Chapter 7: Guilt

In the author's time, the "sense of sin" was one of the most significant causes of unhappiness in adult life. Religion does much to torture its followers by causing them to regret something they have done, and to refrain from doing those things they might do that could possibly cause them to regret.

(EN: The value of religion is in causing people to think before they act, to do what will benefit themselves and others and refrain from doing that which will do harm. But few religions are capable of restraining themselves to that, and are ever more inventive in finding ways to constrain and control their followers in ways that are unnecessary.)

The concept of "conscience" is based on fear - which is primarily fear of acting in a way that will he harmful, but is more often merely the fear of being shamed. To remain successful, religion must stoke this fear constantly, defining fear in such a way that no-one is capable of living a blameless life and has done things that would cause them shame were they known by others.

Regret can be healthy, in recognizing that we have acted wrongly as a means to guide our choices in future. But when transmuted to remorse, our regret becomes permanent and omnipresent - the fact that we have done something wrong is not merely a lesson for the future, but a part of our identity of which we are encouraged to be constantly conscious, to the detriment of our self-esteem.

Clergymen wish to offer counsel in times of sorrow, but in doing so are gathering ammunition - a collection of regrets that can be used to threaten and control the flock and to use shame as a method to gain advantage over their fellow men. And the wages of sin are quite significant in terms of knowing the sins of others.

There's a bit about hedonism, and the way in which gratifying certain appetites can be harmful if done to excess. Drinking, tobacco, and sexual indulgence are particular instances in which religion in the author's day (EN: and even in the present one) encourage complete abstinence and disclaim the possibility of moderation. That is, to avoid an unhealthy measure of indulgence, it is said one must go to the opposite extreme and avoid any measure of indulgence. At this extreme, it is entirely irrational.

The remedy to guilt is much the same: to apply reason to emotion and evaluate its rationality. Fear is dispelled by recognizing that an imagined outcome is highly unlikely, envy by recognizing that covet profits us nothing, and guilt by recognizing that if no harm results from our actions there is no reason to be discouraged or embarrassed.

"Whenever you begin to feel remorse for an act which your reason tells you is not wicked, examine the causes of your feeling of remorse, and convince yourself in detail of their absurdity."

The concept of sin capitalizes on human weaknesses - we fail to do as we should sometimes, and it turns out that this is quite rare. If a man conducts himself appropriately and honestly for all the years of his life but, in one instance shows indiscretion, then he is branded by that moment. The bravery he shows strength a thousand times, all is forgotten if he shows weakness but once. There is little justice in that, but much profit to be made in exploiting the guilt that arises in such rare moments.

There is also some mention of a double-standard in religion, such that a man who seeks to obey one moral imperative cannot avoid violating another - such that no matter what he does he will be accused of sin. This to is a means of trickery by which the clergy may bend the will of men to serve their own interests, and the ability to use dogma to demand obedience.

"No good was ever done to anyone by the loss of self-respect," Russell writes. Though again others may profit by assaulting his self-respect. The rational man must be inviolate from the opinions of others, and he must see through their pretense to recognize that they seek to use him for their purposes rather than counsel him to serve his own.

Primarily, guilt diminishes happiness by robbing the pleasure form the past and rejecting pleasure of the future. As a secondary effect it causes man to feel wretched and inferior - to feel fearful, envious, and powerless and add the unhappiness of those emotions as well. And further, it causes man to regard his companions with scorn, disdain, and disapproval while meanwhile receiving the same from them in return.

Russell remarks that many people strongly dislike rationality and believe it to be the enemy of all emotions, positive or negative. But our reason guides or emotion and the two must work together - to "feel" good about those things our reason tells us are good, in that they give us the motivation to take the right action, or to "feel" bad about those things our reason tells us are harmful.

When the two are at odds, it is foolish to abandon one for the sake of the other, but merely to make peace between them. A person who fails to think is divided against himself and feels all the more conflict - he may seek excitement and distraction to forget this conflict for a time, but cannot avoid it until he has taken the effort to sort it out.

As such, "no man need fear that by making himself rational he will make his life dull." On the contrary, it grants harmony to life and a sense of purpose - dispelling only those emotional states that are harmful. It should be regarded as a touchstone of happiness - to know what should make us happy, and to be happy when it has been attained seems more certain and more healthy that failing to understand happiness and not knowing hot it can be achieved.