The Gift of Guilt

Visser ( Beyond Fate (Massey Lectures) (CBC Massey Lecture) , 43-4) makes the commonplace observation that Christianity dislodged the honor-shame patterns of the ancient world and replaced it with a sin-guilt nexus. Unlike many, Visser views this as a tremendous gain, even a liberation:

“In recognizing wrongdoing as sin, we do not lessen its enormity, but we do deprive it of its fatality . . . . After the admission to oneself of guilt – one’s own guilt, not another’s – forgiveness can be sought. It is possible for a sinner to change – to express regret, accept punishment, make reparations. Forgiveness and guilt replace honour and shame in the name of the possibility of change – change in the guilty person, but also freedom from resentment in the person who has been offended . . . . Guilt and forgiveness together constitute a rejection of vicious cycles, obligatory feuds, ritual pollution, inherited curses, and the ineluctable or otherwise self-evident need for revenge. Their aim is to liberate human beings from fate.”

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