The Catholic Church as a Cultivator of Conscience: Toward Empowering Students to be Agents of the Maturation and Formation of their Consciences
Many Catholic students at Jesuit institutions of higher education will face a crisis in which Catholic identity seems to stand in the way of personal moral growth. The superego-ish conscience of the young adult struggles to mature as she undergoes experiences of expanding social horizons, cognitive-emotive depth, and personal agency. As this maturation begins, Catholic identity often seems to be moral deadweight—to the young adult—as the church seems to be a hopelessly compromised institution pontificating all too often the wrong values without credible foundation. This experience finds support in a popular trope today—advanced in an organized way by groups like the American Humanist Association—in which religion is cast as a superego-ish villain: an oppressive authority figure imposing arbitrary rules with the threat of punishment. According to the trope, atheism (or at least the abandonment of organized religion) is the only avenue conducive to moral growth. This article aims to empower Jesuit educators, and all whose work involves youth formation, to preempt and address this common crisis. To this end, (1) I investigate the moral-religious journey that leads to this crisis, (2) I outline a popular contemporary trope (typified by the rhetoric of the American Humanist Association) in which religion stands in the way of moral growth, (3) I present a nuanced account of conscience and its maturation, and finally (4) I draw a distinction between the (overlooked) maturation of conscience and the formation of conscience and I provide outlines of lessons designed to empower students to be agents of both the maturation and formation of their consciences.