A sense of guilt
27 May 2015
A true sense of guilt changes you – it changes things. It makes you undo the wrong you did. It transforms you. Otherwise, it’s not real guilt – it’s just discomfort, or an unpleasant feeling that you’ve done something which wouldn’t be approved of, by others. But this is not the same as a true feeling of guilt, which springs out from inside irrespective of outside influences – like hunger, or deep organic pain. If it’s not deep enough to make you change things, it’s not a true sense of guilt.
That must be why confession plays such a big role in Christian practices – because, if it is genuine (and accompanied by remorse), it is guaranteed to change you – thereby helping you become a better person, irrespective of its consequences (forgiveness, punishment or reward).
What you wrote about true guilt being a feeling that “springs out from inside irrespective of outside influences” really intrigued me.
Is there really such a thing as guilt that in no way is affected by external factors?
To me, guilt is a concept that arises when a person feels that they have failed to meet the society’s (and/or their own interpretation of society’s) moral standards.
If norms, social expectations and codes of conduct didn’t exist, would we be able to feel guilt at all?
I don’t think there is anything that anyone would naturally feel guilty about doing. I believe it all depends on how you were raised and what kind of society you live in.
For example, if we were to live in a world where the act of murder was seen as something respectable, would we really feel guilty about taking another man’s life?
Vendela, that’s a good question. Is there anything "truly, deeply" moral in us, or is it all artificially induced by the ethical, social and cultural norms we are brought up with, or those we happen to believe in at the present moment?
Secondly, are there any genuinely universal values, beyond the social and cultural ones? I ask this because you talk of murder – and I imagine that, were we to allow the existence of such universal values, then the value of life would be one of them.
How do we answer such questions from a ‘neutral’ point of view, unaffected by one value system or another? We don’t.
Let’s raise this in class. It’s such an important debate.
I definitely agree that true, genuine guilt does change you. It creates a sense of vulnerability to those involved in the situation. It allows one to truly understand and know themselves on a deeper level. Feeling genuinely guilty of a certain action can cause one to become hopeful and positive because they know that they can change and act differently in the future. A true sense of guilt can also lead to a change in one’s environment and who they interact with, as well. In the Christian faith, confession is extremely important. Once a Christian realizes that he or she sinned, it is up to them on whether or not they would like to repent and be forgiven of their sins. Confession is like starting off on a clean plate. Once the act of confession is completed and one is genuine about it, sin is forgiven and that person will be able to move on from the situation. Confession teaches Christian’s that just because we sin, does not mean it hinders our learning. One Bible verse that this post reminded me of is, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). This verse shows that one cannot grow by not acknowledging or expressing their sins. When someone does feel guilty and confesses their sins, change and growth begins. Through true guilt and the act of changing our behavior, we will continue to grow and learn everyday from sin.
Guilt is a funny thing. It’s almost as if people chose between right and wrong purely because they don’t want that guilt to eat them away. Instead of just doing the right thing because it’s morally correct. There is a very fine line between doing the right thing and doing something just to avoid guilt. If you make morally correct choice simply because you dread the feeling of guilt, are you really doing the right thing?