TO reflect on Malaysia Day this year, perhaps it is good to go back to basics and talk about conscience.
Conscience, as we all know, is the “inner voice” in all of us as human beings or mere mortals – that which either judges/condemns or justifies/approves our thoughts, words and deeds – as a basic and fundamental definition.
Conscience can be construed as “I” that has been called forth into existence by the Creator and therefore can only respond to the same divine call, whatever form or shape it takes (as per Hamann, the Radical Enlightener and overlooked formidable critic of the Enlightenment project).
So, conscience is necessary, whether one is approaching it from a secular or a theological/religious perspective.
Without a conscience, we risk dehumanising ourselves.
We risk stripping ourselves of dignity and integrity.,
Conscience is no longer the “substance” and “form” of our reason/reasoning – such that it’s now used to justify our casuistry, i.e. moral justification of something objectively immoral.
The danger is, of course, we become so desensitised to casuistry that it becomes a norm (although still contrary to morality and religion) that the sense of shame is gone (even when conscience in its original state is still there albeit obscured and encrusted and corrupted).
As the venerable Prof M. Kamal Hassan (theologian, philosopher and scholar) has written in his Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics – The Urgency of Moral-Ethical Transformation (EMIR Research, 2022), corrupt politicians have lost a sense of shame – which was originally hard-wired into us as creatures as an expression of guilt.
Thus, in order to cope with guilt, we must first “sear” our conscience – with all sorts of justifications – an “artificially” constructed inner voice to “overcome” the natural (and supernatural intrinsic to the) inner voice that’s original to our constitution as human beings.
When the searing of the conscience moves beyond the individual (which is already quite bad enough) to the institution and society, we have reached a very critical point.
Ordinary citizens can point to the (bad and evil) examples of leaders or they can just say they were following orders – like military leaders at the famous Nuremberg trial in the aftermath of World War II who insisted they were merely fulfilling their oath pledged to Hitler when carrying out orders to massacre civilian populations, for example.
When Martin Luther stood at the Diet of Worms to declare he had no choice but to defy the institutional, religious and political powers of the day, he did so on the basis of (the interlocking nature of) conscience (and reason).
Luther dared to defy the power-that-be because to do otherwise, he might as well have not existed in the first place.