What does this obedience mean for thoughts and feelings which do not comport with the imperative of obedience? Rebellious thoughts and feelings must be disowned. Unfortunately for Christians disowning is not enough to make thoughts and feelings disappear. Disowned thoughts and feelings manifest traditionally themselves as demons external to the believer. “This is not me” says the believer and lives in fear of the comings and goings of what we would call his. thoughts and feelings. Is it only rebellious thoughts and feelings that are disowned?
But first an objection must be dealt with. Our milder Christians will object that they do not believe in demons and that they recognize the progress made by psychology in understanding pathological states. Primitive Christianity finds it to be rebellious merely giving into disowned thoughts and feelings. Not so primitive Christians find the source of rebellion in the sinful nature of humankind. In more developed forms of Christianity rebellious thoughts and feelings are ours.
Is there anything left for not so primitive Christianity? I submit that there is. It is conscience, knowledge of good and evil, call it what you will. Disowning one’s conscience is the only way that I can explain to myself how anyone could find the argument that only God makes it possible to be good persuasive. If conscience is not disowned, it turns into a problem of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. The voice of conscience is the voice of man in man. I don’t remember who said it, Feuerbach, I think.
If conscience is the result of mundane causes, it is no longer something that commands obedience. One becomes responsible for one’s own Good and Evil. There is no longer a singular standard of Good and Evil. If there is no longer a single standard, then how can God reward and punish? How can one fail to obey the Law, if the Law varies according to individual believers’ consciences? What need then is there for Redemption? Is the difference between a believer and atheist is that one disowns his conscience and the other does not?