Learning to Be Good

A comment section recently brought out the topic of whether children are born with a moral sense and ended with BobN arguing as follows:

… Young minds are very plastic and amoral.
As Reagan said, freedom is never more than one generation away from being lost.
Today’s society is filled with examples of young people without moral compasses. From the gangs of Los Angeles (or Providence) to the children in madrassas preparing to become the suicide bombers of al Qaeda at the extreme, to the welfare queens and “baby mamas” and their no-strings impregnators who view welfare as a career, to business-school students who cheerfully admit to cheating to get ahead and think it is a normal part of business, to politicians who speak of democracy while plotting to seize tyrannical power, there are an awful lot of people who are not wired to see the truth.
Of course there are many counterexamples. In fact, the vast majority of people still understand right and wrong and act accordingly. And at the extreme of this end of the spectrum are the valiant patriots who volunteer to serve our country and literally fight for freedom and our way of life.

My own belief is that morality is just like everything else in that it is a process of development. We’re all born with an innate sense of what is right — a conscience that seeks for God. Genetics set boundaries and probabilities for our behavior, but the rest develops over time based on experiences and cultural input. I once heard some celebrity suggest that pit bulls are a danger because they have such big hearts, and if people pervert their loyalty and desire to please, the dogs can become monsters. Just so with people: Our drive to do what is right can be perverted so dramatically that an impulse toward transcendence can be made to point toward that which is immoral.
As Archbishop George Niederauer writes:

How do we form and guide our consciences? While the Church teaches that each of us is called to judge and direct his or her own actions, it also teaches that, like any good judge, each conscience masters the law and listens to expert testimony about the law. This process is called the education and formation of conscience.

It is by following our inherent longing for Truth up the structure built of revelation and tradition — of history and cultural experience — that we achieve both moral goodness and independence.

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