Peter CajkaSep 27, 2021
Follow Your Conscience
The Catholic Church and the Spirit of the Sixties
University of Chicago Press 2021
What is your conscience? Is it, as Peter Cajka asks in this provocative book, “A small, still voice? A cricket perched on your shoulder? An angel and devil who compete for your attention?” Going back at least to the thirteenth century, Catholics viewed their personal conscience as a powerful and meaningful guide to align their conduct with worldly laws. But, as Cajka shows in Follow Your Conscience: The Catholic Church and the Spirit of the Sixties (U Chicago Press, 2021), during the national cultural tumult of the 1960s, the divide between the demands of conscience and the demands of the law, society, and even the church itself grew increasingly perilous. As growing numbers of Catholics started to consider formerly stout institutions to be morally hollow—especially in light of the Vietnam War and the church’s refusal to sanction birth control—they increasingly turned to their own consciences as guides for action and belief. This abandonment of higher authority had radical effects on American society, influencing not only the broader world of Christianity, but also such disparate arenas as government, law, health care, and the very vocabulary of American culture. As this book astutely reveals, today’s debates over political power, religious freedom, gay rights, and more are all deeply infused by the language and concepts outlined by these pioneers of personal conscience.
Carlos Ruiz Martinez is a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He is also the Communications Assistant for the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA). His general interest is in American religious history, especially American Catholicism.