Guilt and a Moral Life

I'm watching Bill Donahue on The Colbert Report, and I must say, he's holding his own admirably. As a Catholic myself I agree with him on the value of guilt. Of course, he presents everything in the most starkly grotesque manner, but he has to get on TV somehow, right?

What he means is that guilt, in proper dosage, can be a curative for a damaged spirit and a guide for the moral treatment of others and ourselves. "Our culture teaches about the abandonment of constraint... I'm all in favor of guilt, as long as-" Colbert cut him off, but I feel certain he was going to go on to qualify it with something along the lines of "as long as you don't feel guilty about everything." Guilt over past sins serves as a warning against future sins, and coupled with the Catholic Sacraments its effects are beneficial. We don't call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the whimsy.

In the Medieval Age the Church functioned as the primary glue of society, keeping knowledge alive, providing structure and hope to an otherwise dire life, and most importantly, healing the wounds among the populace. When a sin was committed against someone, the Church stepped in and provided the moral authority to right the wrong. Back in the good old days of the eleventh century, Repentance and Penance were more tightly intertwined than they are today. The current fad of giving scores of "Hail Marys" or "Our Fathers" as penance for a huge range of sins is just that - a relatively new development.

When the Church was the government, Repentance for sins directly implied a fitting and personal Penance. Kill a neighbor's chicken and you owe him a chicken. If a replacement chicken is beyond your means, the substantial sweat of your brow would have sufficed nicely. This resulted in a society whose morality was enforced and effective. The disproportionately valuable benefit to society was the resolution of grudges that this practice shepherded. A grudge can be a dangerous thing - especially when living through the winter was a bit of a lottery.

Actually, I just saw the end of the segment, and I'm amazed. I think Colbert was beaten! Of the 20 or so Colbert interviews I've seen, I've never seen a guest do so well.

Now, I assume that Mr. Donahue and I would voluminously disagree on what actions are guilt-worthy. That's one of the nice things about the American Catholic Church - we're largely free to find our own way to salvation. He can have his strident view of doctrinaire morality, and I'll be happy to keep mine.

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