Description: Our personality: the conscience
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Conscience and our Personality
by Ernest O’Neill
We’re talking about the meaning of life and particularly about the way we were meant to operate as human
beings. If you say, “Meant by whom?” We are trying to answer the question from the point of view of the
Supreme Being who originated the whole thing at the beginning. We have been talking for some months about why
we believe in a Supreme Being and what He is like. Now we are trying to discuss how He meant us to operate in
this present life.
Of course, we have been saying that the reason He made us and the reason for our existence at all is so that
we would become His friends. He made us so that He could enjoy our friendship. That’s why He made you. That is
why He made us like Himself – – in other words with the same capacities that He has. We have been talking
about the different parts of our personality. We have been sharing that we exist on three different levels in
this human life that we have. It’s not that we are divided up into three entities, but that this one, united
entity exists on three levels.
There’s a spirit level. And there’s a soul level — a psychological level — and there’s a physical level.
What we have been talking about so far is the spirit level. We’ve been saying that the spirit level is the
part of you that is the real you. If you say, “What is my spirit?” Well, apart from the functions that the
spirit has, which is what we’re discussing these days, it is the real you. It is the very essence of you.
When we talk about the spirit of De Gaulle, or the spirit of Churchill, we talk about the real person, the
very essence of the person. When we talk about the Spirit of God, we are talking about what makes God God. In
fact, we are talking about a little more, because He has within Himself, and is Himself, uncreated life.
A created life is a made thing, but there is an uncreated life that is at the heart of everything. It is the
spark that makes our hearts beat. It’s the spark that makes the petals on a rose open. It’s that that gives
life at the heart of the universe. That He gave us, and you actually have a spirit of your own that can relate
to His Spirit.
In other words, you have a real essence. There is a real you. You, deep down, are individually different from
all the billions of the rest of us. It’s that “you” that the Creator wants to know and wants to have a
relationship with. That’s the part of you that actually communes with God. So, one of the functions of your
spirit, of the inner part of you, is the ability to commune with God.
Now, many of us of course get into all kinds of tangles and contortions with the Eastern religions, and with
things like transcendental meditation, gurus, and all that stuff, and spiritualism, because we mix up the
spirit with the psychological part of us. We try to raise the mental and emotional perceptions that we have to
the “nth” degree, hoping that somehow we will get in touch with God. It’s silly, because, of course, those are
not the parts of you that get in touch with God. You get in touch with God through your spirit. That’s the
part of you that communes with Him.
Another function of your spirit is important, because it is what we know as our conscience. Conscience is,
strictly speaking, the part of our spirit that urges us to live up to the best that we know. That is,
conscience is the part of God’s own life within us that enables us to judge what we do according to His
opinion of it. In other words, conscience is not really anything more than that.
Sometimes we think of our conscience as being the set of standards, the moral or ethical ideals that we have
to govern our life by. But, strictly speaking, that is a matter of education and a matter of our background
and how we were brought up. But, our conscience itself is the part of our spirit that urges us to live up to
the very best that we know.
Many of us, of course, think of conscience in the more general way. We think of it as the beliefs that we have
about our behavior that we inherited or that were transmitted to us by our parents. But, strictly speaking,
conscience itself is not that. That is a matter of our mind and our education and our memories. Conscience
itself is simply that part of our spirit that urges us to live up to the best that we know.
Some of us would like to say that. “Oh, no. Conscience is just a matter of education. It’s simply what we were
educated to believe is right or wrong.” But the truth is that, even though all of us here in this world find
it easier to be impatient than to be patient, yet we all feel that we should be patient. Even though we all
find it easier to be selfish than unselfish, yet we still sense that we ought to be unselfish.
Even though we in this world are a scrapping and fighting, struggling, striving, argumentative, destructive
group, yet we feel that it is wrong to destroy. We still feel that it is wrong to be argumentative. We still
feel that it is wrong to struggle and strive against each other. So, there is something inside each of us that
makes us sense that we ought to live up to the very best that we know and not live at the lowest level that we
It is true that some people have argued that conscience is just an instinct, but it isn’t simply an instinct.
Often we will judge between our instincts through our conscience. When you see someone falling into the water
and drowning, there are two instincts that operate. One, of course, is the self-preservation instinct which
urges you to look after yourself and take care of yourself.
The other instinct is the herd instinct that makes you want to identify with the person in the water
struggling and try to save them. Your conscience actually comes in and judges between those two instincts. So,
it is a remarkable function and a remarkable element in you. It is the part of you that urges you to live up
to the very best that you know.
Some, of course, have said that conscience itself is just a matter of education and upbringing and background.
But the truth is that conscience brings all of us to the point where we want to live by the same universal
rules. It doesn’t matter how primitive the tribe is, it doesn’t matter how uneducated they are, or how
Neanderthal they are. No tribe, no people on earth believe it is good to be cowardly, to run away from your
enemy in battle.
It doesn’t matter where you go in the world or in the world’s history; no man has a conscience that lets him
feel good about letting his friend down. Conscience everywhere urges us to the same universal sense of “I
ought”. That is why conscience is something deeper than simply our minds or emotions. It is a vital element in
our spirits. If we want to take the first steps towards God, usually a strong and sensible and stable step to
take is to begin to respond to your conscience.
Begin to respond to it and obey it. You begin to find that not only does your conscience begin to get
stronger, but your spirit begins to get stronger. Your communion with God becomes more real and vivid.
Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.