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.

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2 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.

  2. 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.

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