The Source of Catholic Conscience

2012-06-11 by . 1 comments

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This blog concerns Christianity in the workplace and mine is the Catholic stance on the subject. Right now, 40 some odd Catholic institutions are suing the US government over a contraception mandate that the Catholic Bishops believe   will cause Catholic institutions to violate their individual consciences, collectively. So, it would be tempting to write about how paying out of your own pocket to facilitate your neighbor’s purchase of abortion inducing medication might violate a Catholic’s conscience. But, I’d rather leave that up to the moral theologians to debate so nuanced an affront to religious freedom. I’d rather talk about things a Catholic (or at least me), doesn’t do, but in so not-doing should take with them to the confessional and leave there.


The Average Tuesday
8:00 AM Startup Routine Check GMail; check Facebook; check Stackoverflow; check blog responses; check Google Reader; check Ain’t it Cool news; check XKCD (even though it’s Tuesday);
8:15 AM Realization of purpose Check work e-mail; check bug reports; check in code from last night; copy out binaries; update repository; fix conflicts; recomplile; check in code; test code; repeat as needed.
11:00 AM Burrito Time Time to order burritos ( nothing sinful about burritos ) But when it’s time to pick them up, let Sergio volunteer to get them for the fifth time in a row.
11:45 AM Lunch With a fat, juicy burrito in hand, let the phone ring through to voice mail because the receptionists are out to lunch. Ignore it because no one wants fat juice on their phone.
12:30 PM Post-lunch Activities Check Internet for diffs from 8:00 check-out. Do the same on repository. Ignore the bug fixes as they come in because there is a more important progress bar synchronization issue that has stymied the project for a week.
3:00 PM Bug Fix Time Test the morning’s bug reports. Mark two as unable to reproduce; three are obvious user errors; one is too verbose to understand; and another sounds more like a feature request. They all are returned to their senders unmolested.
5:00 PM Steppin Time Sneak out of the office as quietly as a mouse.


My Tuesday may not seem monumental and it may not seem particularly smart, but it’s the truth and buried in there are the undone misdeeds known as “sins of omission”.  They weren’t there when I was fresh out of college; they were habituated into my schedule by a lack of discipline and an unwillingness to see that there were problems.

The reins of discipline were slackened on me, so that without the restraint of due severity, I might play at whatsoever I fancied, even to the point of dissoluteness. And in all this there was that mist which shut out from my sight the brightness of the truth, o my God, and my iniquity bulged out, as it were, with fatness. [ St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 2 ]

St. Augustine considered his break with the discipline of his youth to be the beginnings of his licentiousness (he even alluded to the burrito fat drippings). When discipline doesn’t guide actions, then actions lack the promise that training and experience provides. When I program on cruise control, I write a lot of bugs and spend a lot more time doing nothing. But, when I plan and act in a focused manner, I save time and save the company money. But I may be saving more than that; I may be saving my soul.

But You, my Lord, were prepared for me to misuse Your grace for almost twenty years and to accept the injury so that I might become better. It seems, o God as if I had promised to break all the promises I made You, though this was not my intention at the time. When I look back on these actions of mine I do not know what my intentions were, But what they clearly reveal, O my Spouse, is the difference between You and myself. [ St. Theresa of Avila, The Life of St Theresa of Avila by Herself ]

If you’re reading this, then it’s not too late!

Wonder-Coder, God-Hacker, Bug-Fixer-Forever, Prince of Programmers

What if Jesus were a programmer?
  • Would He forget to check in His code?
  • Would He check His personal email as often as His work email?
  • Would He send back a bug fix, saying it was not reproducible without fully understanding the problem?
  • Would He volunteer to go get burritos?

You should see Jesus in your coworker, just as you should see Him in the least of those among you and by syllogism 1.a of the transitive property of scripture, you should also recognize that your coworker should see Jesus in yourself . But, seeing Christ in your neighbor, or coworker, is hard to do. Almost as hard as seeing Him in the Holy Eucharist. It’s not a trick, but if one makes a conscious effort to do so, on a regular basis, one will be all the more happier for it.

The other thing one must do to attain Christ like code completeness is, after one stops punishing others with one’s odious presence, one’s conscience must be formed.

A conscience which remains silent is a sick conscience. A man unable to recognize his guilt and who continues to suffer from it is not a liberated man, but a spiritual cripple. [Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) as quoted in You Can Become a Saint]

It’s getting to know the natural moral law which moves one in the direction of a well formed conscience. The natural law is a mode of philosophy geared toward taking what things are, and saying what things should do.

The Natural Law would probably state that a computer program needs to work. After all, such applications are supposed to work, not generate random access violations at address such and such.
To put a program in line with the Natural Law, a well formed conscience would fix all bugs first and check in all code that pertains to changes and only code that works reasonably well
The Natural Law would take into consideration the nature of work and the duties outlined therein.
It follows that work email, not personal email, is to be checked during work hours. Linux.SE not Lego.SE is to be consulted during work hours to fix the scripts on the web server.
The Natural Law would consider: what is the responsibility of a programmer when faced with a bug report?
The programmer’s responsibility is to find the bug, not give up, not make inferences into the IQ of the writer of the bug, and not make assumptions about his or her motivation for writing the bug report, other than that it was written for the good of the program.
The Natural Law is certainly not at odds with aspects of the Categorical Imperative
Kant would most likely say that whosoever never picks up burritos is a hoser, if not a tragic hoser

But it’s not just our responsibility to follow the Natural Law; it’s our duty. Dereliction of that duty is illegal and will send our souls to the slammer. We also must follow the Church’s law because

The Catholic Church is by the will of Christ, the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which springs from human nature itself [Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty]

and beyond that we’ve got to follow human laws, and etiquette and all that, but for the Christian worker, it is most important that we form and follow our consciences to bring about the Kingdom in our daily dealings.

If, for whatever reason, at your job it becomes impossible for you to follow your conscience, then it is time to speak up or leave. However, if the government is the one who is causing your crisis of conscience then it is time to take to the streets and join us in the Fortnight For Freedom!

Next up on Eschewmenical is Bruce Alderman’s Methodist take on the subject of conscience in the workplace. Stay tuned!

profile for Peter Turner at Christianity, Q&A for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more

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  • Jon Ericson says:

    Peter, you shouldn’t feel too guilty about being unproductive. Sometimes programming is a matter of getting into a flow, which doesn’t always come from being disciplined. I’m a huge proponent of Structured Procrastination as a tool for getting things done. I even use my contributions on this blog to help motivate me to get other things done.

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