Sunday Morning Musings: In his book, How Good Do We Have to Be, (Little, Brown and Co., 1996), the author, Harold Kushner speaks of guilt and shame that arises within each person as they are “capable of recognizing the gap between what they are and what they can be expected to be, and of being embarrassed of the difference” (p. 35). He then speaks of the difference between guilt and shame and how they both can create the way we see ourselves, and think that others will see us.
There is no doubt that much of our understanding comes from various interpretations of the Bible and from the ideas of original sin (Adam and Eve in Genesis) and that of atonement through the cross of Jesus (He died for our sins). Yet it seems that as our society moves away from these concepts the stories or sense of guilt and shame continue. In some sense it may be that society is so imbued with religious overtones that there is a strong carry over.
I mentioned in my novella, Dying to Live (Shelsid Publishers, 2014) about a dying person who seemingly had little or no connection to the church confronted the chaplain with the statement, “I am going to hell!” The first question that came to mind was that of where this question/idea had come from. Obviously, there was a fear and sense of guilt that arose and the idea of going to hell was causing a great deal of stress. (The whole idea of heaven and hell as a physical place is another issue for another blog.)
That is not to say that we shouldn’t feel guilt or shame. But as Kushner goes on to point out that “Religion properly understood is a cure for feelings of guilt and shame, not their cause.” (p. 43). And yet, the sense of not being or feeling worthy continues. I wonder just how we can overcome it.
I am not as perfect as I would like to think I am, but do I really have to be or even could I be? I don’t think I am flawed because God made me that way. I am not sinful because my parents sinned and their parents before them. I make mistakes and worse yet I let myself think that I am not worthy because of those mistakes. Even worse is when someone has wronged me and I blame myself for it. Sadly, that is so much the case today. How often do we blame the victim? How often does the victim feel unaccepted and thus unacceptable? These feelings of inadequacy usually end with the individual avoiding talking about the issue. Such being the case with allegations of sexual abuse that we are currently hearing about that may have happened years ago.
The positive we need to take from all this is that guilt and shame are not God-given; they do not make us worthy or unworthy. Nor do we ever have to think that we can or have to be perfect. Rather, I have heard told many times the idea that imperfection helps us to understand that I am okay just as I am. Various writers including Leonard Cohen in Anthem have told us that the crack lets the light, or the wound lets God in (E. Kurtz & K. Ketchum) to name a couple. The difficult part is believing it, letting it live deep in our hearts.