THE WORLD OF GUILT
“No civilization had ever attached as much
importance to guilt and shame as did the
Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear
THE great drama of guilt, repentance, and salvation has been one of the dominant factors, and a major motive force, of Western civilization for almost two thousand years. It has played a fundamental role in shaping this civilization and its history. If it loses its central place—and there are signs of such a change—this may lead to a major transformation of our civilization.
I would like to commence this discussion of the role of guilt in the generation of our civilization with a puzzling fact, usually overlooked even by experts. Looked at in a particular way, the myth of the Fall turns out to be a reversed Christ myth: while Christ sacrificed himself for Man, in the myth of the Fall human beings sacrifice themselves for God, in the sense that they take on themselves—in the form of original sin—responsibility for the presence of evil in the world, that is, God’s alleged responsibility for creating an evil world. Why did they do so? Or more precisely: Why did the myth of creation make them do so?