Sunday, 9 December 2012

9th December 2012

The story of the Fall describes the origins of blame and shame. Questioning God's safety instructions, leads to an experiment in disobeying orders, resulting in discovery of discomforting self-awareness. God asks the couple: "What have you done?" They become anxious and insecure about taking responsibility for their actions. Each projects on the other a sense of blame for having done something with fatally dangerous consequences. Now they know something about the realities of the world. Now they must learn to fend for themselves, protect themselves from danger. It's a parable of the dynamics of human development from childhood dependency into adult autonomy and responsibility.

Like physical pain, guilt and shame are warning symptoms that something isn't right. They invoke a response to address what has gone amiss, a response which, in itself may be far from adequate to resolve the cause of the symptoms. The challenge after failure to do well, or do the right thing, is  learning the causes, not repeating a pattern leading to the same outcome. Intelligence developed across millennia, learning what gets intended results by trial and error. Humans excel at it, yet it hasn't eliminated or reduced the capacity for failure leading to guilt, shame and blame. Areas of our lives continue blighted by incapacity to learn from our errors, or from each other.

The persistence of violence as a means to resolve conflict is a key area of human failure. It concerns personal and collective relationships, it also concerns relationship to nature, ravaged by mis-use and desire to dominate and exploit it, rather than live in harmony. People and their environment are all interconnected and interdependent in a vastly complex manner. Many different, sometimes conflicting ways of understanding what's wrong and what needs doing to put things right are possible. To continue to do nothing, to deny the need to act responsibly, puts the future of humanity and the planet at risk.

Sorting out messes we have made is regarded by many as a race against time, yet others are indifferent, complacent in the face of danger. A feature of human freedom is the ability to ignore guilt and shame and suppress impulses they generate to find a remedy to underlying problems. The ultimate outcome to misuse of freedom not addressed, however great or small the issue, is needless suffering.

When people talk about Hell, they refer to a realm of unrelieved, un-necessary suffering. Some kinds of suffering are acceptable as means to an end: 'no pain no gain' is a popular phrase which refers to this, but it has nothing to do with a notion of Hell where none of the perpetual agony has any meaning. The prospect needs taking seriously, not least because such conditions seem readily reproducable in this life when we pay no attention to tackling the consequences of our errors and wrong decisions.

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