An essential part of personhood is consciousness. As humans, we are aware of ourselves. We know, we will, and express ourselves in the world. Being conscious, more specifically our consciousness, is one of the chief things that distinguish us from all other beings in the world. This is not the only thing that makes us different. However, the conscience is something that is noticed “from the beginning” as pertaining particularly to the human person. In the Creation account Adam (Hebrew for mankind) discovers that he is a person with a conscience as he gives names to the various animals (TOB, 6.3). In naming the animals, and having “dominion” over them, he realizes his “original solitude”. In “original solitude” Adam becomes consciously aware of his own body(TOB, 6.3). This solitude is common to both male and females, and stems from the very nature of being human. It is as if Adam begins to ask himself, questions we all ask ourselves: who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? And WHY AM I HERE?!?!!?
Vatican II (Guadium Et Spes) states,
“Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning…especially when life’s major events take place.” Life brings about questions that we each find answers to. Answers to these questions (asked above) often times leads to a subjective opinion held on as objective truth. The answers that one finds will either lead each of us to a true and genuine hope or to a bottomless pit of despair. If we ignore such questions we will never truly know who we are.
I want to take a look at one of the most famous answers to these questions from the viewpoint of a famous existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus. Camus wrote a story you might be familiar with name The Stranger. The Stranger is about a gentleman by the name of Meursault. Mersault lives day by day, moment by moment, with no regrets. He has no emotions, no grief, no repulsion, no love, no feelings toward his girlfriend, no tension, no fear, no anxiety, and no regrets even about killing. One day he stumbles upon the guy who stabbed his friend, and the guy pulls a knife on him. Mersault shoots the man, but he describes it as he is just there and just happens to be there, there’s no agency, but he shoots him almost pointlessly. Mersault is caught and sentenced to death row. He is about to be executed and he asks he notes something very important about life. He looks back on his life and he says, “It doesn’t matter.”He then opens his heart to the “benign indifference of the universe”. This makes sense of his death, and he dies happy.
Camus is making a point about life. It doesn’t matter how you live. You live one way or you live another way; but ultimately it is just void of deeper meaning.The lived experience is the real, the reflection is not. While we worry about the quality of life, the truth is that there is only quantity. The immediate nothingness of life itself really matters. Camus is an atheist, and life was it. Life is absurd and meaningless. The real question is: Why not suicide? He chooses to answer the question this way.
The Church notices this inner struggle. Guadium Et Spes states,
“…[man puts] forward and continues to put forward, many views about himself, views that are divergent nd even contradictory. Often he sets himself up as the absolute measure of all things, or debases himself to the point of despair.” Camus was such a man. Facing his own view/lived experience we find ourselves asking: Is that it? Is life really meaningless? We are a person’s endowed with a conscience, and our conscience leads us to question many things. The Catechism notices this. It states, “The human person: With his…voice of his conscience...questions himself about God’s existence. (33)
When I do something wrong, when I’m alone, my conscience is the voice of reason (Blessed John Henry Newman goes through this in the Grammar of Assent) that makes me feel ashamed (rightly formed conscience, something for another post). I do not feel ashamed around other beings (a chair, a cat, or a dog). If I do something in front of a chair, that chair’s presence does not have any bearing on me being ashamed. That thing is simply a thing. I can say the same for dogs, cats, and animals. BUT I feel ashamed when I’m around people. But, there isn’t anyone around, and we still feel ashamed. This leaves a question, if there isn’t something visibly around, then why am I ashamed?!?! Something simply has to be there, a person, in order for me to be ashamed. But, there is nothing that I can see, smell, hear, etc. that is there. But, only an omnipresent being could make me feel as such, as it is always present. In other words, only a being that is present everywhere, even in my conscience can make me feel ashamed. This is one of the main attributes of God: omnipresent.
Camus and the world seem to answer the questions of life with “this is it, party today because who knows about tomorrow.” Might I introduce you to an alternative view?The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
The human person: With his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence.(CCC 33)The human person asks and asks, but in the conscience one can come to a realization that there is something more. In the conscience we can ascend to the objective truth that God exists, and He loves us so much that he sent He stepped into the world….Why? The Church Fathers say because it was fitting. What Adam messed up, Christ corrected. We are persons designed by love and for love. It’s like having answers to a test, and as Christians we hold the answer key: who am I? I am a creature made by God in his own image. Where did I come from? I came from love. Why did God make me? God made me to love, to give myself to others as he did when he created me, as he did when He gave his Son to die for me on the Cross. These are the answers to life’s hardest questions. All hidden in the conscience
Aristotle has a quote in Metaphysics, “All men by nature desire to know.” This is true on many levels. We want to know more and more. But, here is the answer, right before us, on a crucifix, arisen on the third day. Why? Because He loves you. Some say I’m an idealist. I say, thank God for ideas. Because the eternal idea, became flesh (see Augustine’s On the Trinity), and the flesh tabernacle (lived) amongst us….(Jn 1). Christ is that answer. Now, you have the answers. The question now is; are you living as you know the answers?