Who owns my Life? What a profound question. Do we own our own life? Ownership would infer some sort of purchase and in the case of life, I suppose that would mean creation of our life. If we were not a part of that, then do we truly own our life, was it deeded to us by someone, perhaps our parents? How do we begin to answer this?
Every child knows the familiar phrase, “always let your conscience be your guide.” It is engrained in us from a very early age in movies, fairy tales, and colloquialism. How often do we come to think about what this phrase truly means? It is imperative that one understand what our conscience is, how we should respond to our conscience, and ultimately be able to articulate, why we should follow our consciences. In our relativistic culture today, while the colloquial phrase is still popular, the practical reality is that we have all but lost hold of what the conscience is and the grounding necessary to properly follow it.
Mark Lowery in his book, Living the Good Life, defines consciousness as “the medium between objective truth and our individual lives” (19). This is a simple definition that I think most would agree with, and yet so many operate so far away from objective truth not even understanding what the phrase means. There are things that you just do not do and our consciences helps to guide us away from these things. It will go without saying that one should not murder children playing in the park. There is no debate on such atrocious actions amongst the sane. This is an objective truth inscribed on our very being by God himself. Along with this clearly obvious truth, there are many other objective truths that are equally important, but increasingly unclear in our culture. An example related to our first scenario may be abortion. Abortion clearly is killing a child that may as well be playing on a playground if he/she was developed enough to do so. Sadly, our cultural redefinitions have created this seemingly clear issue of conscience into a dilemma of choice for many. This is a result of a culture of relativism that causes us to have as a society, an increasingly false, yet good conscience. In other words after enough misinformation is given to us it weakens our clear understanding of the objective truth, replacing it with a false narrative that we follow, often with the best of intentions. This false narrative is ultimately rooted in a world view that replaces the individual with God and objective truths with relative truths.
Pope Pius XII states, “The conscience is as it were the most secret and intimate cell man has. It is there that he takes refuge with spiritual faculties…..alone with God”. A proper understanding of our conscience is more than just our internalized feelings. It must be viewed as its reality, which is a conversation with God brought about by the truths of the natural law that he has provided for us. Removing God from the process of forming our consciences is all too common today. Objective truth is only effective in our lives if it includes the source of that truth which is God. Increasingly, the authority and objective truth of God is replaced by the autonomy of the self. This has been the case since the first man ate of the fruit in the garden, and it will continue to plague humanity until the restoration of the world in the future eschaton. Relativism, has weakened our conscience by redirecting mankind inward on himself instead of being ordered with his God.
Moral relativism has thrived under the guise of personal freedom. When one focuses solely on himself he has the appearance of freedom, but as anyone who has been overindulgent in earthly pleasures can tell you, freedom is not found in purely seeking out personal pleasures and supposed freedoms. Such action indeed creates despair and depression. True freedom is found when our consciences are properly ordered to the goodness of God and his objective truth for our lives. Discovering such communion with truth allows us to have true freedom despite the differentiation in our lives from what a relativistic society may deem true and happy. It is interesting that as I read and develop ideas on this question and issue, my own state of California is in the lurch regarding a physician assisted suicide bill. Bills such as this are the fruit of a culture that has lost its grasp on truth and sacrificed truth on the altar of selfish desire. Bishop Robert Barron wrote recently in discussion on this issue stating, “young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism. Though they have benefitted from every advantage that money can afford, they have been largely denied what the human heart most longs for: contact with the transcendent, with the good, true, and beautiful in their properly unconditioned form…..today especially, freedom itself has emerged as the ultimate good, as the object of worship. And what this looks like on the ground is that our lives come to belong utterly to us, that we become great projects of self-creation and self-determination”. Only through a return to the understanding that our lives do not actually belong to us, but to God, will we be able to satisfy the longings of our hearts and form a society that truly offers justice and freedom to all.
So do we own our own life? Is it something for us to do with as we please when we please? Let us all truly reflect on that.