Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Many nowadays do not understand the place of guilt in modern day protestant churches. Confession is rare and not understood by those who bear the name of Christ. Yikes!!! Other less-Christian models of dealing with the human condition of guilt have taken center stage in Christian churches today. Oddly enough, the secular world has barfed out something that looks like a confessional on I’m not surprised. This secular confessional, demonstrated by its popularity, is providing a therapy not otherwise available. Here people embrace their guilt and reveal their secrets.

The problem with psychotherapy today is that it often attempts to alleviate guilt in the human person by justifying it with reason and circumstance. It does not face guilt head on with courage and with faith. It does not know faith. Unfortunately, the culture is such that most church’s “small groups” fall into or are intentionally formed therapy groups after the psychotherapy model not after the Christ model of accepting the unacceptable.

In Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be” he talks about the human person’s need to accept acceptance in its relation to human guilt. This is the foundational story of Christian faith. God embraces us. He welcomes us. He brings us into his “household” as adopted daughters and sons even though we are guilty and do not deserve this acceptance. Guilt and condemnation in Tillich’s schema is category of existential anxiety. The other categories consist of fate and death and emptiness and meaninglessness—all of which lead to pathological anxiety and are expressed in the human body as neurosis, if taken to its natural end. In the reformation evidence of the manner in which the anxiety of guilt was addressed is reflected in such phrases as “forgiveness of sins” and “justification through faith”. Our reformer forefathers overcame their anxiety of guilt by owning their guilt and embracing the acceptance, which accepted them in their guilt even as though their guilt was non-existent. This is the Christian’s salvation. This is the Christian’s encounter with God. The person who attempts to convince a person, expressing his/her guilt, that he/she is not guilty is doing his friend a great disservice. While the friend’s guilt anxiety is rationally alleviated, the spirit suspects otherwise and the nagging suspicion of being unacceptable drags on and on and on. Yet the friend is best a friend and becomes a brother if he faces his friend’s anxiety of guilt, staring into its ugly face, declaring it unacceptable, terrible and worthy of the punishment of eternal separation from himself. Yet in this moment of anxiety on the precipice of eternal separation, he makes a movement of grace. He embraces his guilty friend as though he were not guilty, giving him the courage to believe he is accepted despite his unacceptableness, inciting him to walk in the “courage to be” above the anxiety of guilt. He then is transformed by the acceptance, rising above the particular behaviors which feed into his guilt bank.


Blorge said...

Do you think that our own guilt is the main problem?

I know a lot of people who don't think that they're sinners and don't feel some sort of deep existential guilt.

espíritu paz said...

Has any of their friends or family members ever told them that their actions have hurt them?

Blorge said...

Yes but somehow that's not "sin"

Peter said...
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espíritu paz said...

Did I say sin?
I'm focusing on guilt here.

peter, peter, peter, pitter ever present person in control. I do agree guilt is useful. It serves a purpose. how about we all share the world's guilt burden--everyone gets the same sized chunk. Unfortunately, I think, like the scarcity of goods, it wouldn't wash out that way and it doesn't--that is why scape goats are so useful. Actually, no, that wouldn't work either because the scapegoats rise up in protest too. Because if one should so happen to blame another wrongfully the guilt multiplies and those who assign guilt wrongfully increase their guilt bank. Guilt is manageable?! Yeah only if you have the power and are in a position to assign it to others.

You sense no need to confess. Is it a secret? If you feel no anxiety, than why not let the world know what you have done?

Blorge said...

Self-control deals with individual sins, but what about the fact that there are sins that are structural, to some extent. For instance, my country invaded another country to some extent in my name. Another instance is that I have benefited from historical injustices such as slavery and racism in America.

There's a reason that I can buy my bananas so cheap- exploited labor. There's a reason that KIA is able to sell their cars so cheaply, and it aint pretty.

I can say that I have self-control when it comes to my budget, or to my credit cards, but on some level there's no such thing as "self"-control when it comes to systemic problems.

Finally, Peter, I think that airing one's dirty laundry is something that needs to be done. The mystics of the Catholic church knew how to do it, Augustine certainly knew how to do it (see his book Confessions). There's a certain liberation that happens when someone is honest enough to admit their faults in front of others rather than burying them. That is also in the Catholic tradition.

Espiritu- what is guilt other than a realization of our sin?

espíritu paz said...

I think guilt or feeling guilty begins even before the realization of sin. The pronouncement of guilt is then sin in the religious sense, convicted in the judicial sense. The possibility of guilt is more correctly the central theme of my composition. The possibility of guilt creates greater anxiety than the actual pronouncement of guilt is what I would argue. For some reason our culture is caught in the space before the pronouncement of guilt because we falsly believe that the pronouncement of guilt over a human person causes irreparable damage to him or her. Thus, we are convinced we must refuse to pronounce guilt over someone. I would argue that the sneaking suspision of the possibility of guilt is even more damaging because it evolkes an anxiety into a person which everyone then refuses to acknowledge.

Peter said...
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espíritu paz said...

Yup, Peter, I think you are following me precisely. The one last connection to make here though is where you leave off on to declare one's self guilty in order to put an end to the cycle of doubt and possibility. You mention one's shoulders must be big enough to carry the large load. This is the point at which I bring up what you've already said elsewhere--"Remember, Christ was a scapegoat." If I live in contemporinaity with Christ in his position of scapegoat of the whole world--he essentially carries my load. If I don't believe he does, would or could--the burden remains my own.

Guy said...

Blorge, how can you feel guilt for what you called "systemic" issues that you have no control over? Can one be guilty for things you didn't do or cause?

Blorge said...

I don't have direct contol, that's true. BUT, I do have a choice as to how I'm going to respond to the systems. I can choose to play their games, or I can work against them, or I can make up a new game, or whatever.