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Acts of conscience

This possibly isn’t the right place to post this, as it’s mainly a work blog, but then, most of my clients ask for a statement on my commitment to equality and diversity, so the general consensus is that the two are intertwined. And this seems like the best place to vent.

What has me riled is this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-28206581 the “gay cake row”. OK discrimination is bad enough, but what has tipped me over the edge is the description of the bakery’s actions as an “act of conscience” as if somehow they are being punished for holding themselves to a higher moral standard than everyone else, rather than a lower one. Besides it really quite demeans the people who do act out of genuine acts of conscience.

No. That is not what conscience is. Conscience is refusing to do something (or setting out to do something) because it has a demonstrable and provable harmful impact on someone else (or, you know, the converse). And it usually demands some sacrifice on your own part. Without that evidential base what you are doing is actually blind prejudice.

The mistake they are making (and 30 mins giving a quick read round of anything on moral philosophy would have told them) is that purely using their faith as a guideline to their interactions with others is not on. People have a right to their beliefs, even to express them, and the world is a better place with people who have a range of worldviews and opinions, but those should only influence behaviour that has an impact on yourself. When you interact with others, the basis for that behaviour has to be something credible, i.e. evidence-based. And sorry to be the one to inform you of this if you weren’t aware of it, but religion doesn’t cut it. That’s pretty much the definition of faith – it’s evidence-free. So, if you want to campaign against gay marriage, go ahead, but first you need to do the research that actually indicates it’s harmful. Without that you can despise it all you like, but as a responsible adult in a rational world, you have to learn to STFU about it.

“The law is really clear. You cannot pick and choose which sides of the law apply to you.” one commentator has said. True enough. If you think the law is unjust, prove it. Then be prepared to suffer for opposing it. Don’t expect others to suffer on your behalf. That’s what acting from conscience demands. Which is another reason to be really sure you’ve picked the right side. Morality is like maths. You have to show your workings out. Otherwise you get no marks.

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