The Seared Conscience

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

What does it mean to have a seared conscience? It’s something like seared flesh. The top layer is dead and insensitive to pain. To have a seared conscience is something like the experience of doing, over and over, that which you just know to be wrong until you stop listening to your moral intuitions all together. Peter writes of a similar experience:

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21)

Again, why is it worse? Acting in the face of consciences condemnation slowly puts your conscience to death. For the Christian, sanctification is the two-fold process of listening to conscience and reforming conscience where it is in error. To desensitize conscience makes you, from a personal-social standpoint, irredeemable. That’s why the author of Hebrews says that people who are subjecting Christ to crucifixion all over again by their public actions cannot repent. They’re too busy intentionally stifling the truth to be able to hear its call.

Interestingly, this ancient piece of observational psychology has been discovered anew:

“Moral incongruence, in this case, the experience of disapproving of IPU [internet pornography use] while still using it, seems to be a key variable in predicting a host of important outcomes associated with pornography use, not the least of which is perceived addiction to internet pornography.”

Doing what you know or feel to be bad and deriving pleasure from it [at least with respect to porn] leads you to feel trapped in that behavior. I wonder if this holds true in other areas like drug use, losing your temper, failure to exercise, over eating, etc. And if so, what are the options? Convincing people to give up on their moral positions? If wrong, this makes sense. But maybe this is where a therapeutics of personal responsibility might be useful. The stoics recommended taking responsibility for everything you experience/do. The Lord tells Cain something similar. Thomas Saasz recommends jettisoning the notion that mental disorders are anything other than repetitive behaviors for which people can take responsibility.

I certainly don’t want a seared conscience.

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