Religion Is Good at Guilt

On January 1 Charlie Rose had a montage of his best interviews. Well, we usually put Charlie on in the background and fall asleep to him. I suppose it’s gentle North Carolina accent or the intonation of his voice but he knocks us out pretty quickly. In one particular clip he was interviewing Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis. McCourt said, “Religion is good at guilt.” For some reason that idea stuck in my head and I have been thinking about it ever since.

Is religion good at guilt? I suppose so. Religion is a man made attempt at controlling other people and at the same time seeking to make people feel better about themselves. But, if you are going to control other people then you can’t possibly clear their shame ridden consciences with something like grace. No, you must make them work for it. They must work hard for it and they must comprehend that whenever they slip up they need to work even harder because the scorecard is now unbalanced. They can’t get ahead until after their dead, possibly, and the right people think they were especially good.

You see, religion is good at guilt. Religion is about control and power. It is about controlling those around us and exerting power over them so that we can continue to stay in control. I think this is what is so incredibly subversive about Jesus. He was unwilling to grab the power and control. He was willing to set aside controlling power and offer up grace. This grace changed the world. It’s interesting when you think about following after Jesus you aren’t required to do anything. But, when you come to terms with the reality that you aren’t required to do anything it compels you to do something.

I think this is what makes Jesus so compelling to me and also makes me sad when I look at this world with supposedly 1/3 or so of its residents claiming to follow him. It seems to me that maybe many of us might not understand this grace in a way that we ought and that has kept us from being compelled.