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Monday, December 15, 2014

Sincerity...important, but not enough in moral decision making

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.
I recently read a great article on sincerity by Dr. Dennis McInerny, a professor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Lincoln, NE. [N.B. I could not find it online.] His article reminded me of another I read several years ago which began by examining the derivation of the word sincerity which comes from two Latin words, sine cera, "without wax." Odd eh? 

Not really. In Roman times sculptors sold all kinds of statuary for rich people's homes and gardens. The honest ones sold statues that were exactly what they appeared to be. The dishonest ones sold statues that were flawed, but they filled the flaws with wax. When the statue stood in the sun, the wax melted and all the flaws appeared. So the word sincere came to mean something that was what it appeared to be, honesty, or freedom from duplicity.

A sincere person speaks without deliberate deception according to his understanding. He tells you what he believes to be the truth. However, one can be sincerely wrong. So sincerity is not enough in the realm of moral decision making - which is were Dr. McInerny's article comes in: a conditio sine qua non (an "absolutely essential condition") for the soundness of any moral act....I cannot in good conscience perform that act unless I sincerely believe it to be a good act. What if I am doubtful about whether the contemplated act is good or evil? ....In that case I must not proceed, for a key principle of moral reasoning is that we must never act on a doubtful conscience.... 
The sincere conviction that a contemplated act is a good act is an absolutely essential condition for the act to be morally permissible. Another way of putting it is to say that sincerity is a necessary condition for moral rectitude. What would be the alternative to sincerity, besides doubt?... It would simply be a lack of sincerity, or disingenuousness, with respect to the moral quality of the act. In other words, a person who is not regarding a contemplated act sincerely would be decieving himself with regard to the true moral quality of the act. He would be distorting the truth...for he would have persuaded himself that what is actually evil is in fact good.... Subjective reality is thus substituted for objective reality.  
So, sincerity is necessary for moral rectitude....But is sincerity sufficient?...[It is] not and that is because, though sincerity is a necessary condition, it is not in fact a sufficient condition...[f]or the simple reason that I can be sincerely wrong in my estimate of the moral value of an act, just as I can be sincerely wrong about many other things.
Dr. McInerny goes on to discuss that in "almost every case" the sincere person who chooses an evil act is "burdened with a seriously malformed conscience, a corrupt conscience, a conscience that is incapable of making correct judgments about moral matters." Our youth particularly live in that sad state having been "raised and educated within the suffocating confines of a culture which is thoroughly secularized, and which is becoming increasingly more decadent." He uses the word "brainwashed" saying young people are taught to believe that "the immoral is moral, that evil is good, that the unspeakable should be shouted from the rooftops." It is not, ultimately, enough to be sincere because "sincerity is like love and pleasure; love is good only if the object of our love is good; pleasure is good only if what we take pleasure in is good. It is not enough simply to be sincere; we must be right in our sincerity."

So we must do what we can to education our young people, recognizing that they may have diminished culpability for their acceptance and even promotion of evil. Helping them form correct consciences is essential, but we must do it with patience and love.

My husband an I are currently praying the novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots for some difficult family situations. What a wonderful novena for all of us to pray for all the tangled knots of our evil culture of death. Mary can undo them, like she did with the barbaric Aztec culture in Mexico. Let us seek her intercession for our young people and all the sinful situations that tie us up in knots and bring us to the end of our ropes. Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

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