Monday, July 8, 2013

Pennington & Staples on Righteousness and 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. READ MORE

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