When training to be a pilot, I was taught that there is more than one navigational “north.” Magnetic north is oriented to the magnetic field of the earth. True north is oriented to the pole on which the earth rotates. Magnetic north and true north do not line up with each other. The closer one navigates to the North Pole, the more “off” the magnetic compass will be. In other words, if you want to get to the North Pole, don’t follow your compass unless you have taken into account the difference between magnetic north and true north. One must also consider other forces that can influence the accuracy of a magnetic compass such as metallic structures of the aircraft and other electronic equipment.
The ability to distinguish right from wrong is often referred to as a moral compass. A person with an accurate moral compass is better able to navigate through a world of complex moral decisions. A moral compass might be likened to one’s conscience. To follow one’s conscience, then, is to follow one’s moral compass. Like a magnetic compass, a moral compass can lead in the wrong direction if not properly calibrated. As there is only one true north based on an unmovable, fixed axis, there is only one true, fixed morality. The accuracy of a moral compass can be influenced by many factors. To “follow your conscience” may or may not lead to a truly moral decision.
Has your moral compass been calibrated? To what fix was it calibrated? Who calibrated it? What is it really pointing to? The moral compass of human nature tends to be like the compass of Captain Jack Sparrow. It points to what is most desired. Morality becomes rationalized and subject to desires rather than to truth. Society is relativistic. In a world where “all things are relative” a moral compass becomes obsolete since there is no moral “North Pole.” There is no standard, unmovable, absolute truth in a relativistic society. There is no point on the map, no North Star, no fixed morality upon which to get one’s bearings. Anything goes. Go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do, and please, don’t judge the behaviors of anyone else. They are all just following their own compasses, after all. Who are you to judge? Don’t be a hater!
The only quasi-standard that seems to remain is the mantra, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” This view presumes to know the future consequences of every action. Furthermore, there are some moral actions that do hurt people. Whether or not “someone gets hurt” is a flimsy point on which to fix an entire system of morality. It is really just another gimmick in the rationalization bag of tricks. “Well, I guess it is fine for me to do this as long as no one gets hurt.” This is the response many parents receive from a disobedient adolescent caught throwing a wild, destructive party. “What’s the big deal? No one got hurt!”
A properly calibrated moral compass can also be called a rightly formed conscience. There are many influences competing for the formation of conscience such as Hollywood, the music industry, politics, religion, feminism, communism, socialism, hedonism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, conservationism, etc. Where is the moral “North Pole?”
Many will respond, “The Bible is the standard of morality!” Yet, people interpret the Bible in many different ways, usually to support their own desires, beliefs and agendas (hence, the problem of “Sola Scriptura” or “The Bible Alone” as a standard of authority). Whose interpretation of the Bible is the standard? Furthermore, how many people actually check their behavior against the standard of the Bible? When faced with a moral issue, how many people even know where to look in a Bible for the answer? Ultimately, people tend to lean on what their particular church or pastor teaches about the Bible rather than the Bible itself. In other words, they are not using the Bible as the standard for morality, but a particular interpretation of the Bible as the moral standard.
Some say, “Just follow Jesus! Do what Jesus would do!” Again, as with Scripture interpretation, there are differing opinions on who Jesus is and what Jesus would do.
Some may say, “Love! Love is the standard for morality! All you need is love!” But, what kind of love are they talking about? Is morality based on brotherly love (philia), erotic love (eros) or godly, selfless love (agape)? Seldom are those who cry, “Love!” willing to pay the sacrificial price required for a true expression of godly love when it comes to making moral decisions. Often, doing that which is moral requires great personal sacrifice. If one’s moral compass is calibrated so as to navigate around and avoid great, personal sacrifice, then it is not calibrated according to love.
There are teachings of Catholicism that I find difficult to accept. Yet, my difficulty in accepting them does not make them untrue. In fact, when placed against the wisdom of 2000 years of global experience, my own life experience pales by comparison. Even the short, collective experience of the great nation I live in pales by comparison. The Catholic Church and her teachings have outlived every empire. As the world ebbs and flows and shifts on shaky sand, the Church remains rock solid in her official teachings on morality.
When choosing a fix by which to calibrate a moral compass, the Catholic Church has the right stuff. The Church has the biblical interpretation and traditions handed down from the apostles. Throughout history, the Church’s teachings on morality have reflected and demonstrated sacrificial, agape love (even if some of her members have not). Jesus is in the Church spiritually and physically. By following the Church I am following Jesus. God is love. Jesus is God. The Church is the Body of Christ, authorized by Christ himself. Who am I to set my moral compass to any other point of reference? Who am I to relocate the North Pole?