There are those who maintain that the sense of guilt is terrible and useless, and that at all cost it must be abolished. It is true, of course, that the sense of guilt does demoralize a man if he continues to feel it keenly and over a long period of time. He should not continue in this condition, but should get rid of it through seeking and finding forgiveness. The sense of guilt should lead one to repentance and to a change of life. And one of the wonderful things about the Christian religion is that it offers to man cleansing from sin and thus releasing from the accusing cry of a guilty conscience.
Not all, however, seek release in this way. There are some who seek it in a denial of the fact of sin. In so doing they forget that the capacity for guilt is one of the things which makes man man. To abolish every possibility of the feeling of guilt one must abolish all standards and allfeeling of obligation and conscience. For as long as standards exist, and men feel obliged to live up to them, and as long as some fall below these standards, there is the possibility of the feeling of guilt. And since some one will always fall, sooner or later, below any standard, to get rid of the feeling of guilt—-without acknowledging one's sin—means that one must abolish all standards. Then, of course, civilization would be impossible.
Samuel Butler, the atheist, felt in his life continually the struggle between “a sense of sin and a conviction that there was no sin. Sin more than anything oppressed him. He struggled against it, but it remained a shadow on his face. The men he envied were those with no burden of sin upon them; the life he wanted to live was one in which the question of sin did not arise. Finding that he could not shake off sin, he tried emasculating, formularizing it, and fleeing from it as he had flown from Langer. It was no good” (qtd. in Muggeridge 21). One of the reasons that he abandoned the Christian faith was that he “wanted to free himself from a sense of sin, to be able to sin gracefully and heartily . . .” (p. 56).
This is the desire of many people, so they seek to abolish the sense of sin by abolishing standards and moral obligations. In so doing they are kicking against the pricks and making themselves less than human; but still without finding satisfaction, for a human being does not find lasting satisfaction in being less than a human being. Muggeridge later wrote, aboutButler ’s account of a certain friendship with Pauli, that “The impression it creates is of a damned soul, of someone utterly forlorn and bewildered and alone” (91).
Muggeridge, Malcolm. The Earnest Atheist: A Study of Samuel Butler. New York : Putnam’s Sons, 1937.
The Thinking Christian
Ed. James D. Bales
Searcy , AR
Vol. 1. 2 (Oct-Dec 1948) p. 30