Repentance, Guilt and Anger

The nine-pointed Bahá'í star

Image via Wikipedia

I’m participating in a 7 week workshop course with my church called “Faith and Politics: Liberty and Justice For All,” which has a sub-subtitle of “Helping congregations learn to talk about faith and politics without judgment.” The course is made up of about 15 people, four of whom are under 30, and the rest over 50.

Each session is prefaced with a DVD segment/lecture. The first lecture was by M. Scott Peck, who died mere days after this final interview. He had the idea for this workshop, and was the inspiration behind it, and he got the idea from the study groups which were the nascent beginning of the Anti-War movement during Vietnam. One of the purposes of the groups in churches may be repentance, as he said, “I am repentant that I have not taken any action until now.” The discussion question says, “No matter where you presently are in your life journey, what political or religious issues, if any, cause you to feel repentant? What does this feeling of repentance suggest to you?”

Guilt does not absolve you of your responsibility to act; I am uncomfortable of the idea of repentance in this instance. The lay definition of repentance speaks specifically to your own actions; to cover the actions of others, especially in a a historical context, you’re usually speaking of restitution.
Wikipedia offers me this, on repentance in a religious context:

Repentance is a change of thought and action to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged. In religious contexts it usually refers to confession to God, ceasing sin against God, and resolving to live according to religious law. It typically includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

On the other hand, I think there’s a huge difference between guilt (which is what I see implied in repentance) and responsibility, as elucidated by the impeccable Tim Wise in the following Youtube clip (and transcribed on the Society Pages website):

His initial answer was, “No, you should feel angry. And you should feel committed to doing something to address that legacy,” which certainly speaks to that Wikipedia definition of repentance — restitution and reversal of wrong doing. His answer further says that you should not feel guilty, as guilt is a result of personal action, but you should feel responsible — and this is the kind of repentance I can get behind.

But it’s the anger I struggle with.

I’m angry about a lot of things. I’m angry about the rape culture, about male privilege, about white privilege, about inequities in medical care, in access to food, and in access to education. I am not personally guilty, but there is a responsibility to address these things — but they’re overwhelming; they’re not something I can address on my own.

This is where the apathy of the Millennial Generation comes into play — we desperately want to take responsibility, but if we take responsibility for it all, nothing will get done. And being asked to choose one injustice is like being asked to choose amongst our children.

And so I prefer not to be angry; I would prefer to not be apathetic, either, but one cause at a time seems silly and slow.

At 24 years old, I’ve only really had personal political agency as a voter for 7 years; my political awareness doesn’t start much before that — I am not guilty, but I can be responsible, I can redress and resolve past wrong doings.


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