Guilt is a relative term that has different meanings to different societies and in different times. In Hinduism, the cow is thought to be sacred, and most Hindus refrain from eating beef. If someone from that culture were to eat beef, they would probably experience guilt, and even shame, or condemnation. Some of their fellow Hindus might judge them and even refuse to associate with them. Their belief that a cow is sacred creates their guilt.
Most Christians don’t experience guilt when they eat a juicy piece of steak. The difference is in the underlying belief system. The cow is not a sacred animal in the Christian religion. But, if Christians understood the reasons why the cow is thought to be sacred, we might decide those reasons were valid. We might change our minds about whether or not we should eat beef, and we most certainly would have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for the Hindus belief.
Likewise, if Hindus understood the reasons Christians don’t consider the cow as sacred, it might change their thinking and allow for understanding and graciousness concerning what appears to them as a barbaric custom. Where does guilt come into play in all of this? It doesn’t. Or, at least it shouldn’t. We respect the beliefs of other religions and cultures and try to understand them—not change them to our way of thinking, speaking, and acting.
Guilt is defined differently by different cultures, but also by the different times in which we live. In the past, slavery was tolerated and accepted by many people. For the most part, those who owned slaves felt no guilt. As time passed, people came to realize that slavery was wrong. In this situation we see a positive side of guilt. To take away one’s freedom and to demand hard work without pay or hope of advancement came to be understood as a cancer to society.
As more and more people became enlightened to the truth that all men (and women) were created equally, the nation’s conscience was disturbed and changes happened. Guilt played a positive role, and, even after slaves were set free, guilt continued to play a useful role to those who decided to help right the wrongs that had been committed against their fellowmen.
Step Eight says that we are to “Seek forgiveness from those we hurt unless doing so would cause further harm.” But, once we determine that this is something we are meant to do, we can let go of any hold that guilt has had over us. It takes time, but often it begins with simply the intention to make right what was wrong. And, if circumstances are such that we are unable to right the wrongs, then intention and prayer become the tools to set us free.
When we consider guilt from a religious perspective, we find that this tool has often been misused by religions and religious leaders to keep their flocks in line. One way we can fall prey to this abuse is when we believe the pastor is the master. When we put all our faith in one particular religious leader, we open ourselves to the mistakes and flaws they carry with them.
Another way we can fall prey to religious abuse is when we give away our power to think and make decisions for ourselves. By letting the religious leader and his faithful followers dictate what we think, we close our minds to any different opinions. These opposing opinions might also include the voice of reason and the voice of The Divine. Any attempt to think outside of the basket into which we’ve placed our religious eggs is met with guilt, judgment, and often condemnation.
This is the negative side of guilt—the ugly, manipulative side of guilt. When we fall prey to this abuse, we will come to believe that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough. Our self-worth will be attacked, and our every decision and action will come under scrutiny, with ourselves being the most severe judge of our behaviors.
Note: You might need to refresh your screen to see the current day's Inspiration.
Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.