Friday, April 12, 2013

Pennington & Staples on Righteousness & Guilt

Article by Nancy Carter Pennington and Lawrence H. Staples

Guilt’s necessary and important role in the creation and maintenance of consciousness is in itself a sufficient argument to demonstrate the absurdity of an exclusive pursuit of righteousness. Even if that weren’t the case, however, there would be ample reasons to be suspicious of a one-sided effort to be righteous.

The case for righteousness has many authors; the case for sin has few. Perhaps, that is how it should be. We can almost all agree that goodness is a good thing. It doesn’t take much persuasion to convince us that sensible conformity to the ethical and moral standards of the community, and attention to appropriate behavior and manners, not only contributes to one’s personal success but also to the success of the community. It also contributes to the avoidance of painful guilt; its opposite, non-conformity, produces guilt and threatens the attainment of success, as measured by fame, fortune, and other outer symbols of reward and recognition. When it comes to success, one can, at the least, argue that the appearance of goodness is usually extremely helpful.

It is likely that far fewer would openly assert that badness can also be good, both for the individual and society. Let us, therefore, try to correct this deficiency by taking the side of sin with all its ill repute. It seems that this rejected orphan deserves some respect along with acknowledgment of its valuable qualities too, if all God’s children are to be honored. We are, of course, speaking of sin in the broader definition noted earlier in this book.

It is clearly not fashionable to admit the idea that there is significant value to both sides of these antagonistic opposites, good and bad. To admit such moral relativity, one would have to bear the tension of disquieting uncertainty and ambivalence. Of course, others would say it isn’t uncertainty and ambivalence, but, rather, evil that one would have to bear, if one admits value to both sides of these opposites. Greater security may well lie in black and white certainty, where one is either for good or against it. It is simply, easier to believe that way. It helps escape the unbearable tension of ambiguity. It is much more comforting to find, and hold tenaciously to, an absolute truth, which relieves one of the burden of further thought. Or, perhaps, thinking is allowed, but only as long as it is confined to acceptable thoughts and ideas. Thinking acceptable thoughts and parroting dogma is not only perceived as virtuous and respectable; it also protects one from the anxiety that normally attends the new, the different or the sinful.

The case for moral certainty gets shakier when we consider the lives of what we term good people, like Christ and Socrates, or evil people, like Hitler. Despite our views of Hitler’s immorality, he was admired, praised, even worshipped by many in the society that bore and embraced him. He was not viewed as a sinner by his collective society until his end, or afterwards. Many saw him as Germany’s savior. Christ, on the other hand, was seen as a sinner by the society that bore him. He was accused, convicted and condemned, not only of breaking the law but also of inciting others to do so. We, of course, can make the claim that Christ was subject to a higher law, his own conscience. The same can be said for Socrates, who was an apostate in his collective society. We can also point out that the rules and laws Socrates and Christ broke were silly. But those in charge of the societies they lived in didn’t think so. Those in charge felt the same way about these rule breakers that King George felt about the American colonists. The colonists also thought some of the King’s laws and rules were pretty silly. In the broad sense, however, the colonists were sinners in the eyes of the dominant English society to which they belonged. Thus, we can see that the world would be much different today if the virtuous and the sinners had had opposite fates from what actually happened. We might not have the United States, or Christianity, or other views and beliefs that started as minorities, if the urge to break the rules and sin against the dominant societies and religions had not manifested itself. One of the reasons that the value of sin is probably underrated is the difficulty in perceiving and calling Christ or the colonists or Socrates or Joan of Arc “sinners.” We could, if we think about it this way, say thank God for the “sinners,” when we see how important some were to the development of religions, cultures and societies.

Still, what we regard as unconscionable evil is both psychologically and physically repulsive to all but sociopaths. It is very difficult ever to be fully convinced that any good could come of it. If we allow ourselves, however, we can imagine that if we could not have become, at least for temporary, yet critical times in our history, violent and murderous, we might today be speaking a language other than American English. The horror of nuclear destruction is offset, at least somewhat, by the benefits of the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The firing by the South on Fort Sumter may have been the beginning of the end of slavery. If there had been no Judas, or someone else in his role, the Christian drama simply could not have transpired as it did. If there had been no crucifiers, there could not have been a crucifixion. At the very least, the story certainly would have been different and, possibly, much less dramatically powerful and persuasive.

Why would God be opposed to characters, who are essential to the unfolding of his story? Or, perhaps, it would have to be argued that God was not really the author of the Christian story; it just happened because of the autonomous action of evil men, and God just made the best he could of a story that unfolded against his will. Machiavelli probably got it right. He taught that a man who professes goodness at all times will be ruined by the many who are not good. He thought it was necessary for a prince to learn how not to be good, and use it [goodness] or not according to necessity.[1] By “goodness” Machiavelli meant all the demands of conventional morality like, truthfulness, generosity, fidelity, and mercifulness.

We would argue that it is both scripturally and psychologically defensible to believe that sin actually is an intentional and important part of God’s plan for human growth and development; that sin is not a defiance of God by the Devil and humans in his service, but was introduced by God himself into creation to serve his purposes; that humans are compelled to sin, that it is impossible for humans to avoid sin, that they have no choice, because it is essential for human consciousness and, therefore, human life; that the pursuit of sin’s opposite, righteousness, is what is more opposed by God because it is hubris, an attempt to poach on a province reserved by God for himself; that without sin there would be no really new knowledge; that life without sin would have no meaning; that while sin is essential to the growth and development of the individual, it is the expiation of sin, its atonement, that is essential to the growth and development of the collective society in which the sinner lives. Without sin there can be no redemption because there is nothing that needs redeeming. Sin is obviously a prerequisite to redemption.

It is also a prerequisite to churches and religions. Without sin, we can at least wonder what would be left for religions and churches. Spaghetti dinners, bingo and social hours would surely survive. The survival of the valuable community service projects practiced by many churches and religions would be even more important. As therapists, however, we have to wonder how much the need for redemption of guilt motivates these worthy activities. We feel sure the expiation of guilt is a prime mover in our giving back. Nothing assuages guilt more powerfully than helping others. If we eliminate sin and guilt, we may deprive ourselves of an important engine that drives individual and collective assistance to others.

Because all of the major world religions developed powerful rituals for the atonement and expiation of sin and guilt, a case could be made that their founders knew and accepted, either consciously or instinctively, both the necessity and the importance of sin and guilt to the furtherance of human growth and development. To this point, Enrico Buratti, a medical doctor and Jungian Analyst, living in Florence, Italy, believes that the necessity and importance of sin are the probable basis for the sacrament of confession and absolution in the Catholic Church. Martin Luther (1483–1546) did not like the sacrament of confession because it gave the church a great deal of power, providing it with a means to obtain money from sinners who can purchase indulgences for the remission of sins. Psychologically, the fact that the sin can be forgiven (even if such forgiveness is not acceptable to secular laws) has an important meaning and role for the soul. While Dr. Buratti acknowledges that the value of confession and the so-called absolution of sins are subject to opposing interpretations, confession can be viewed as a loving and open-minded position in which it is accepted that sin is a reality in human life and the sinner remains a person who cannot be banned from the religious community. The fact that sin may be important for the soul, even when it is not acceptable to secular law, is indeed a provocative idea. Equally provocative may be the idea that confession, forgiveness and absolution may be as essential to our development as guilt.

As pointed out in a previous chapter, there are many biblical passages that oppose human pretensions toward righteousness. Christians who make the case for pursuing righteousness and goodness exclusively, that is, the case for humans becoming perfectly righteous, simply have to ignore important parts of their own scriptures like Luke 15 and 18, Romans 3 and the book of Job. In Luke 15, in the parable of the lost sheep, cited earlier, Christ says:

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” Christ ends the parable with these words: “I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

No one with a logical mind can read these words of Christ without concluding that Christ is saying that without sin, and its attendant guilt, heaven is deprived of the greater joy, and that righteousness is an obstacle to experiencing this joy. One day we repeated to an ex-minister friend our surprise that Christ thought sin is essential to the greater joy in heaven. He mischievously replied “Yes, and sin is also essential to more joy on earth.” It is equally true that Christ says that repentance is necessary for more joy in heaven. No one argues that point. However, Christ’s view that repentance is essential to more joy in heaven has always been emphasized; the case for the essentialness of sin to the higher joy in heaven is seldom, if ever, made.

If, therefore, sin/guilt are essential to the attainment of greater joy in heaven, why on earth would God oppose sin? It can even make one think that the original sin of Adam and Eve was part of God’s will and plan for mankind rather than against it. We could also imagine that Christ’s teachings about the power of repentance were acts of compassion, if we were to assume that Christ knew, as we know today, that guilt, despite its being as necessary for psychic and spiritual life as food is for bodily life, also is a source of human suffering. A similar feeling of compassion may have given birth to the rituals of atonement, expiation, and absolution found in religions throughout the world and throughout history. That feeling of compassion may also account for the rise of psychotherapy.

One could claim that repentance, the other essential ingredient in bringing more joy to heaven, has as its purpose the attainment of a state of righteousness. But a better case can be made that the purpose of repentance is forgiveness, that humans may be forgiven their flaws; not that humans may become flawless. To believe that repentance means you are no longer a sinner, no longer flawed, would be like thinking that an alcoholic who quits drinking is no longer an alcoholic.

Righteous persons, who have no need of repentance, would seem, by definition, to be perfect, to be free of sin. There is nothing wrong with them that would call for repentance. The desire for righteousness and perfection is, psychologically speaking, an indirect wish to be God, to be identified with the Godhead. The wish by a human to be God is, of course, unconscious. One would have to be insane to consciously believe he already is God, or wishes to be. But the wish to be God, to be omnipotent, takes place outside of consciousness, as a compensation for feelings of impotence, which humans experience often, beginning in childhood and ending in death. Even an infant in his crib longs for power as a compensation for his nearly total powerlessness and dependence. The infant will create for himself an illusion of magical power when he says to mommy, “I can make the moon disappear.” She says, “Let’s see.” He covers his eyes with both hands and says “See, it’s gone.” Adults also create illusions of power by amassing wealth, by becoming leaders, by using drugs and alcohol, by winning with artful subterfuge, with sex, with flattery and countless other creative devices. The adult’s wish to be independent and self-sufficient is even more delusional than the child’s game with the moon. The adult should know better as he proclaims his self-sufficiency and power, while depending upon others who make his shoelaces, his clothes, his green beans and his cars. Even great leaders have only the illusion of power. Imagine a king without subjects. Paradoxically, the king’s power, and, therefore, the king himself is dependent upon subjects. Our longing to be freed of our human limits is heart achingly understandable. But the problem is that an identity with God actually separates us from God. We can’t get help from God if we, unconsciously, of course, think we are God and see it as self-help. It would be as if we were praying to ourselves and worshipping ourselves. God has to be separate from us to obtain his pity and grace.

Scriptural authority, for the idea that human pretensions toward righteousness and perfection are dangerous, futile and absurd, is found in the Bible long before Christ’s time. According to the book of Job, God apparently reserves righteousness to himself and guards this prerogative with jealous vigor. God’s sensitivity to these pretensions is amply demonstrated by the fact that Job’s sin was the mere claim that he was righteous and upright. Job’s story suggests that heaven not only has less joy, but is downright angry, when a human has the effrontery to even imagine that he is righteous and upright. We are told scripturally that only God is righteous. Romans 10 states, “there is none righteous, no, not one.” In Luke 18-19, it is written, “Why callest thou me good? No one is good except one; that is God.” Therefore, to become righteous is to become God.

There is still another reason for the wish to be God. Many of us have experienced parents and/or partners who could never be satisfied. Their inability to be satisfied, left us with the feeling of inadequacy, of not being good enough, or smart enough, or of somehow always falling short of some ever-shifting expectation. Like the witches’ tasks in fairy tales, no task was ever completed satisfactorily. Another still had to be accomplished. And it was equally unsatisfactory. As were all the subsequent tasks. In order to obtain their love and approval, we would try harder or try different ways. When we failed to win love or approval, we escalated our effort. Eventually, we vaguely sensed, unconsciously of course, that we would have to become God in order to perform perfectly as expected. As noted earlier, one patient, when asked what he would have to do to obtain his mother’s love, said, “I would have to become Jesus.” We wish to become God so that we will be good enough and adequate enough to be loved. It’s the only way we can redeem our poor performance.

To become God or merge with God, we have to die. We have to slip into the unconscious where God is. We slip into infinity. We lose our egos, our individual identities, which is to lose life as we know it. There is a beautiful musical example of death through merger. It is called “death bending.” First, one string is picked. Then, the string below it is picked and bent up toward the first string until the second achieves the same pitch as the first. The phrase “death bending” that they chose to describe this phenomenon is inspired. There actually is a death. The second string loses its identity and dies to itself in order to merge with the other. We can imagine that merging into God would be a similar process. We lose our pitch in order to become part of a higher pitch. Perhaps, this is why the ancients said that to look into the face of God is to die. On Mt. Sinai, when Moses received the ten commandments, a cloud kept the Israelites from seeing God.

For humans, reaching God, is an asymptotic experience. Like the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, we can approach God but not quite get there, unless we die. Like Moses, we may see the promised land but not quite get there. We see this asymptotic phenomenon in mathematics in the concept of infinity. Through calculation, we can get closer and closer to infinity but never get there. To get there, we have to jump a gap. We have to leave calculation and make an assumption. For the last highest number to merge into infinity, individual numbers have to lose their identity and die. They become merged into and lost in infinity. God and infinity seem to be much alike. Maybe that is why we sometimes call God, The Infinite.

Trying to become God, trying to become righteous, trying to reach the Infinite, results in death. That may be why many patients who say in trying ever harder to attain the love of their partner, they lose themselves. One patient was aware of this sacrifice when she wrote a song called, “Losing Me or Losing You. “To lose yourself is to die, psychologically. That is why the escalating effort to be loved and accepted by parents and partners is absurd. We’d have to perform perfectly to be loved and to perform perfectly we’d have to become God. What could be a more absurd undertaking? In order to obtain love, we may work so hard that the effort kills us. We would never undertake such an absurd task, unless we were unconscious of what we are doing: attempting to be God and, therefore, perfectly righteous.

Of course, if we did succeed in becoming God, we might discover, as Jung did, that God has a dark side, that he might not be so perfect or righteous as we have been taught. That would be terrible. After all that work, we would only find that we are still not good enough. What then? If being God won’t satisfy them, what on earth will?

Assuming, however, that Christ’s view, as expressed in the parable of the lost sheep, is valid, and that one’s goal is to make God as joyful as one can, it would make much more sense to pursue sin. Christ was clearly more interested in the lost sheep, in the sinners and their sins, than he was in the sheep who had never been lost to begin with. Of course, this was one of the reasons Christ was crucified; he tended to hang out with publicans, tax collectors, whores and other sinners. So, it’s clear where you needed to be if you wanted to be near Christ.

One of the more important lessons of the Bible may be that sin is, at least, as important to human development as righteousness and goodness. From the beginning of creation, all the great leaders and powerful characters in the bible were flawed. Sin began almost before the ink had dried on God’s creation. Adam and Eve, Cain, Moses, David, Solomon and even Paul were great sinners. So was Saint Augustine, by his own confessions. He is reported to have said: “God, make me chaste and continent, but not just yet.” Nor can we forget that Christ himself was a sinner, when judged by the morality of the society he was born in. Yet, all of them were movers and shakers in the divine drama and ultimately in the unfolding spiritual development of the western world.

Sin seems to be a very important part of the divine plan. No one can respectably argue that sin does not exist in God’s creation. There may not be enough of it, but there is, nevertheless, quite a lot of it. Christian doctrine, of course, decries sin but doesn’t deny its existence. Doctrine does argue, however, that the sin that does exist is created by the Devil, and those humans who are in his service. The idea that sin is against God’s will, and was not intentionally introduced by him into his creation, is incompatible with the belief that God is omnipotent.

Carl Jung makes a better case that sin is the dark side of God, his shadow. If one believes that man is created in God’s image, and that man has a dark side, as man surely does, then logic can lead only to the conclusion that God has a dark side. It makes perfect sense, if one believes that man is created in God’s image, to believe also that man’s dark side must be a reflected image of God’s dark side. Otherwise man had to be created in someone else’s image, and be the reflected image of them. Or God would have to be a projected image of man himself rather than the reverse. Either God didn’t know what he was doing, when he created the world and allowed sin to be in it, or sin, since there is so much of it, had some important purpose in his plan for the creation and development of the world. It’s not a big leap to conclude that the Devil either is God’s creation or some aspect of God himself.

Perhaps, God’s dark side is there for the purpose of inviting a deeper, more authentic and intimate relationship with God. It invites a relationship with something real rather than some caricature of something perfect that doesn’t actually exist. What we are unconscious of becomes our fate. If we can’t relate to God’s dark side and to our own, this darkness may turn against us and bring about possession in the form of addictions or other destructive behaviors.

In an article called “The Symbolism of the Mass,” Jung talked about the importance of dogma as a protection against direct experience. As mentioned earlier, much ancient wisdom says that humans cannot look into the face of God without dying. The idea that to look into the face of God is to die does not suggest a particularly benign countenance. The experience is apparently too terrible for the human psyche to bear. Perhaps, its like a son seeing his father as a murderer, as in the Tom Hanks movie, Redemption. Or, even worse, perhaps, like seeing one’s self as a killer.

The terrible countenance that God shows to mankind in the story of Job was so unbearable that, as Jung points out in his “Answer To Job,” Christianity was born and portrayed a new kind of God, who was only good and loving. All the bad stuff that had been combined with the good stuff in Yahweh, was now relegated to a separate entity called the Devil. The Christian God, with its one-sided goodness, puts miles between it and the God of the Old Testament. This happened, according to Jung, in order to make God bearable to the frail sensibilities of mankind. However, even the New Testament, as it unfolds, changes its loving aspect when we eventually encounter Paul’s attitude toward women and the divine killing spree in Revelation that only a hand full of humans survive.

The only way we can believe that God is only good is to overlook the destruction of most of mankind and the habitable world in the flood unleashed by God. We have to forget hellfire and damnation. Parents often behave toward their children like Yahweh and justify their behavior on the same grounds, namely, that they are punishing or criticizing them for their own good, to make them better and happier. Children crippled by such brutality often buy that argument and sustain that belief, perhaps, until they die.

Because of the huge irreverence inherent in such thoughts, the idea of the dark side of God is very difficult to handle. Just the thoughts can feel dangerous. Nevertheless, consciousness of this dark side does not necessarily interfere with a belief that there is, indeed, a higher power of incredible intelligence. Nor does suspecting that God has a dark side necessarily mean that one must love him less. It can actually help make God seem more real. Certainly, a human, if he were to cast no shadow, would seem unreal, more of a caricature.

None of that, however, is necessarily relevant to the question as to whether God has a dark side. We might ask Job. Or we might ask those who weren’t allowed to board the Ark before the flood. Even Jesus might have some thoughts about this subject. One could, at least, imagine Jesus asking why, if the father thinks sacrifice is such a wonderful thing, he didn’t sacrifice himself, instead of his son. A father dying in the place of his son could be perceived to be a more worthy kind of offering. Sacrificing sons, instead of themselves, is what elders do now, when they encourage young people to be suicide bombers. Sacrificing sons is what the patriarchal elders in charge of societies have always done when they decide to declare war. God is the model for this patriarchal behavior. It’s like the old joke about an airplane carrying women and children. The plane iced up and the pilot asked for four volunteers to jump out in order to lighten the load sufficiently to continue to fly. Nixon, Churchill, de Gaulle, and Stalin were on the plane and volunteered. Churchill jumped first saying “God save the queen.” De Gaulle jumped saying “vive la France.” Stalin pushed Nixon out saying “God save Russia.” If life itself is guilt, and life comes from God, then guilt must also come from God. And from his terrible deeds, we have grounds for suspecting that God is indeed guilty and that guilt may be as necessary for God’s life as it is for ours. God, or our idea of God, often appears to be strikingly similar to parents and other earthly authorities. And vice-versa.

Related to the dark side of God is the dark side of parents. For children, parents are their first image of God. Parents are the first image because they seem so huge, magically powerful and intelligent to a tiny child, who is utterly dependent on the parent. Daily, patients will tell their story for the first time. They often, in this initial telling of their story, talk about having wonderful parents, and wonder how, with such wonderful parents, they could have gone so astray. Sometimes, it takes literally months, even years, before the patients can become conscious of and risk the irreverence of saying how flawed their parents were.

It is actually a breakthrough in therapy for them to see and acknowledge the flaws, and the dark side, of their parents. Because parents are, for a child, the first image of God, becoming aware of their flaws may be a prerequisite to becoming conscious of God’s flaws. Becoming aware of parents’ flaws is also a critical step in our development, if we are eventually to separate from our parents and become ourselves rather than their unmediated clones.

Christian theology tends to make humans responsible for the evil in the world. According to this view, humans are in the service of the Devil, make poor choices and cause evil to happen. The theory is that it is bad choices by individuals that lead to sin, to murder, violence, adultery, covetousness, dishonesty and betrayal of God. God has nothing to do with the evil of people like Hitler and Stalin or of serial killers and arsonists. We can’t really question that these people are repulsive to our conscious minds. But, don’t we, then, have to ask who we hold responsible for all the death and carnage caused by natural disasters like tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, as well as diseases, the latter of which sometimes occur at birth, before there has even been a chance to sin and bring the tragedy on one’s self? Why don’t we call natural violence and death, as by hurricanes, evil, just as we do that which is caused by humans? For some reason, if there is a human ego behind the carnage and the harm, we make the individual ego responsible and call it evil. We have the same tendency to blame humans, rather than God, for illness and death. We are very prone to play the blame game with humans. For example, if someone gets cancer we are often quick to say they probably smoked too much or ate the wrong things. They have heart attacks and we blame them for eating too much saturated fat or doing too little exercise. But everyone eventually dies. Therefore, if this isn’t God’s plan, but rather human fault, it means that everyone did something wrong or they would be immortal. The idea of original sin is used to explain all that away. Those who want to hold humans responsible simply feel it is preposterous to think humans are not responsible for their every action and thought. Why is it so difficult to think we are not responsible for our behaviors when we are even less responsible for something more fundamental like our birth to particular parents in a particular place in a particular era? No one chose or asked to be born in these places to these people at these times. Nor can we deny the enormous influence of these givens in shaping our lives, our behaviors, and our destinies.

And, then, we have to ignore the obvious implication in the Lord’s Prayer, itself, that God is behind sin. Even the Lord’s Prayer suggests that God himself leads us into temptation. We address God in the prayer and say, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Since we are asking God not to lead us there, we must assume he does lead us into temptation and evil unless our prayer and petition to him deters him. Since all humans are eventually sinful, we can assume the prayer only helps temporarily, if at all, when it comes to protecting us from temptation and sin. There is much more evidence around suggesting that God doesn’t pay much attention to our prayers and either leads us or allows us repeatedly to succumb to temptation and sin. It is difficult to imagine Adam and Eve or anyone deliberately wishing to experience the pain of sin and guilt; it is equally difficult to imagine anyone deliberately and intentionally leaving the perfection of paradise, where there is no sin or guilt or pain.

There seems to be a compulsive wish to acquit God and blame humans. Perhaps, we are afraid to see the truth, because of the fear of irreverence, just as we experienced with our parents. At least, we fear to see the truth until some elevation of consciousness leads us to believe the truth lying right there before our own eyes and ears, rather than the truths others parade as truths.

Perhaps the answer is simpler. Maybe God doesn’t differentiate between good and evil the way humans do? Maybe that’s why it rains equally on the just and the unjust and all of us die, no matter what our character is. Maybe God saw that we would never be able to appreciate or even know goodness without experiencing and seeing its contrasting opposite. Good simply has no meaning without its opposite, bad.

We have met a number of people who have felt saved or born again. For them, it was the peak experience of a lifetime, something their suffering had led them to desperately yearn and long for. They would not exchange being saved for any other experience they have had in life. The experience was numinous, moving and unforgettable. All of them, in our experience, would add that what they were saved from—whether it be disease, reckless living, or alcoholism—was worth having, if it was something they had to go through in order to have the experience of being saved. It is hard to imagine that we would feel saved from anything we labeled as good; we, in fact, only feel saved from things we label as bad.

If the experience of salvation is this important to one’s life, if it is such an exceptional experience that one would trade it for nothing, then we also have to ask why we would want to eliminate from our lives and the world all those things that make salvation so desired. Why would we want to eliminate from the world addiction, alcoholism, obesity, disease, compulsive gambling, violence, war and other evils that people label as bad, but which are prerequisites to salvation? There can be no salvation, if there is nothing to be saved from.

Therefore, all the desire and effort we direct toward making the world white and pure where there is no evil, toward accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative may not be entirely well spent. Wouldn’t we deprive the world of the possibility of salvation? Aren’t all the dark, negative things we consider anathema, actually essential to us if we are going to appreciate the good things and experience salvation—the experience of being saved? Or of being born again? Those who oppose sin and evil, oppose one of the essential ingredients that is part and parcel of the total experience, not only of salvation, but also of the ordinary enjoyment of everyday good things. This doesn’t mean we won’t fight vigorously against what we regard as evils; but we will inevitably lose the war because the things we fight against are essential to consciousness and life.

This is not to deprecate the importance of the return of goodness, the return of the prodigal son and the lost sheep, or of repentance to the total experience of salvation; it is equally not to deprecate the importance to salvation of the going away of the prodigal son or of the sheep getting lost. There is a balancing mechanism in our psychic selves that is similar to, and has the same purpose as, homeostasis in our physical selves. The need to keep hot and cold balanced in our bodies is quite similar to the need to keep opposites, like good and bad, balanced in our psyches.

It may also be that love of God, parents, children, friends, spouses and, especially, ourselves would be impossible if we couldn’t love something that is flawed. Love is not much of an achievement, if we can only love what is perfect. Anyone could do that. Maybe God made himself flawed, at least as humans define flaws, so that the love of God would be a real achievement rather than something any old human can easily do. And, maybe, we need to hate God, sometimes, just as we do parents, if love is to have any ethical value or meaning. We probably do hate God when we are struck by inexplicable tragedies that we know we did not cause. If we are unable to hate, what is the virtue in love. We are just helplessly compulsive lovers.

The idea that humans are responsible for the existence of sin and that their bad choices are simply a defiance of God, of course, could be true. People on both sides of this argument can only speculate. But the idea does run aground of a lot of common sense that would ask: Why would anyone deliberately sin, deliberately do something that brings painful suffering to himself? We can point out that there is some pleasure, perverse or otherwise, that often is the initial experience of sin. While the pleasure may seduce us into sin, only a masochist would find pleasure in the enduring experience. Humans don’t have to be told what the wages of sin are. They know from their own experience that sin leads to pleasure, yes, but then, sooner or later, to guilt. Guilt, in turn, produces painful suffering that can last for long periods. It is hard to see why anyone would sin for brief, ephemeral pleasure, unless he were compelled to.

Depth psychologists witness daily the compulsive behavior and thought of people trapped by unconscious complexes. Most depth psychologists, therefore, have grounds for skepticism about the degree of free will people actually have in this life. The skepticism grows as they witness the struggles to be free of the compulsions seen in the world of addiction and other harmful behaviors, like over work—which takes a more respectable toll but, nevertheless, a toll—or like overeating, or the repetition of destructive behaviors. For good and well known reasons, psychologists apply the word compulsive to self-destructive behaviors. It is simply common sense to ask why anyone would freely choose to become a drug addict or alcoholic with all its well known pain and suffering in the long term. It is even difficult to see why anyone would see that the expression of any attitude, thought, feeling or action would be in his self interest if it disturbs his love, friendship or work relationships. Few people, nevertheless, can always act in ways that always serve their self-interest. We, obviously, have some free will, but it seems to exist within some very narrow limits.

Jung put it more simply. He said that humans are the way they are, largely because of an inability to be otherwise. They seem to be compelled to sin. We see it daily in our practices. One 55-year-old patient once said: “I feel a great urge to do something I’ll regret.” This was said by a model man, who was raised a good Catholic and attended parochial schools. He was married, church going and respectable. He had always been a good boy and now he was bursting to do something bad. Another respectable patient who had always been faithful to his wife cheated on her because as he said “I had an overwhelming feeling of a need to be bad.” Others just fall into the bad behavior without announcing it or even knowing their desires.

Despite our best efforts, sin always catches us in its wide net. It is as if there is something deep in our core that makes us sin. The psychic result of sin eventually is painful guilt of varying degrees of severity that follows whatever passing pleasure there was. To relieve the pain, we look for ways to comfort ourselves, to pluck out the cursed cause, to expiate the guilt.

It appears, therefore, that humans have been wired in a certain sequence. First we sin. Then we often experience pleasure. Then, we feel guilt and suffer its pains, except for the rare cases of sociopaths. Then, we look for ways to assuage the guilt and its attendant pain. Repentance, confession, atonement, and expiation are the spiritual tools that help us relieve the painful guilt and eventually find some contentment and joy.

It is this sequence of wiring that drives in extremely important ways the psychic and spiritual development of individuals, as well as collective society. In this sequence, guilt is the painful bridge, the connector that leads from sin, to repentance to atonement. Without guilt, or some other psychic mechanism that causes pain when one sins, there probably would be no atonement, no urge to improve or to give back something to the community as an expiation.

The case for sin is not intended as a paean for sin. It is rather to attempt to bring balance to a one-sided view that claims an absolute value for goodness and righteousness. The point is that sin is real. Guilt is real. Repentance is real. They form a triad in which each part is dependent upon the other for its existence and meaning. Sin lies more behind the urge for individual development. Guilt and repentance lie more behind the urge to redeem one’s worth by contributing value to the community.

All of this leads us to believe that understanding the necessity for sin and guilt, and grasping the absurdity of righteousness are important steps in comforting and assuaging the guilt we must incur, if we are to have life. On the other hand, given the fact that our consciousness, and, therefore our lives, depends upon the existence of opposites, it would be equally absurd to acclaim a one-sided, exclusive endorsement of unrighteousness.

About the Authors

Nancy Carter Pennington received her MSW from The University of Maryland. For more than 30 years, Nancy has had the privilege of working with clients on a range of issues: phobias, OCD, grief, depression, obsessive thinking, guilt, and relationships. Nancy is co-author of The Guilt Cure.

Lawrence H. Staples is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Washington, DC. Dr. Staples has an MBA from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in psychology; his special areas of interest are the problems of midlife, guilt, and creativity. He is the author of Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way and The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for Wholeness, and co-author of The Guilt Cure.

Copyright 2011, all rights reserved, contact Fisher King Press for permission to reprint or repost.

[1] Machiavelli, Niccolo (1984), The Prince, Bantam Classics. 

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