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Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Bourgeois Guilt" or Spiritual Self-Torment

If you have been following the discussion so far a careful review of examples 1 and 2 would show that even if the "Bourgeois Guilt" hypothesis played a role it only does so in a secondary sense.   Bourgeois guilt is simply an aspect of the fundamental problem of motivation.  It reduces the value of the "good act" but only in the most perverted views of justice does in make the "good act" into a "bad act" (see note below).

The issue isn't a sense of social guilt (whether by race, nationality, or class) it is a sense of personal guilt that arises as a result of weighing upon the scales of the conscience.  The self-accusation of hypocrisy is one that induces the opposite effect, hyper-self-criticism.  The good act is carried out because it is objectively good but self-torment arises because the act is at best subjectively neutral and exposes the individual to an increase in guilt.  To derive no benefit from the act, not even a benefit in feeling, is the only proper response the individual can take.  Therefore the individual always wishes to escape from attention.  In addition, the individual may come to view the beneficiary of the act as morally superior.  Self-deprecation, self-abasement: "I am the worst of sinners!" is certainly no escape from the trap.  To call oneself "the worst of sinners" is not really self-abasement but self-aggrandizement, another face of hypocrisy.  The individual does not look for a distorted self-image but a true self-image.

Ford Maddox Brown was a master of capturing complex emotions in his paintings.  St. Peter's expression in "Jesus Washing Peter's Feet" captures the anguish Peter must have felt at this crucial moment (John 13:1-17) leading up to the passion.  Now Peter's anguish is something quite different than falzhaefengilt, but they shares somethings in common.  Both are moral dilemmas, struggles with grace, and the grace is not to be denied.

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