restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Politics and Guilt

Darrell Dow

The Apostle Paul tells us that God has written a certain rudimentary knowledge of God’s law on every human heart (Rom. 2:14-15). Human experience confirms this truth. But Scripture also warns that the conscience can be misinformed, even conditioned to regard evil as sin. Paul also cautions that the human conscience can become dulled or seared through repeated sin (I Tim. 4:2).

A troubled conscience is not merely problematic for individuals, but can become a powerful force driving social, cultural, and political transformation. A people plagued by guilt can either bring their behavior into accord with their morality, or they can adjust their morality to suit their behavior.

The first option is repentance. Paul writes that as Adam’s heirs we are sinners (Rom. 5:12) dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). However, as the new Adam, Jesus stared down the great tempter in the wilderness and lived a perfect and sinless life. He became our representative in obedience. Moreover, in His atoning death, “many will be made righteous” by the imputation of His righteousness to those who accept His work in faith and turn from their disobedience.

The ideal is a conscience freed from guilt that is Biblically informed and able to lead us toward holiness. Christ said that if we abide in His Word and know Him that we will know the truth. For “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). In Galatians, that great epistle of Christian Liberty, Paul says that we are to “stand fast,” or cling tenaciously, to the liberty “by which Christ has made us free.”

Paul goes on to say that Christ’s death frees His adopted children not only from the curse of the Law, but from the yolk of man’s guilt. Paul says in Romans 8:1 that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

As a culture becomes progressively de-Christianized, then, we should not be surprised if guilt becomes an important ingredient in the social milieu as more and more individuals are enslaved by it. As E. Michael Jones puts it:

This thing called guilt is an elusive but persistent commodity. If we repress it in one area of our lives, it pops up somewhere else. If we refuse to acknowledge the atoning power of Jesus Christ and the immutability of the moral law His Church propounds, we find ourselves, not free from guilt as the propagandists would lead us to believe, but enslaved to it, consumed by it, succumbing like the most ignorant and benighted savage to ritual acts of propitiation.

Guilt will thus become an engine driving the political train as the non-believer seeks redemption through the messianic state. Rousas Rushdoony foresaw this in a prophetic little book called The Politics of Guilt and Pity:

The reality of man apart from Christ is guilt and masochism. And guilt and masochism involve the unshakable inner slavery which governs the total life of the non-Christian. The politics of the anti-Christian will thus inescapably be the politics of guilt. In the politics of guilt, man is perpetually drained of his social energy and cultural activity by his overriding sense of guilt and his masochistic activity. He will progressively demand of the state a redemptive role. What he cannot do personally, i.e., to save himself, he demands that the state do for him, so that the state, as man enlarged, becomes the human savior of man. The politics of guilt, therefore, is not directed, as the Christian politics of liberty, to the creation of godly justice and order, but to the creation of a redeeming order, a saving state. Guilt must be projected, therefore, on all those who oppose this new order and new age.

Thus we have so-called “liberal guilt,” driven by the fury of secularism.

But Paleoconservative writer and historian Paul Gottfried has identified another source as the wellspring of social guilt – Protestantism. In Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, Gottfried argues that Protestant cultures “stress individual redemptive experience and giving witness thereto.” Moreover, says Gottfried, while Catholics ritualize repentance, the Protestant practice is done in public. “It is a means of showing the righteousness of the redeemed sinner and underscores the power of divine grace in a fallen world,” says Gottfried.

Gottfried largely identifies guilt-mongering with liberal Protestantism. And, indeed, one will find a great deal of hand-wringing about “racism,” sexism,” “homophobia,” etc., among liberal Protestant theologians and in the public statements of various denominations. He argues, in effect, that Protestantism has inherent theological tendencies toward guilt and the rejection of social hierarchy and authority in favor of individualism. But what Gottfried identifies isn’t so much liberal Protestantism as liberalism itself.

Unfortunately, the overweening guilt Gottfried identifies is not merely confined to the PCUSA or the United Methodists. Indeed, plenty of emoting about slavery, racism, and anti-Semitism has come from conservative Protestant denominations, such as my own Southern Baptist Convention, and parachurch ministries such as Promise Keepers.

Not to be outdone, Pope John Paul II has done plenty of groveling in recent years, too. He has apologized to Protestants for the Inquisition, Jews for the Holocaust, Muslims for the Crusades, and even the Greek Orthodox Church.

In effect, liberalism as an ideology has infected all Christian sects in the last century, and blame for this should not be laid solely at the feet of Protestants. This liberalism has been employed by the managerial elite as an instrument to bludgeon any and all opposition to the ruling class. Indeed, virtually every anti-Christian political movement (statism, feminism, egalitarianism, homosexualism, internationalism, etc.) is driven by the politics of guilt.

Here as elsewhere, so much of the blame for our current plight must be laid at the feet of Christians and an impotent Church. As Christ’s ambassadors, we must preach a Gospel that liberates rather then enslaves and live in the freedom that Christ died to give us. We must not seek our salvation in the arms of an omnipotent, idolatrous state, but in the loving arms of the Lamb of God who died to reconcile us to the Father.

September 12, 2004

Darrell Dow writes from Jeffersonville, Indiana.  He is a sinner saved by God’s grace, husband of Kathy, and father to Andrew and Joshua.  In his spare time, he maintains a website and a blog. He can be reached for comment here.

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