Christianity makes guilt inevitable and shame impossible

George Kelly defined guilt as: “A perception of one’s apparent dislodgement from his core role structure.” This “core role” develops out of our relationships with significant others whom we construe ourselves in certain ways: loving, responsible, secure, etc. It seems to follow that any religious paradigm which casts human beings as essentially good makes guilt feelings inevitable since deviation from being good is inevitable. Christianity, particularly Orthodox Christianity, has a high view of human beings, the highest in fact. To use Kelly’s language, Orthodoxy claims a human beings core role structure is imago dei – the image of God. Thus guilt is a normal experience as an inner corrective when one deviates from this essential structure. Christianity, far from removing guilt, actually increases guilt feelings in the one who takes serious what Christianity says about him. Guilt is not shame. Guilt can be corrective whereas shame is wholly destructive. Shame is the sense of being rotten to the core. Shame is an alien feeling – indeed, an impossibility – for Christians who understand their core nature as good; albeit a good nature that is ill and in need of divine medicine.

4 thoughts on “Christianity makes guilt inevitable and shame impossible

  1. Isn’t shame primarily social feeling? We feel shame when we feel (or, more often, are pointed) that we have violated the community norms. Even if you are the last man on Earth, you can feel guilty, but there is no shame without a community.
    And since Christians often have a strong community, I’d guess they also have feelings of shame more often than secular people. This is pure speculation from my part, though.

    • andekn, sure, shame seems to require social involvement. Are Christians then more prone to shame since they maybe have stronger communities? Well, again, this is why I emphasized that if a Christian really believes what the faith says about him/her then it is not possible to feel shame. Not all Christian communities share the historic Orthodox Church’s anthropology, which is where your point comes in.

  2. Having left islam where the concept of shame is actually considered a good thing I can attest that shame leads inevitably to restlessness or wrath. An anger without a real source with many random targets “it’s not my fault, society/that person/my poor upbringing is at fault”. This drains your health, it literally breaks your heart in the end. The restlessness caused by shame ensured that you are constantly looking over your shoulder “have they figured it out yet?”. I do not think it is a coincidence that islam has discreetly positioned itself opposite the Orthodox Church with the guilt vs shame thing. Living here in Europe in the Netherlands , a calvinist country now atheist, I do however see the darker side of the guiltridden culture. Everything is blamed on you or you easily blame yourself for everything. The current Christian atmosphere over here in Europe no longer distinguishes between the person and the community and that is where it goes wrong I think.

    My coming to the Orthodox Christian faith most certainly has lifted the veil from my eyes on how as a former muslim I still tried to live with shamefull thoughts day by day.

    • Interesting experience, Mustafa. I spent a Summer in Amsterdam as an evangelical mission team leader and absolutely loved the Netherlands. But Christianity there had been almost completely routed, which only made the mission more interesting for me. Can’t wait to return now as an Orthodox.

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