Must We Always Follow Our Consciences?

We must always obey the certain judgment of our conscience. To deliberately act against it is to sin. This duty to obey our conscience underscores the necessity of properly forming it. This is because all of us can make mistakes when we are left to ourselves. Many factors can help cloud a conscience and make it difficult to distinguish right from wrong. It is possible to have an erroneous conscience.

Ignorance, simply not knowing or being told the right thing to do or the wrong thing to avoid, can cause us to make false judgments. Sometimes we are not responsible for ignorance and consequently are not morally blameworthy for a mistaken judgment. Other times we are responsible for not knowing because we made little effort to find out what is true and good or we allowed ourselves to be blinded by the habit of sin. Emotions can cloud our conscience. We may be tempted to do things because we made little effort to find out what is true and good or we allowed ourselves to be blinded by the habit of sin. Emotions can cloud our conscience. We may be tempted to do things because they feel good, but feeling good does not necessarily mean the actions are right. Being blinded to passions can help to contribute to an erroneous conscience. Conformity to what others are doing or following their bad example can also muddy our decisions. Just because everyone else is doing something does not make it right. Other possible sources of error in forming an upright conscience could include ignorance of Jesus and His teaching, a belief that the individual is supreme and does not need the guidance of anyone else in making moral decisions, a lack of love or repentance, and a refusal to follow the teaching of the Church’s magisterium.

A sincere Christian will take steps to find out the right thing to do, to clear up doubts before making a decision, and to correct a badly formed conscience. He or she will also avoid those situations where experience has taught that strong emotions have a tendency to destroy the freedom to choose the good thing. The mature Christian knows that doing the right thing often means standing against the crowd. Finally, true faith grounded in Christ’s love enlightens a good and true conscience.