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A Matter of Conscience

This is a subject that may seem simple and yet can be infinitely complicated at the same time. When you ask most people about what a conscience is, they will immediately tell you that it’s knowing right from wrong. And most would agree with this. Now, when you ask them where they get their conscience from, this is where things begin to get into the complicated realm.

Some will answer that they learned right from wrong from their parents. Others believe that it is inherent in the molecules and chemicals that make up our brains and that we are born with it. And still others claim that it was given to us by a creator as a way for us to hear his voice and do what’s right. No one quite agrees whether or not children have a conscience. Children can be pretty mean and hateful to one another and I don’t think this is necessarily learned behavior. Do they have a conscience and simply choose to ignore it to satisfy their immediate need (attention, feel superior, etc)? What about serial killers? Did they have a conscience at one point and lose it? Do they ignore it? Were they born without it?

*smoke coming out my ears*

When I began working on the Portals of Destiny series, I wanted to explore this idea of conscience and what causes people to do the awful things they do or the incredibly generous things they do. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it involves multiple planets. The Chosen are from four of them and the Guardians from a fifth. One of the worlds is Earth but it is a very different Earth than what you are all familiar with (close to 1000 years in the future). Humans are nearly extinct and living in small bands scattered across the globe. Nothing exists of the world we know: buildings, roads, highways, etc are almostΒ  gone.

The Chosen are part of a gentle group called the Jhinn, who live according to the Gospels and try to live life like God wants them to. Life might seem almost quaint except for one terrifying thing: they are at war with the Hoard and the Cowboys, two groups that would rather steal, rape, and pillage than join the Jhinn or create their own society. When I designed the Hoard and the Cowboys, I pictures something similar to the roving bands in Mad Max.

It’s always difficult to try to imagine how people would react to certain situations, especially ones that we almost can’t comprehend ourselves. A global catastrophe is almost more than our minds can wrap itself around. But that is indeed what happened to our beloved little planet. In a case like this, I believe that most people wouldn’t survive, regardless of how well they think they’re prepared. Humanity would be stripped to the barest of necessities: survival. This doesn’t leave room for things like cell phones and computers.

I envisioned people foraging, perhaps hunting if they had the means, even stealing. Which really isn’t too hard to imagine! Just look at what happened during Katrina. Rather than lending a hand to their neighbors, people couldn’t break into shops fast enough to begin stealing. So it isn’t really a stretch to imagine people doing something like that if the entire fabvric of society breaks down.

You have to realize that when this happens, there won’t be authority figures to take care of everything and to keep the peace. In the future I created, not even our armies could withstand what destroyed us: our own greed and pettiness. Without authority, moral barriers break down and it’s every man for himself. There will be chaos and much sorrow, with those lucky few able to survive.

After 1000 years, Earth is once again claimed by nature. And people don’t remember what is was like in the year 2012. Much of what they “know”, they think is myth.

Let’s visit this idea of authority for a bit. What kept you from doing bad things as a kid? I would argue that it’s this idea of getting into trouble, knowing there were consequences to your choices (grounding, spanking, etc) rather than this set-in-stone idea of right and wrong and feeling a compulsion to do right. As we age, we are then taught to obey the rules of society in addition to what we obey in the home, again with this idea that there are consequences if you choose to disobey (speeding, stealing, etc).

What if there were no consequences?

What if people had to rely on their own conscience to keep from doing harm? Is the conscience strong enough?

For many people, there is an even higher authority than the police. Those that believe in a Creator believe that we are being judged for everything we do, and that we are supposed to be kind to those in need, and love our neighbor.

But what if you didn’t believe in a Creator? And are prone to violence anyway? What is going to stop someone from giving in to all their most vile desires?


This si what led me to create these two very different groups: those with a conscience and those without (or choosing to ignore it).

What do you think? How do you perceive this idea of conscience? Is it the devil and angel sitting on your shoulder battle it out for dominance? Is it something we are born with and maybe has to be honed with time and experience? Something that has to be taught? Something given to us by a higher power?

I’d LOVE to hear from you!

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8 Comments on “A Matter of Conscience”

  1. Tom Williams May 1, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    You have me hooked. I want to read the entire series now. πŸ™‚ For me Conscience is a matter of consideration for others and humanity at large. the first question of every choice we make should be, “Will it harm another?”

    • shayfabbro May 1, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      *reels him in* ROFL

      Very nice thought on consideration of others. I could do a whole other blog about empathy…hmmm…*wheels churning*

  2. Carroll Bennett May 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Shay, I just finished listening to (Amazon.com: The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of .love) by Martin Goldsmith. This relates to your questions and gives insights to what happened in Germany. I think first we are animals and only the frontal lobes of our brains make a great difference. It is important you are writing your SiFi novels that will awaken young people. Remember the story, “Lord of the Flies.” Children that go amuck without guidance. You wrote about age old questions. At 75 I haven’t figured it all out. Carroll..

    • shayfabbro May 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      We had this same discussion in our Bible study group last night πŸ™‚ It’s interesting how many different ideas we have regarding this idea.

  3. S.M. Hutchins May 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Oddly enough, my husband and I sometimes discuss the consequences of societal breakdown and all the what if’s that scenario brings. I fear conscience is not strong enough to withstand such circumstances. Looks like I need to add your series to my (rapidly growing, already a bit out of control) reading pile.

    • shayfabbro May 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Awwwwwww! You just made my night! πŸ™‚ I understand about the to-be-read pile πŸ˜‰ Mine is sky high!! πŸ˜€

  4. rabiagale May 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I agree that man’s inner conscience would not stop him from stealing and killing in the wake of such catastrophic change. In a world like you’ve envisioned, survival–and doing anything to secure it–is the main motivator. If there is no fear of consequences, either in this life or the next, all hell would break loose. 😦

    • shayfabbro May 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      I agree. It would be a terrifying time.

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