What has Guilt Done for Us Lately
JoAnne Lam contributes her second column related to the ongoing themes explored in Mozaik. She has been involved in WSCF work in the past and is now researching issues pertaining to the Eucharist. She’s a blogger, mother and enthusiastic ecumenist.
JoAnne Chung Yan Lam
Generally, guilt triggers negative reactions and emotions. As a tool of manipulation, guilt can influence decisions and actions. At the minimum, guilt exists like a shadow, following us as we go about our daily tasks, making us question each decision we make. As children, guilt is used to sway from disobeying, acting accordingly to societal standards and expectations. An extra serving of dessert brings on a guilty conscience. Guilt is a part of the human condition, but how does guilt relate to faith and especially Christianity?
In the Creation story from Genesis 2, Eve is the traditional culprit who listened to the serpent and partook of the forbidden fruit along with Adam. Historical doctrines formulated from this account established the female sex as the one responsible for humanity’s rejection from paradise. The designation that Eve was the cause for the “Fall of Humanity” creates complex repercussions that have contributed in the devaluation and the exploitation of women throughout the generations. In this instance, the guilt of disobedience against God found women to be its scapegoat. God created women as the suitable partner to men, but through the placement of guilt onto Eve, part of that original intent has been lost. Guilt acts as chains, holding women prisoner in a systemic inferiority. How does guilt fit into a God of liberation and Creation?
Through the development of Christian doctrines and teachings, guilt is prevalently used to keep believers aligned with doctrinal positions and understandings. In the Ten Commandments as well as the Deuteronmic texts, extensive laws prescribe how one is to behave and that to deviate would result in punishment. Remembering from childhood, my Sunday School teachers emphasized how Jesus died for my sins and that because humanity was disobedient to God’s commandments, God had no choice but to redeem the world through the blood of Christ. This claim and explanation create a heavy responsibility on the believers to carry the guilt of the death of Christ. The Gospel of John even names the Jews as the crowds calling out to crucify Jesus. To place the guilt of Jesus’ death on the Jews has created anti-semitic attitudes between Christianity and Judaism. Guilt is the instigator for scapegoating and hatred. Has there a purpose to blame and to cast a heavy load of guilt on another?
During World War II and under the Japanese occupation, young Korean girls and women were taken to serve as sex slaves in the military brothels. They were young women ripped from their families and their innocence. This happened to young girls in other countries under Japanese occupation as well. The Korean women filed a class-action lawsuit against the Japanese government, demanding an apology and reparations for the estimated 10 000 victims known as “Comfort Women”. The Japanese government has been identified with the guilt in this instance, but what of that? Does guilt aid in the truth and reconciliation for the women or merely to cause shame, forming a barrier towards a restoration to humanity in all its fullness?
Pondering on the topic of guilt, I have grown oddly aware of the guilt that I impose on myself, as well as adopting societal dosage of the same. Guilt weighs down our spirits because it imposes an enslavement, binding our capacity to make choices counter-status quo. All of this does not displace the usefulness of guilt to deter undesired behaviours. However, I would propose that it is not guilt but the focus on consequences, cause and effect, that will help each of us to live responsibly in the world. Furthermore, in the context of Christianity, guilt should not motivate our faith but rather – grace. It was grace that moved God to redeem the world and in love God continues to find ways to connect and nurture that connection. Grace will overcome guilt as love shall overcome hate.
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