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Homosexuality and Conscience

Conscience is a much neglected subject in modern psychology and psychiatry. Its morally neutral substitute, the so-called Freudian superego, cannot account for the psychological dynamics of man’s authentic moral conscience. The superego is defined as the sum of all learned rules of behavior. “Good” and “bad” behavior do not depend on moral absolutes, but on cultural, essentially arbitrary, codes. The philosophy behind this theory is that norms and values are relative and subjective: “Who am I to say what is good or not for you, what is normal and abnormal?”

But, in fact, everyone, including the modern man, in one way or another, be it more clearly or more vaguely, “knows” of the existence of “eternal” moral laws, as they were called even by the ancients, and directly and spontaneously recognizes stealing, lying, cheating, infidelity, murder, rape, and so on, as intrinsically evil (evil in themselves) and generosity, courage, honesty, and faithfulness as intrinsically good, beautiful. While immorality and morality are most evident in the behavior of others (Wilson 1993, 11), we still perceive these qualities in our own behavior as well. There is an inner perception of the intrinsic wrongfulness of certain deeds and plans, however much the ego is inclined to repress that perception so as not to have to give up those deeds and plans. This inner, moral judgment of self is the working of the authentic conscience. Although it is true that some manifestations of moral self-criticism are neurotic and that the perceptions of conscience can be distorted, for the most part, human conscience points to objective moral realities, which are more than mere “cultural prejudices”. It would take us too far to corroborate this view with psychological data and facts. For the critical observer, however, the evidence for the “authentic conscience” is everywhere.

These notes are not superfluous, because conscience is a psychic factor that is easily neglected in the discussion of a theme like homosexuality. For instance, we cannot overlook the phenomenon of the repression of conscience, which, according to Kierkegaard, is much more important than the repression of sexuality. Repression of conscience is never perfect, not even in the so-called psychopath. In the depth of the heart, there remains a certain awareness of guilt, or, in the Christian term, of one’s sinfulness.

Knowledge of the authentic conscience and its repression is extremely important for any kind of “psychotherapy”. For conscience is always a participant in motivation and behavior. Therapists who have no eye for it cannot really understand what is going on in the inner life of many clients and run the risk of misinterpreting important aspects of their lives in a detrimental way. Not making use of the light of the client’s conscience, however dim it be, means that we will fail to find the best means, the right strategies. No modern behavior scientist has underlined the central function of the authentic conscience — rather than its Freudian ersatz — in the personality, even in seriously disturbed mental patients, more emphatically than the famous French psychiatrist Henry Baruk (1979).

Actually, then, the most definitive and best argument for a homosexual to utilize against indulging his fantasies is his own innermost feeling for what is pure and what is impure. But how does one bring that to clear consciousness? By sincerity to oneself and quiet reflection, by learning to listen to one’s conscience, and learning not to listen to such inner arguments as: “Why not?” or “I can’t let go of satisfying these urges” or “I have a right to follow my nature.” Reserve some time, some weeks, for this process of learning-to-listen. Walk around for some time with the honest question: How do I myself, if I carefully and without prejudice open myself to my deepest stirrings, feel about behaving in a homosexual manner? and about abstaining from it? It is only the sincere and courageous ear that will hear the answer, that becomes aware of the directives of the conscience.

GERARD J.M. VAN DEN AARDWEG, PH.D.
The Battle for Normality (1997) Ignatius Press: San Francisco

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