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Guilt- article for Ripple Bloggers

April 20, 2009

When I was a kid, I had literal nightmares wherein I would wake up panicked with a soul crushing guilt, convinced I had done something horrible and not remembered. This went on into my late teens- the feeling that somehow, some way I had committed an unforgivable and monstrous sin – I had murdered or some other grievous action, and somehow forgotten about it. I actually confronted my mom ” have I accidentally killed someone, and has it been covered up?’ Aside from the fact mom thinks I am a loon, she always assured me that no, there are very few ways a 10 year old girl can really murder someone and it’s actually quite hard to cover it up in any case.
The subject of guilt then is a bit tough for me. I don’t think I have a rational or normal take on it. In retrospect my childhood guilt and feeling of an act so heinous on the edge of my consciousness, of my inherent GUILT writ large, was probably just the aftermath of some kind of early abuse that has been suppressed to the very edges of memory. Suppressed to the very edges of dreams, inaccessible to my waking mind.

But for every action….well. I am almost immune to guilt I should feel. It tends to be drowned out in the general background levels of guilt. In order not to be a sociopath asshole I have spent a lot of time thinking about right and wrong and Sin with a capital S. I have concluded that guilt is like pleasure and pain for our bodies, guilt and happiness are natural reinforcing mechanisms in our mind. But in a mostly secular society, and with a religious code that is for almost every human alive, entirely focused on ancient ideas of right and wrong, how do we keep ourselves free from sin?

If we take our guidance entirely from ancient texts, hypothetically we should definitely be careful to not bugger sheep, but selling our baby girl into slavery, well under certain circumstances; we are cool. Not picking on the Jews or Christians here- Islam has some doozies of it’s own. But I save the worst for my own faith- most people think being Wiccan is the only way to be Pagan. And to be a Wiccan one must accept “Do what ye will, be it harm none”

Huh? At least the sheep buggering prohibition gives some practical advice. If one took the literal HARM NONE one would be hard pressed to leave the house, for fear of stepping on an ant. But, so you leave the house, well, maybe ants don’t count… and then you have a hamburger. Well, we are humans we are meant to eat meat! Poor cow, killed and eaten. That counts as harm, yes? So now cows don’t count. So don’t harm humans, ok? Ok. What if you are a soldier? What if you hit a patch of ice and accidentally kill someone? What happens, if you can decide an ant or a cow doesn’t count because they aren’t human- what happens when you decide that people of African descent aren’t human? Talk about a slippery slope. So Do as ye will, turns very quickly into “Whatever”.

But even with that ridiculously unhelpful moral precept, we do feel sin. As a human we know when we have done wrong to another human and our feeling of guilt is, in a healthy mind, and in the absence of solid, sensible rules, a way to keep us from doing it very often.

Maybe because of my own issues with guilt, the rite of confession and absolution has always fascinated me. Every culture, everywhere, save our own modern society, has had a formalized way to cleanse the psyche of the buildup of guilt and reconcile our souls to G*d/dess. For those of us who still attend church or temple, it still exists, but a majority of people have no religion. Where does the guilt go? Confessional reality TV? Psychologists? Do we drug it away?

In conclusion, I don’t know. And this article is 3 days late and I feel so guilty that I have a lot more questions than answers.

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