Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things — that takes religion.
—Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg
I've been giving it the old college try at church for the past few weeks. Trying to look for positive things I can appreciate, and trying to contribute positive thoughts of my own. Some weeks are better than others.
This past week, I learned something while sitting in Sunday school. I don't think it had to do directly with the Korihor lesson, but maybe something in the lesson jogged my brain. I had the thought that conscience is more important than spirit. In other words, if you feel like the "Holy Spirit" is telling you to do something, but your conscience is objecting to it, follow your conscience. Your sense of spirit is messed up.
Here's an example to illustrate. Let's say you believe that the spirit is telling you that there is no God but Allah, therefore all American infidels must die, and you should accomplish this by poisoning the water supply. Er... okay, that example would work fine, but let's try something slightly less obviously destructive to the entire world. Let's say your co-worker has a gay son who just died, and you are a Christian who believes that homosexuality is an abomination. Should you:
A. Picket the funeral, shouting and holding signs that say "God hates fags" and "Thank God for AIDS".
B. Express to your co-worker your sorrow that his son will spend eternity in hell, and share with him the good news of Jesus Christ so he can avoid the same fate.
C. Express condolences to your co-worker because he just lost his son, and do not mention homosexuality at all.
Personally I have nothing against homosexuality, so of course C is the obvious answer. A is right out! Yet sadly there are a few nutjobs who think A is the thing to do. At a time in my life when I was a Christian who believed homosexuality was wrong, I can imagine myself being torn between B and C. I believe that I might have thought of this as a good opportunity to share the gospel, and I would have attributed this idea to the Holy Spirit, but I also believe my conscience would have been telling me that this is not an appropriate time to be pushing religion. As fellow humans, we ought to treat each other as we would want to be treated. When someone is in need of comfort and understanding, we ought to be listeners, not preachers.
This hypothetical situation reminds me of Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer's Unwritten Order of Things talk, in which he said that funerals should be about preaching the gospel, not about remembering the deceased. This makes me want to throw up. Not only that someone would think this characterization of funerals is appropriate, but that they would use their considerable influence to demand such behavior of all good believers. My conscience would not allow me to ignore the deceased at his own funeral, and I would hope I'm not the only one who finds this unwritten order of things repugnant.
This kind of "conscience vs. spirit" quandary used to happen to me all the time as a Christian. Airplane rides were the worst. I never felt comfortable pushing my religion on anyone else, particularly if they hadn't initiated the conversation by asking about it. But I always felt guilty, like I should be talking to everyone about religion all the time, because that's what God wanted me to do, right?
The bottom line is that the "spirit" is usually a mental playback of something someone else told you to do. It might be the right thing to do, or it might not. Your conscience represents your own beliefs and values. If you perceive a conflict between the two, follow your conscience. You're the one who has to live with yourself, so live by your own ideals.