Catholic Guilt Saves Souls
When I lived in Italy I did not know the expression “Catholic guilt”. I would also have been at a loss to describe or define it, as if I had heard such an expression it would have made on me the same impression as “wet water” or “hot fire”. If the concept had been explained to me from some Protestant, and if I had been required to give a Catholic name to it, I would have rather called it “human condition”; but again, I would have felt like the one asked to give a specific name to the fact that water is wet.
It was when I moved to England that this “Catholic guilt”- thinking imposed itself to my attention. In this wondrously unthinking country, journalists and mixed wannabe intellectuals spoke of “Catholic guilt” as of something medieval, unconscionable and more than vaguely retarded. I do not recall, though, many of these sources as being openly atheist and therefore coherently rejecting the very fundaments of Christianity. Rather, I have a distinct recollection of criticism from a pretended vaguely Christian point of view, in which Christianity 1.0 is analysed and recognised to be vastly inferior to Christianity 2.0, newly released and now completely bug-free.
It stroke me even then – and I was by far not as aware or instructed as I am now – that to even think of Christianity without the guilt is an exercise in absurdity, like wanting water that does not have the quality of being wet. Take the guilt away, and Christianity simply dissolves in thin air: Adam and Eve are reduced to a curious legend, the entire Old Testament to a fantasy tale, Christ’s work a complete waste of time, His death the work of a lunatic, the Mass an exercise in madness.
Mind: attentive and sincere Protestants certainly have the same concept of guilt we have. Still, one never hears of “Protestant Guilt”, only of the Catholic variant. What I think happened is that so many Protestants have abused their sola fide tenet to the point of declaring themselves spotless lambs, that the entire wetness was taken away from mainstream Protestant water, making of it something useless and absurd at the same time.
The same chill I experienced when I was asked whether I was “saved”; and thinking of it, there is system in the madness. Once I have persuaded myself that I am, well, guiltless in the end (because I believe! I believe!! Praise the Lord!!) nothing stands in the way of my self-canonisation whilst still living, and I am at this point ready to sabotage every other tenet of Christianity in what Austin Powers would call “a guilt-free environment”.
If you have no “Guilt”, you can ultimately have no Christianity. Which is why “guilt-free” Protestantism is so rapidly imploding, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth is probably assuming dimensions unknown to our Christian experience, Protestant or not. Those who criticise the mentality of “Catholic guilt” pay us, in fact, a compliment, and encourage us to hope for our salvation. Concerning the salvation chances of people who have obliterated guilt from their Christianity I would be rather more cautious.
Catholic Guilt makes people uncomfortable, but it saves souls.