Temperance campaigners of old such as William Booth and Father Matthew would be surprised to learn that in the 21st century British pubs were in such a dire state that Christian leaders were calling for them to be saved. But Archbishop Vincent Nichols is right to lament the weakening of an institution that was once at the centre of the community.
The Church has always cautioned against the abuse of alcohol but recognised that the pub, like the parish church, school and post office, is a mainstay of British life.
And, like the Church, the local pub has suffered serious decline in recent years. Thanks to a combination of cheap supermarket alcohol, the smoking ban and demographic change 50 pubs are now closing every week, and every city in Britain is filled with sad derelicts where once a community came together.
The demise of the traditional pub is a symptom of another, less tangible problem – the weakening of the bonds within society and the withdrawal of many people from community life. In many ways it echoes the decline of church attendance a generation ago and the subsequent social decline that brought.
The Archbishop’s words will resonate with people outside the Church who grasp that something is gravely amiss with community life in Britain.
I have heard that we should follow our conscience but sometimes it seems as though conscience is just used to mean that you should do whatever you feel like. What does it mean to follow your conscience?
The Catechism defines conscience as “a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognises the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed” (1778). Conscience therefore is not a matter of feelings but of a judgment of the intellect about what it right or wrong: and this applied to the performance of a concrete act.
Conscience is quite different from simply doing what we feel like. I might well feel like doing something that is wrong, such as swearing at someone who has annoyed me. When I realise that this would be a sinful act, I must go against my feelings to act in accordance with my conscience instead. In a case like this, it is reasonably easy to work out what is the right thing to do. In some cases, it can be more difficult and we must make the best judgment that we can. If we are faced with difficult moral judgments, we should inform our conscience by reading good books, by consulting a wise person, and by sincere prayer.
For a Catholic, the teaching of the Magisterium is a sure guide for our conscience. We should take the trouble to find out the teaching of the Church and to understand it, so that when faced with a practical moral judgment, we can know the principles on which we must act. If we follow our conscience sincerely, we will be free of moral blame even though we might be mistaken. However we should remember that even though we may be subjectively free of guilt by following an erroneous conscience, our objectively wrongful act may have harmful consequences and therefore we should take care to inform our conscience carefully. The duty to follow our conscience is closely bound up with our duty to discover and know the truth.
What’s your view? And do you have a dilemma of your own? Write to us at the address on this page or e-mail editorial@ catholicherald.co.uk