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guilt and shame in the occidental world

For western churches, any behaviour falling outside the framework of traditional Judeo-Christian values has always been viewed as suspect and any aberration, whether it formed part of the natural selection of human behavior or not, would be subject to be labeled as sin. Homosexuality certainly fit this criteria as well as any gender behavior that strayed from a model built exclusively to support the family structure.

The reality is that human beings form part of an imperfect fabric that is touched by variations which has never formed part of the accepted teachings of these institutions. Instead, what most interested Western European religious leaders was adherence to fundamental teachings as they embedded themselves in the political structures of their nations to serve as moral advisors to their respective monarchs. Hence critical errors, such as excommunicating Galileo for postulating a scientific fact, were made in favor of upholding dogmatic truth.

In essence, organized religion became a method to subjugate the population and where certainly not every dictate was aligned with science or the natural law and most arguably with the will of a higher power.

The colonization of the Americas brought with it people of European stock from Quaker, Anglican, Lutheran or Catholic faiths; all austere and unyielding in their respective doctrines. Ironically, the United States founding fathers themselves were aiming for a secular state as per Voltaire's Age of Enlightenment (which advocated the separation of church and state) and the principles of the French Revolution which sought to escape monarchial tyranny; a fact conveniently forgotten by today's God-fearing and flag-waving conservatives.

These European settlers would have arrived in the Americas with a regimental education in what was expected of them. New England began with superstition mixed with religious doctrine which helped to stir up the panics and unfortunate results of the Salem witch hunts. So you can imagine how anyone with a penchant for same sex love or who thought themselves best suited to be another gender would be received. Being a candidate of what we now call the LGBT community was something best kept to yourself.

All the while, native American as well as other world native cultures respected two-spirited people with some even considering them endowed with special graces.

This mindset of institutionalized culpability lasted well into the late 20th century and many of us who are older grew up with no information with what little being available only reinforcing our suspicions that we were abominations. Guilt and shame filled a void that should have been occupied with knowledge.

I heard recently of a case illustrating the power of misplaced guilt and shame on an Irish radio podcast. In the deeply Catholic rural Ireland of the early 1960's, a young boy was brought to a hospital for an operation. He was intellectually challenged and after a successful surgery no one came to claim him. Finally the mother was brought in and she pleaded with the hospital to allow her to go home without her son who had been kept for most of his life in a darkened room and was completely rejected by his father due to the stigma of shame. For this poor couple the birth of this boy was a sign that they were not in God's favor.

Little Jimmy died two years after his operation despite the support of the hospital outreach who tried to assist this poor mother look after her son who, much to the dismay of his parents, would at times shriek at the top of his lungs.

Such was the power of guilt and shame in our culture.


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