Eric Metaxas is a prominent writer on the inviolability and sanctity of Christian conscience. He has said in the past:
We can always caricaturize Christianity, but here I’m speaking of true Christianity, and the tradition of true Christianity has always been that true Christians have understood the idea of freedom of conscience, have understood the idea that actual faith is something that’s between an individual and God, and this is something that must be safeguarded and you cannot force it. If you understand this fundamentally Christian idea that faith can’t be forced, then you understand that you have to protect it, that you have to allow people to freely choose what they will believe in and will not believe in. This is central to the Christian project.
Metaxas supports Donald Trump. That’s fine. I certainly understand the arguments against Hillary Clinton and I am not much interested in second-guessing what his conscience dictates. But last night, Metaxas tweeted this:
Evan McMullin is a good man, but in this election he is a fig-leaf, there to assuage the consciences of religious people. God is not fooled.— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) October 16, 2016
He made the same point at greater length in the Wall Street Journal last week. His basic argument is that Hilary Clinton would be worse than Trump because of her policies. If I thought Donald Trump could be trusted to fulfill his promises or be temperamentally fit for the presidency, I would find these arguments compelling. I certainly would agree if any of the other Republican contenders had won the nomination. But we all know that argument by now. The relevant point here is that this is a prudential, worldly, question. It is a question that is answered through reason and evidence, not faith. Metaxas is making a prudential argument about a political contest and then leaping to the conclusion that God is on his side and won’t be “fooled” by anyone whose conscience — never mind reason and facts – leads them to a different conclusion.
I’m not a terribly religious person, but I would like to think that, even if I were, I would not claim to know God’s will on such a temporal matter — and then go about using my certitude as a cudgel against my co-religionists.
And that is what I find so galling about Metaxas’ argument. I always thought that the role of conscience in Christianity is to treat it as something of great value and importance. Yes, as Catholics teach, it must be rightly formed through reason. A poorly formed conscience can lead to poor decisions. But conscience also speaks to us from a plateau above mere reason. In Metaxas’s formulation, conscience has been reduced to a kind of virtue-signaling vanity, or maybe the sin of pride. “Don’t listen to your conscience because God wants you to vote for Donald Trump” is a weird argument coming from anybody. But it is downright bizarre coming from the moral biographer of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer.