Friday, September 11, 2009

Who Needs to Feel Guilty?

We all do! In a New York Times article of August 24, 2009, John Tierney wrote:

"Guilt in its many varieties - Puritan, Catholic, Jewish, etc. - has often gotten a bad rap, but psychologists keep finding evidence of its usefulness. Too little guilt clearly has a downside - most obviously in sociopaths who feel no remorse, but also in kindergartners who smack other children and snatch their toys.

In Dr. Kochanska's latest studies, published in the August issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and colleagues found that 2-year-olds who showed more chagrin during a broken-toy experiment went on to have fewer behavioral problems over the next five years. That was true even for the ones who scored low on tests measuring their ability to focus on tasks and suppress strong desires to act impulsively."

These findings aren’t unusual. Nevertheless, Western civilization continues to anesthetize itself against guilt feelings in a variety of ways. Most obviously, we have a wide variety of designer-drugs to choose from and professional practitioners who are more than happy to help us experiment.

If this doesn’t scratch the itch, we can always resort to moral relativism. This is the belief that the guilty indictments emanating from our conscience aren’t really anything to be concerned about. Why? These impulses are just a matter of how we were raised and how we evolved—no big deal! This “wisdom” says something like this: “If you were raised in Irian Jaya instead of the USA, you wouldn’t feel this way. So don’t take it so seriously!”

If these strategies fail to work, there’s always the psychologist who is ready, according to his sliding-scale, to tell you that “You’re really a good person.” In any event, all of these modern strategies fail to appreciate the role of guilt feelings as one of the glues that holds us and society together.

Why has our modern “wisdom” missed this very obvious fact? I think that part of the answer is attributable to our arrogance. We Westerners assure ourselves that we know so much better than the ancients, and we therefore can safely toss aside whatever spiritual heritage they have left us.

Remarkably, our Bible has anticipated what we moderns are just beginning to re-learn. In so many ways, it has warned us to not shipwreck our conscience, instructing us that there is objective moral truth. Why had we turned aside? Perhaps because moral truth is an inconvenient truth?

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