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: [establish] Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change [let there be] in the work [wrought] by Allah: that is the standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not.

(Quran 30:30)

Allah said: I have created all of my servants as true believers but devils turn them away from their religion. They make unlawful what is lawful for them, and they command them to associate partners with me although no authority has been revealed for them. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2865.

Everyone has a natural sense of shame that should be a source of moral guidance. But some people suppress their sense of shame again and again until it nearly disappears. When shame is gone, a person will do whatever they want regardless of whether it is good or evil. They will never be restrained by guilt or regret.

In sum, the believers and human beings more generally are born with a pure conscience that helps them recognize good and evil. The divine revelation activates the conscience of the believers, refines it, and guides it to its best form. At the same time, the conscience is a check on the abuse and misuse of the scripture. The highest level of moral clarity can be achieved when the conscience is brought into harmony and reconciled with the principles of religion.

In conclusion, let me draw attention to Yahya Balogun’s comment on the travails of  a journalist  in the hands of the EFCC; he said “We should always preserve our values. Our values are our principles, standards and qualities, those values shape our lives and define who we are as individuals. Our actions at any given time reflect those values. The true measure of a real man is when he is faced with the most difficult choice of his life. As an individual and a stakeholder in the project of Nigeria, or elsewhere, I dread the judgments of history in decision-making. Man must be careful to look back and avoid the pitfalls of the past; the present, in order to secure a well-deserved future.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend !


Babatunde Jose

Post Author: Director Director

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