Monday, May 22, 2006

A Healthy Serving of Guilt

One cannot get the full impact of what is being said here without reading the reference articles by The Anchoress and Dr. Sanity, both linked to below. Please make the effort to do so.

Here's an interesting reaction I received to my link to The Anchoress' excellent post about obedience to God.
"No gay man or woman should have to submit to violence or public scorn and disrespect because they were dealt homosexuality."

Violence no. Public scorn and disrespect...okay.

Isn't this like saying that I was "dealt" a sexual proclivity towards cheating on my wife? If we're removing choice in sexual practices then I can easily make the claim that since men were clearly built to attach themselves to multiple partners that some men are driven to do so at a greater steam than others. Why should they have to be punished by society for the hand they've been dealt? Pedophiles are drawn to children, should they not surrender (although I'm comfortable with violence being brought out on them)? Sexual activity is what it is, an activity. It has meaning and it is important but it is a choice, in most cases two consenting people don't accidentally have relations. It involves intent and through intent one makes choices regardless of their impulses. The above statement seems to state that gays do not have a choice when they do. If no gay man or woman should submit to disrespect or public scorn, then they are held to a different standard than straights since straights are not allowed to ignore their urges.

Overall the post and the concepts in it I agree with. This particular section causes me some concern on what you're meaning.
This email came from a person I respect and really like but with whom I usually spar quite a lot although not about subjects of this seriousness. Needless to say, he was quite shocked when I told him that I agreed ... at least basically.

I think that actually what he is getting at is the need to restore guilt to our culture for certain activities which are just not healthy, both for the individual and for society as a whole. This was jump started by my memory of a discussion of shame versus guilt by Dr. Sanity which I found quite enlightening. Here's a bit, but do go read it all because this snippet is not enough to get across the entire point.
Guilt is an emotion that rises after a transgression of one's own or cultural values. Guilt is about actions or behavior; while shame is about the self. There is an important psychological difference in saying to someone that their behavior is bad; as contrasted with saying that they are bad. The former leads to guilt; the latter to shame.

The purpose of guilt is to stop behavior that violates a self, family or societal standard. Guilt keeps score on excesses or deficits of behavior deemed undesirable and is expressed in regret and remorse.

Eventually for the shame-avoidant person, reality itself must be distorted in order to further protect the self from poor self-esteem. Blaming other individuals or groups for one's own behavior becomes second nature, and this transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator of internal shame.

Most psychological theorists (Erikson, Freud, Kohut) see shame as a more "primitive" emotion (since it impacts one's basic sense of self) compared to guilt, which is developed later in the maturation of the self. Without the development of guilt there is no development of a real social conscience.
This is basically what The Anchoress was getting at also; the need to avoid shame for homosexuals. It can be difficult to disassociate shame and guilt, especially when dealing with a hot button topic like homosexuality. However, as my correspondent points out with his examples, we do seem to be able to do it.

To carry the concept further, we seem to be able to do this also with alcoholics and others with addictive personalities. We can and do enact legislation, put into place support programs, and publicly condemn the behavior while supporting the individual in rehabilitation. Where our society becomes disfunctional is about anything sexual which does not show something which we can prove is physical harm. Somehow, even though it can be widely acknowledged that divorce, sexual addition, pornography, and other such behavior is harmful to the individual and their families, it doesn't carry the same social weight of other aforementioned problems. However, these problems and the resultant fallout for the family members are some of the unspoken things that everyone knows. When one gets to bigger issues such as homosexuality and abortion it as if society itself has gone blind, wanting proof, proof, and more proof. And the proof is never good enough.

Would bringing back guilt help keep these things in check? It is an interesting question, even if one could accomplish such a thing, which is an interesting question in itself.

Please note that I am not advocating shame here. I am talking about guilt. It seems to me to be similar to making the jump that we all managed from years ago when a drunk at a party was an amusing spectacle who was often left to weave his way home ... to the attitudes of today where alcoholism is treated seriously as dangerous to everyone but the alcoholic person is viewed with compassion as someone who needs to be helped. Part of that jump is accomplished for the alcoholic by knowing society's views and how he or she is expected to make a serious effort to control those dangerous impulses. As The Anchoress says, we are sometimes dealt a stinking card in life but we still must live with it the best we can. How much easier is this when society lends a helping hand without empowering the destructive impulses?

While pondering all this I read the following in Thomas Dubay's Evidential Power Of Beauty. He was speaking of impediments to perceiving beauty but this equally applies to the questions raised above.
Comments von Balthasar:
The Biblical concept of "making blind" (with all its variations) can have meaning only if it is related to something which is objectively visible, something which could and would have to be seen in the appropriate circumstances. The French expression cela creve les yeaux (It's as plain as the nose on your face — literally, this is so obvious it pulls your eyes out) here acquires an unexpected impact: what dazzles to the point of blinding is precisely what is most perfectly evident and which meets with violent negation. (Cf. Rom 1:20ff). This is important for the understanding of scandal. It is not the object's invisibility which creates uncertainty and finally results in a failure to see on the part of the subject. It is, rather, the prior judgment we make that the thing in question cannot be what it claims to be which responsible. The true scandal is the arrogant attitude that opposes one's subjective opinion to the objective evidence.
This penetrating analysis may be rejected as outrageous by those to whom it most applies. Egocentric people do not enjoy being exposed as being dogmatic, as flying in the face of evidences to which they have no intelligent response. They hold what they hold mainly because it suits their chosen lifestyle or because their dogmatic premises will not allow another answer. Contemporary examples are not lacking. The intellectual bankruptcy of the current pro-abortion movement is plain to any informed student of the question when we compare the competent and compelling scholarship over the years in hundreds of articles and studies in Human Life Review and other pro-life periodicals and books with the meagerness of serious moral thinking in the pro-abortion camp, we find no rational explanation for the latter's refusal to see the light. What we do find are shabby slogans and transparent euphemisms that substitute for thought. It's no accident that abortion has everything to do with sexual lifestyles.
What does it take for our society to drop the blinders on subjects like homosexuality and abortion? Because it is only society that can reinforce a helping of guilt and it does seem to me that a healthy serving of that is what we need.

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