The Weekend Australian carried Piers Paul Read’s article on the apparent absence of guilt from our 21st century consumer society with the heading ‘Has guilt gone out of fashion?’.
Guilt, as all right-minded people know, is the unpleasant feeling that one has done something wrong. The source of this feeling, clearly, is one’s conscience. But how is one’s conscience formed?
Cardinal Newman believed that God wired the human conscience, making right and wrong the same in any time or place. His, however, is now a minority view.
Gone, then, from our collective consciousness is not just the vengeful God of the Old Testament, or the gentler but still judgmental Jesus. Now an anarchic libido is all the rage.
So. Go for it! But go for what? What constitutes enjoyment of life? Eating, drinking and making merry? Wine, women and song?
Does that mean that our society is guilt-free? Quite the contrary, there is a new list of seven deadly sins - racism, misogyny, homophobia, elitism, smoking, obesity, religious belief. These are the things that induce not just guilt but an inner anxiety that one might be a sinner without knowing it, like the carrier of a disease. …
What is a racist? … Who makes these judgments? Who are the high priests of this new religion? Is The Guardian the Pravda of political correctness? How are we to learn the new rules?
Guilt is still with us but, with moral relativism in the ascendant, there is no Bible or catechism to consult to inform one’s conscience, and no confessional where we can be absolved for the things we have done wrong.
We have cut ourselves adrift from a coherent ethic, whether it is that of Aristotle or Aquinas. We look indulgently on our own individual transgressions, and reserve our feelings of guilt for things that happened in the past for which we were not responsible - slavery, the Holocaust - or for things where our own guilt is infinitesimal, such as poverty in Africa, global warming, the depletion of the world’s resources. We assuage it by buying low-energy lightbulbs and driving hybrid cars. That may save the planet. But will it save our souls?
Read the original article here which appeared in the Daily Mail. I could not find it at the online Weekend Australian magazine. Interestingly the original article was titled ‘What the Mafia and Sex And The City can teach us about guilt’ and the Weekend Australian ‘Has guilt gone out of fashion?‘. In deciding on these titles, I wonder at the cultural analysis done by the sub-editors?