Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 14 (December 1962): 113-116.

0, what peace we often forfeit, 
0, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry 
Everything to God in prayer.

Thus wrote the hymn writer, Joseph Scriven, years ago; thus have sung millions of Christians since; and thus have millions of Christians seemingly concluded this the sum total in essence of the guilt problem, its cause and its care. But what shall we say of Christians who apparently sincerely take it to the Lord in prayer and find little or no relief from their guilt feelings whether or not they believe intellectually they have been forgiven? Or what, may we ask, would motivate a Christian to choose to suffer "needless pain" and forfeiture of "peace" when complete relief is so immediately available? Or what of the person who "takes it to the Lord in prayer" but does nothing with regard to the brother sinned against? These and many other like questions illustrate vividly the importance of a thorough-going study of our subject today, namely that of guilt.

Its importance is further highlighted by the universality of guilt, the terrible misery it causes, and the blessed relief which comes upon its removal. The late Ernest Jones, noted biographer of Freud, is quoted as having complimented the organizers of a conference on the problem of guilt by referring to them as "both bold and wise: bold because it is probably the most difficult problem in the whole realm of psychology; and wise because it is perhaps the most important." Jones continued: "It may indeed prove to be the one (subject) on which the welfare of mankind depends more than any other . . . The troubles from which the world suffers at present can, in my opinion, very largely be traced to the manifold attempts to deal with the inner sense of guiltiness and therefore any contribution that will illuminate this particular problem will be of the greatest value." (1, p. 26)

*Paper presented at the Seventeenth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation held at St. Paul, Minnesota, August, 1962.

**Dr. Busby is a psychiatrist in private practice in Chicago, Illinois.

Another reason for its importance in the context of our convention is that it is a subject and area in which occurs perhaps as many or more misunderstandings between psychotherapists and the clergy as well as other Christians than almost any other. Speaking of this point the late Carl Gustav Jung, who with Freud and Adler was one of the founders of the three psychological "schools," is quoted as having said: "One of the main difficulties lies in the fact that both appear to use the same language but that this language calls up in their minds two totally different fields of association. Both can apparently use the same concept and then are bound to acknowledge to their amazement that they are speaking of two different things." (2, p. 155) Victor White, writing in Christian Essays in Psychiatry, elaborates:

There is probably no subject on which they may find themselves more bewilderingly at cross-purposes than that of guilt. The fields of association which the word guilt can conjure up are indeed so different that it is no wonder that they can provoke perplexities which amount to mutual incomprehension. For example, to the theologian-as well as to the moralist and the lawyer- the word (guilt) will at once suggest something reprehensible and blameworthy, indeed unpardonable except on strict conditions of repentance and amendment. To the psychologist it will suggest more often a pitiable affliction, perhaps possibly a delusion, a symptom of a disorder which causes intense suffering, inhibits life and joy in living, and calls for as much sympathetic understanding and as little repfoach as does physical sickness. Although the psychologist will not usually deny that there is such a thing as real culpability, the attitudes toward guilt of the theologian, the moralist and the lawyer will often seem to him quite inhuman and immature; conversely to them, the attitude of the psychologist often seems unrealistic, amoral, anarchic, and perhaps dangerously sentimental. To this a Christian may be inclined to add that the psychologist's attitude betrays a deplorably frivolous attitude toward sin and to its terrible consequences in time and eternity; a view which (in turn) only confirms the suspicion of some psychologists that religious teachings are compounded of ignorant fears which are a menace to public health and individual happiness. (2, pp. 155-156)

The illustration of the complexity and need for clarification of the concept of guilt is the following list of words and phrases commonly used to modify the word guilt, usually in the form of an adjective preceding it: true, false, conscious, unconscious, valid, invalid, real, unreal, normal, neurotic, psychotic, psychological, social, legal, theological, moral, objective, subjective, absolute, relative, appropriate, inappropriate, displaced, too much, and too little. The situation obviously calls for an attempt at definition, description and classification which should be no less than heroic. However, before any attempt be made, I feel that several basic or preliminary considerations should be mentioned and kept in mind as a background for or context of the main treatment of the subject.

First comes the familiar-perhaps overworked---quotation: "The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the sponsor" (whether the sponsor be assumed to be the American Scientific Affiliation or God Himself!). I have no doubt that many of my views do not represent the average psychiatrist and I sometimes wonder whether they may represent the average Christian psychiatrist. The second preliminary consideration concerns itself with the concept of the unconscious mind. The usually understood concept of the unconscious will here be assumed. For the sincerely skeptical evidence may be presented later upon request. The third consideration regards a semantic difficulty. In the book What, Then, Is Man? (a book which I highly recommend as the most scholarly elaboration of all aspects of the inter-relationship between psychology and theology), the term "mentalistic language" is used. (3, p. 216) It intends to compare and contrast words such as feeling, awareness, sensation, perception, and experience as occurring at the conscious and/or unconscious level. Let's take the first two, for example. Ordinarily to feel pain and to be aware of pain are considered synonymous. Sirmilarly, one might assume to feel guilt and to be aware of guilt would seem to refer to identical concepts. However, in the field of psychology, the body-mind unit seems to function fragmentally, particularly involving the process known as repression; thus it is presumed that a given emotion or attitude may be experienced by the unconscious mind as evidenced by some form of indirect reaction to same, but without conscious, direct awareness of it. For example, a person may evidence objective signs of a greater degree of anger than that of which he may be subjectively aware at the time. Or again, many persons seem sincerely shocked when it is pointed out that they react to their own hostility with either saccharin sweetness or with an anxious smile or with other indirect behavior such as forgetting or lateness, Having no solution and knowing of no terms that are universally indicative, I will have to ask your indulgence for the fact that most times when I use the word "feeling" it will refer to conscious awareness, but sometimes it may refer to unconscious experience, and I will endeavor to make the context indicate clearly which is in view.

The fourth preliminary consideration is that no attempt will be made to distinguish or differentiate between conscience, super-ego, and the work or voice of the Holy Spirit (or of Satan, for that matter!). This may disappoint or frustrate some; if so, remember it disappoints and frustrates me not to be able to make such differentiations! The fifth and final preliminary consideration is that in an attempt to be positive and constructive some sort of classifications and methods of operation will be suggested. It should be understood that I intend that these be used merely as guiding principles and not as pat formulae or molds into which are squeezed all experiences via reasoning after the fact. I do not desire to give comfort to those given to the latter.

An Important Distinction

In beginning our attempt to define, clarify, and classify terms and concepts our first step will be to suggest that a distinction be made between the word "guilt" and the phrase "guilt feeling." In the Concise Oxford Dictionary "guilt" is defined as "the having committed a specified or implied offence; criminality, culpability." Drever's Dictionary of Psychology defines "guilt" as "a sense of wrong-doing, an emotional attitude generally involving emotional conflict arising out of real or imagined contravention of moral or social standards, in act or thought." It is this latter concept we will refer to as "guilt-feeling" or awareness of guilt. Once having made this distinction, certain of the previously cited adjectives and modifying phrases may begin to fall into some line. For example, the first concept, that of "guilt," would merit the adjectives real, valid, true, absolute, objective, normal, appropriate, unconscious, social, legal, and theological; the latter concept-"guilt-feeling"-may have associated with it the adjectives false, conscious, invalid, unreal, psychological, neurotic, psychotic, subjective, relative, inappropriate, displaced, too much, and too little. As with all such neat divisions, however, this leaves something to be desired. For example, to refer to "guilt-feeling" as "false, invalid, and unreal" might imply and/or convey to the unsophisticated an illusion of its being imaginary or even irrelevant in the case of capable of and deserving of being ignored, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, while true and conscious guilt may often be carried for a great while with apparent impunity, it is the neurotic displaced guilt which naggingly demands and then ignores all usual attempts at dealing with it.

Discussion of Terms

Let us now go into a brief discussion of some of the individual terms involved, thus hoping to clarify their inter-relationship. First~ we may assume that we in A.S.A., believing in the existence and authority of a real and personal God, believe that there is such a situation or condition as absolute, objective or theological guilt which exists whenever any individual violates the laws of God whether knowingly or not-in other words, whether he is conscious of same, or whether he accepts God's laws or even God's existence or not. Legal, moral and social guilt by comparison would then have to be relegated to the realm of relative guilt as contrasted with absolute (although when one pays a traffic fine it is certainly absolutely not just relatively paid!).

We now turn our attention to the subject of "guilt feelings," focussing particularly on the psychiatrist's classification, diagnosis, and management of them in therapy. First, he would presume to recognize that, on the basis of his own system of values, guilt feelings may roughly be divided into those which seem appropriate and those which seem inappropriate. The appropriate ones are then referred to as real, true, or valid * However, it does not follow that the inappropriate guilt feelings necessarily are unreal, false, untrue, or invalid in the same vein as mentioned above. Inappropriate guilt may then be further subdivided as to whether it is inappropriate with respect to its amount or to its object. Regarding its amount, we may find there to be either too much guilt, such as in the obsessive-compulsive neurotic, or too little guilt such as in the psychopathic criminal. As regards the object of the guilt, the inappropriate aspect may be constituted by displacement of the guilt from its true object onto a false object; thus, we have a situation where the person is feeling guilty about something he "ought not" feel guilty about, and not feeling guilty about the thing he "ought" to feel guilty about. Thus, it is possible to be guilty and not feel it, and it is also possible to feel guilty and not actually be guilty, at least not of the "thing" felt guilty about. The obsessive-compulsive neurotic, for example, evidences displaced guilt feelings. Also the psychotic, such as the schizophrenic, may manifest a wild, and to the conscious mind, an illogical displacement of guilt.

Treatment of Guilt

Now what does all this mean to the therapist or counselor? First, I might point out that whatever may be the criteria by which the conscientious therapist differentiates between guilt and guilt feelings, between appropriate and inappropriate guilt feelings, one of his inevitable functions will be to assist the patient in making his own differentiation and in proceeding to reattach his displaced guilt to its original and appropriate object. Thus, the psychotherapist will be attempting to relieve only inappropriate (neurotic, psychotic) guilt feelings. He will not, or at least should not, in my opinion, be attempting or implying at the same time a removal of the true, objective, or theological guilt. Unfortunately, however, the psychotherapist may happen to be one who does not accept (intellectually or consciously) the existence of God as an objective authority, in which ca-se he may all too easily convey an assumption that guilt and guilt feelings are synonymous, and that in relieving one he is relieving the other. It is at this point that some have made, and perhaps rightly so, a distinction between a Christian and a non-Christian psychotherapist as being a distinction of valid importance. The Christian therapist will certainly see and feel the ultimate need of the patient to deal with his problem of true, absolute theological guilt.

The extent of the individual therapist's own personal role in assisting the patient in dealing with his own true
guilt may vary widely from situation to situation. For example, in certain instances, under carefully evaluated
and controlled conditions, the therapist might either voluntarily or upon request indicate to the patient his
need and possibility of dealing with his guilt immediately, i.e., transmit the "good news" that forgiveness is
available. On other occasions the therapist might refer the patient, such as to a pastor. In some instances it is
conceivable he may make neither specific step, especially if it is manifest that the patient is already well aware of
such a need and how to meet it. But in all cases it is important, at least in my integrated or synthesized concept, that the therapist's entire life be an integrated whole, functioning as a unit and as a healing influence upon the patient in totality-body, mind, soul, spirit, emotions, understanding, etc. This concept is referred to as the holistic or ecological view of man and of therapy. In my opinion not only classification and management of guilt, but also the whole of all therapy should be considered only in this context, anything less being by comparison partial and inadequate if not misleading.

1. LeFevre, P. "Heidrigger and Buber on Conscicnce and Guilt," The Chicago Theologica Seminary RegisArr, Vol. LI1, No. 1, January, 1962.
2. Mariet, P. Editor Christian Essays in Psychiatry. New Ybdq_ Philosophical Library, 1936.
3. Meehl, P., et. al. What, Then, Is Man? St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1958.

a) Tournier, P. Guilt and Grace. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962.
b) White, E. Christian Life and the Unconscious, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.