Fears and Symbols: An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization

By Elemér Hankiss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
THE WORLD OF GUILT

“No civilization had ever attached as much
importance to guilt and shame as did the
Western World…”

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.


GUILT

The Great Reversal

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?

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Fears and Symbols: An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Fear and the Social Sciences 5
  • Chapter Two - The World of Symbols 47
  • Chapter Three - An Alien World? 69
  • Chapter Four - The Garden of Eden 91
  • Chapter Five - The Image of the World 113
  • Chapter Six - The Moral Universe 137
  • Chapter Seven - The World of Guilt 157
  • Chapter Eight - The Rational World 181
  • Chapter Nine - The World of Beauty 205
  • Chapter Ten - The World of Play 219
  • Chapter Eleven - The World of Jokes 245
  • Chapter Twelve - The World of Trivialities 261
  • Chapter Thirteen - Symbols and Civilization 275
  • Bibliography 283
  • Index 299
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