The New Guilt
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they immediately embarked on a course of guilt-evasion. They made coverings for themselves and hid from God (Genesis 3:7-8). They then denied all responsibility, by trying to deflect guilt onto others (Genesis 3:12-13).
The ensuing course of human history demonstrates that the human race has continued in its attempts at guilt-evasion, albeit in a variety of ways. But today there is a renewed, societal attempt at guilt-evasion that invites closer scrutiny. This new deal, we might call the ‘New Guilt’.
The New Guilt has three approaches. First, it attempts to make people feel guilty over sins they are not actually responsible for. Second, it attempts to make people feel guilty for actions which are not actually sinful. Third, it attempts to explain away true guilt for real sins.
Perhaps the most recent stratagem of the New Guilt is its attempt to make people feel guilty for other people’s sins. An example is Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issuing a formal apology for the ill-treatment of Australian Aborigines over the last two centuries.
He was referring to a covert policy adopted by successive Australian governments from the late nineteenth century until the 1960s, whereby children of Aboriginal mothers and European fathers were taken from their parents and placed in orphanages, church missions and foster homes. The now perceived purpose of this policy was the extinction of Aborigines as a distinct race.
This, of course, was an appalling policy and a blot on Australia’s history. But, if we read what Mr Rudd actually said in a speech to the Australian Parliament that earned a standing ovation, we find that he did much more than simply express abhorrence for the policy and promise to ensure it never happened again. He strayed into another realm altogether.
‘For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry … To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry … And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry [my italics]’.
A careful reading of this apology shows that Mr Rudd was issuing a statement of corporate repentance for corporate guilt for historic sins, of which neither he nor any other member of the Australian parliament was guilty. None of them were personally responsible for the policy in question, nor the historic treatment of the Aborigines over the last 200 years.
Similar wide-embracing statements have been made in the UK. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair issued statements expressing ‘deep regret’ for both the slave trade and Irish Potato Famine. Whatever Mr Blair’s faults in office, the slave trade and Irish Potato Famine were not on the list. Even despite this, Tony Blair came in for criticism from Archbishop of York John Sentamu and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone for not issuing a more fulsome apology for the slave trade.
Where do you stop?
What is the point of apologising for someone else’s sins? Clearly, practising slavery and being indifferent to the starvation of the Irish are shameful things. But to apologise over something you are not personally responsible for and issue statements of regret on behalf of people who had nothing to do with it is, at best, meaningless.
It might even be a fraudulent attempt to make yourself look good and avoid confronting real sins for which you are personally guilty. It is one thing to pledge to do all you can not to repeat the sins of a past generation; it is quite another to issue personal apologies for a past generation.
In any case, how far back do we go? Should those tracing family kinship with Queen Mary I issue apologies for their royal ancestor burning Protestants at the stake? Should the descendants of William the Conqueror issue heartfelt apologies for his invasion of these isles?
Should modern-day Egypt offer a formal apology to modern-day Jews for the shameful way in which Pharaoh treated their distant ancestors during the Exodus? To even ask these questions shows the futility of the approach.
The second stratagem of the New Guilt is to make people feel guilty for actions which are not actually sinful. One example relates to ‘climate change’. The term ‘carbon guilt’ is now coined to describe the feelings we ought to have, apparently, for our part in polluting the planet with that odious substance carbon dioxide!
Each time we fly abroad or drive a car, we are told we are contributing to the destruction of the planet and must feel personal guilt. And travelling is not the only environmental sin. According to some, so is procreation.
A recent report by the think-tank Optimum Population Trust (OPT) averred that having more than two children was environmentally undesirable and governments should offer incentives for women to stay childless.
OPT’s co-chairman John Guillebaud said, ‘An extra child is the equivalent of a lot of flights across the planet. The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child’.
Many other New Guilt ‘sins’ could be mentioned, such as smacking a naughty child (even with due moderation, from a motive of love), opposing sexual permissiveness and perversion, and opposing gender reconstruction.
No one can mistake that the Bible roundly condemns sexual sin and explicitly upholds marriage between one man and one woman as the true basis of the human family. No amount of tolerance and diversity training will alter those facts, but the New Guilt would inject guilt into areas explicitly sanctioned by Scripture.
The third strategy of the New Guilt is to portray real guilt for real sins as psychological illusion. This devious approach stems from humanist-dominated schools of psychology.
According to David Noebel in Understanding the times, humanist psychology is undergirded by three assumptions: ‘man is good by nature and therefore perfectible; society and its social institutions are responsible for man’s evil acts; and mental health can be restored to everyone who gets in touch with his real “good” self’.
In other words, people are never actually guilty of real sins against Almighty God. It is always society that causes people to do bad things.
However, the Bible makes it clear that man is by nature sinful and every individual responsible for his or her sins. Each person must turn to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin or face God’s righteous wrath on the Day of Judgement.
The answer to objective guilt does not lies in ridding oneself of justifiable guilt feelings or deceiving oneself about an ‘inner goodness’. It lies in acknowledging that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
God is really there and is offended by our sins. He is not an abstract or a concept, but a real, personal God, whose laws we have broken, whose fellowship we have forfeited, and before whom we are really and truly guilty.
But also, wonderfully, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is a real person, who in holy compassion entered into space and time at a real period in history. He lived a real life, ate real food and slept real sleep. Most importantly of all, he died a real death on a cross in agony of body, soul and mind.
Why? To pay the price for our sins, take upon himself our guilt, and through his death and resurrection redeem our guilty lives so that we become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The blood of Christ removes the real guilt of real sins (1 John 1:7-9).
Do not be beguiled by the New Guilt in its illusive offer of a false redemption. Look to Jesus Christ and the true redemption from sin and guilt he gives to those who humbly ask him for it.