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Guilt, what is the purpose?
Apr 16, 1998

My question is somewhat complex and incompasses many different issues, but I wanted to pose it anyway.

Why is there such a huge force in our society that motivates or "unmotivates" individuals to feel guilty?

Response from Rev. Pieters

Some might trace the use of guilt to control society back to the days when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. (It no doubt goes further back than that.) Over the centuries, Christianity and other religions have used guilt as a primary method of keeping people under control. We still experience this phenomenon in some communities of faith today, where guilt is used to control or manipulate people's attitudes and behaviors.

Today's society has learned a lot about using guilt coercively, through the history of religion and politics, but also from the way some parents can use guilt in raising their children. It can be a powerful tool because it can hit such deeply felt places in our hearts.

To give guilt a fair hearing, it has a function in life: as individuals and as groups, it's one of the forces that can help guide us in doing what is good and right, and in steering us away from the bad, whatever that is. It can bring us to repentance and help us to change and heal and grow.

It is when guilt is used to manipulate and coerce individuals or groups of people to behave or believe a certain way that it becomes objectionable. And it's sometimes hard to distinguish between this "functional" guilt, and the "dysfunctional" guilt you refer to... it's a fine line!

As you point out, the question is complex, and I have barely skimmed the surface of the issue. Thanks for raising the issue! God bless you as you continue to seek and question.



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