At the Ruth Institute, we have identified the Guilty Conscience Problem as the key to the Sexual Revolution. The idea is this: people who are plagued by a guilty conscience do not think clearly. They will go to great lengths to deflect attention from whatever is burdening their consciences.
If we are correct about this, (and I am convinced that we are,) then we will never be able to argue people into agreeing with our positions on social conservative issues, such as abortion or same sex marriage. Far less, will we get agreement on the more basic issues such as contraception, divorce and sex outside of marriage. People have participated in all these activities. When we say, “X is an immoral act,” all they hear is “Guilty, guilty, guilty.” All of their protective instincts come to the fore, and rational discussion ends.
That is why I was so taken with the First Reading at today’s Mass. The story of Cain and Abel clearly shows Cain’s guilty conscience, from the start. Genesis 4: 3-5.
“Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
Why? Fr. Cormier explained: Abel brought the first and the best, while Cain brought the leftovers.
I had heard this before. What jumped out at me, was God’s speech to Cain in the next verse:
“Cain greatly resented this, and was crestfallen. 6 So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? 7 If you do well, you can hold up your head.”
God is reaching out to Cain, encouraging him to do better. He wouldn’t have done so, if He didn’t believe improvement was possible for Cain.
And then the real kicker in the second half of verse 7, where God warns Cain:
“‘but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master .” *
Temptation will always be with you. It even pursues you, crouching at your door. But God believes Cain can handle it.
However, Cain cannot bear to see his brother. Why?
The most logical answer: Cain knew he was wrong. Rather than accept God’s correction and invitation to closer union with Him, Cain removes the reminder of his sin from his sight. Cain murders Abel, and the rest is history.
Most of us are not complicit in murder. Yet we often behave like Cain. We resist help, even from those who love us most, even when we know, deep down, that we are wrong.
If we are the ones trying to help, having a better, more winning argument will not do the job in this situation. Arguing can just drive the person further into themselves and further from you, from God and from the Truth. Have you noticed this?
At the Ruth Institute we are working at reframing the issues, so we can overcome this resistance. (For instance, see our page, “Are you a Survivor of the Sexual Revolution? Take this quiz.”) We identify the natural, harmful consequences that flow from sexual sins. We assure people that they have been greatly misled about these consequences, both natural and supernatural. Our hope is that through this gentle approach, we can lead them to a lasting repentance. We are having some success with this. Our Healing Family Breakdown Retreats address this problem too. Would you like to join us for the next one?
*(This translation is from the approved Lectionary. It does not accord exactly with any of the translations I’ve found on Bible Gateway. Maybe one of my Bible scholar friends can explain this to me….)
2 thoughts on “The Guilty Conscience Problem”
Excellent article and great questions
“At the Ruth Institute we are working at reframing the issues, so we can overcome this resistance.”
Do you know the work of René Girard?
It could help you:
I am familiar with Rene Girard’s work. In fact, it has become part of the furniture of my mind. How exactly do you see the guilty conscience problem played out in his work? I know he considers Cain and Abel an example of mimetic rivalry.
BTW, I just ordered Gil Bailie’s new book. Gil is/was a protege of Girard’s.