Archive for the ‘guilt’ Category

In 1993 a Ku Klux Klansman named Henry Alexander made a confession to his wife.

April 24, 2011

In 1993 a Ku Klux Klansman named Henry Alexander made a confession to his wife. In 1957 he and several other Klansmen had pulled a black truck driver from  his cab, marched him to a deserted bridge high above a swift river, and made him jump, screaming, to his death. Alexander was charged with the crime in 1976-it took nearly twenty years to bring him to trial-pled innocent and was acquitted by a white jury. For thirty-six years he insisted on his innocence, until the day in 1993 when he confessed the truth to his wife. “I don’t even know what God has planned for me. I don’t even know how to pray for myself,” he told her. A few days later, he died.

Alexander’s wife wrote a letter of apology to the black man’s widow, a letter subsequently printed in The New York Times. “Henry lived a lie all his life,- and he made me live it too,” she wrote. For all those years she had believed her husband’s protestations of innocence. He showed no outward sign of remorse until the last days of his life, too late to attempt public restitution. Yet he could not carry the terrible secret of guilt to his grave. After thirty-six years of fierce denial, he still needed the release only forgiveness could provide.

Philip Yancey, What’s so Amazing about Grace?, p.100

Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost!

October 21, 2009

The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds and every kind of bounds in religion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatever, and to pronounce all earnest and clever teachers to be trustworthy, however heterogeneous and mutually destructive their opinions may be. Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation–stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity and enable it to keep pace with modern science. Stand up for these great verities, and you are called narrow, illiberal, old–fashioned and a theological fossil! Quote a text, and you are told that all truth is not confined to the pages of an ancient Jewish book, and that free inquiry has found out many things since the book was completed! Now, I know nothing so likely to counteract this modern plague as constant clear statements about the nature, reality, vileness, power and guilt of sin. We must charge home into the consciences of these men of broad views and demand a plain answer to some plain questions. We must ask them to lay their hands on their hearts and tell us whether their favorite opinions comfort them in the day of sickness, in the hour of death, by the bedside of dying parents, by the grave of a beloved wife or child. We must ask them whether a vague earnestness, without definite doctrine, gives them peace at seasons like these. We must challenge them to tell us whether they do not sometimes feel a gnawing “something” within, which all the free inquiry and philosophy and science in the world cannot satisfy. And then we must tell them that this gnawing “something” is the sense of sin, guilt and corruption, which they are leaving out in their calculations. And, above all, we must tell them that nothing will ever make them feel rest but submission to the old doctrines of man’s ruin and Christ’s redemption and simple childlike faith in Jesus.

J.C.Ryle, Holiness, ch.1, ‘Sin’

None can call our power to account?

September 2, 2009

After inciting her husband to murder king Duncan, Lady Macbeth is tormented with guilt (she talks in her sleep) and argues with herself, ‘What need we fear who knows it, when ‘

Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1

Even though Macbeth is brought to human account in the play, had he not been there is a power above every earthly sovereign.

Guilt and the pursuit of eternal life

August 30, 2009

The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di (d.210 B.C.), surrounded his tomb with thousands of terracotta warriors to protect him in death from attacks by the ghosts of the thousands he had had killed during his lifetime. During his life’s search for immortality he employed hundreds of shamans and alchemists to try to find magic mushrooms, elixirs of life and pills of immortality. He sent boatloads of people off into the oceans to try and find the magical islands of Peng Lai where the ingredients for the pill of immortality could be obtained.

Following the advice of one of his advisors, who said he would live forever if he was never seen by his people, Qin Shi built over 70 miles of covered corridors linking his various palaces. He venerated the gods and goddesses of Tai Shan in Shandong, greatest of all the sacred mountains of China – all to no avail.

The historian SI Ma Qian (1st C. B.C.) comments: all the emperors were obsessed with the quest for immortality.

Guilt – The Beast Beneath

August 25, 2009

There are many men and women who imagine themselves emancipated from the shackles of ancient codes but who, in fact, are emancipated only in the upper layers of their minds. Below these layers lies the sense of guilt crouching like a wild beast waiting for moments of weakness or inattention, and growling venomous angers which rise to the surface in strange distorted forms. Such people have the worst of both worlds. The feeling of guilt makes real happiness impossible for them, but the conscious rejection of old codes of behaviour makes them act perpetually in ways that feed the maw of the ancient beast beneath.

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, Vol.2, p.325 – originally in SCIENCE AND THE FUTURE OF MANKIND

I think Bertie still felt the ‘beast beneath’ all his life. He would have blamed his upbringing, but in reality it was his sinful life that he refused to own as sinful and repent of.


August 25, 2009

Nietzsche pointed out that the German word for guilt (Schuld) is related to Schulden (to be indebted).

Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, 2nd Essay, iv

Guilt unrelieved

August 25, 2009


…so we misbehaved

Next day at school, in order to be punished,

For punishment made us feel less guilty. Mother

Never punished us, but made us feel guilty.

Harry, THE FAMILY REUNION, Part II, Scene 1, T.S.Eliot

Could self-harm and self-destructive personal habits be a desire to punish ourselves and so relieve, to an extent, our feeligns of guilt?

Guilt and works (of penance)

August 25, 2009

If you go to Uttoxeter today there is a monument to Samuel Johnson. Johnson’s father ran a bookstall on market, and young Samuel once refused to help out on the stall. When Johnson was older, he stood in the rain (without a hat) as a penance for his failure to assist his father.

His act could not atone for his guilt but yet he felt the need to do it. Penance is not repentance from sin.

Can God forgive the vilest of crimes?

August 25, 2009

(Hamlet, having killed his brother and married his wife…)

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what’s in prayer but this two-fold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon’d being down? Then I’ll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3

Forgiveness can only come without neglecting justice. Christ suffers that the demands of justice be met for the crime committed and yet mercy be extended to the repentant.

Guilt needs a divine physician

August 25, 2009

(Lady Macbeth is restless and talking in her sleep. She paces to and fro in the early hours obsessively rubbing her hands)

Lady M.  Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man (King Duncan) to have had so much blood in him?
…Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!…

…Doct.  This disease is beyond my practice…

Macbeth then asks the doctor:

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d/Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the fraught bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart?

To which he replies: Therein the patient must minister to himself.

Macbeth,Act V. Scene 1, 3

As the doctor said:

Unnatural deeds Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. More needs she the divine than the physician. God, God forgive us all!

Macbeth, Act V. Scene 1