What Software Engineering Teaches Me About Morality

I’m a software engineer and that means I look at a lot of computer code all day long.  Often, I’m working with other engineers and look at their code and offer suggestions for improvement.  I’m always telling other software engineers to not “reinvent the wheel.”  That means don’t write your own code to solve a problem that someone else has already adequately solved. For example, if my application needs to send an email notification, it would be a waste of my time to write my own email routine instead of using one someone else has already written.  Why should I go through all the effort to design, implement, debug, and test a piece of software when someone else, who probably knows a lot more about the details of email protocols, already made the effort and produced a tool that fits my needs?

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...
St. Thomas Aquinas

I see parallels between code reuse in software engineering and theology. I often ponder why I believe what I believe. For example, I believe that abortion is an intrinsic evil. I know this because this is what the Catholic Church teaches.  According to the mainstream media or popular culture, that makes me an ignorant lemming who does not think for himself.  But quite the contrary, I’m not relying solely on my thoughts and emotions to arrive at the conclusion that abortion is evil.  I refer to thousands of years of Catholic teaching built on the foundation of some of the greatest philosophical minds the world has ever known.  Like the software engineer that builds an application using various tools and libraries others wrote, I build my moral foundation by integrating the deep insights of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

People should use their talents while relying on the talents of others in areas where they aren’t experts.  I’m a software engineer, not a philosopher or theologian.  When people need help with their computer, they call me.  When I  need moral guidance I call St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, Blessed John Paul II, St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope Benedict XVI, and many other great minds of the Catholic Church.  I would be foolish to “wing it” and rely solely on my own thoughts and emotions when facing a moral question because I’m not utilizing all the time-tested thoughts and teachings available to me.  And whether it is a software engineer or someone looking for moral guidance, when you try to do everything yourself you will usually not produce as good of a solution as trusting those who have deep domain expertise.

The real “lemmings” in our culture are many of the ones who accuse the faithful of not utilizing rational thought.  While the Catholic faith built its foundation on people who really studied and thought about life’s great questions, many in society at large draw their beliefs from the words of politicians, special interest groups, celebrities, and talking heads on the news.  And like fads, their moral foundation is constantly changing because it’s based mostly on emotion and news polling.  How stable is that foundation if it is constantly in motion?  Why should the Catholic Church “modernize” if that would mean replacing its strong moral foundation with one that has no deeper thought than a joke on The Daily Show?  Do we really want to throw out the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas for the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden?  Do we replace the influence of the Summa Theologica with the popular sentiment of “Everybody’s doing it.  Don’t you want to be cool?”

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Society has come down with a serious case of soundbiteitis.  Symptoms include basing your morality on the words of celebrities and politicians and believing various myths and flat out lies about the Catholic Church and her principles.  You are advised to meditate on the Fourth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  Mary has a special place in Heaven and she serves as our guide to bring us into God’s grace and eventually into His heavenly kingdom.  Throughout generations she came to many people through apparitions with a message to turn towards prayer and to really attempt to understand Jesus’ Church.  To understand the Church, you need to read its teachings found in the Bible as well as the writings of her saints and theologians.  Mary knows just how great the fullness and joy of Heaven really is and she wants all of us to have an understanding of it too.  Because if we did take the time to educate ourselves about the Church, and pray for the faith to even feel the slightest sense of what awaits us in Heaven, we would turn away from our sinful ways.

We all have a choice.  Do we put base our morality on the sound bites of politicians and celebrities?  Or do we put our faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church, its generations of scholars, and our Heavenly Mother Mary?  Seems like a no brainer to me.

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