Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Guilt And Style

Tangential to the "Tanakh" post,but interesting: I have long waved off references to “Catholic Guilt,” or “Baptist Guilt,” or “Jewish Guilt,” noting that every group, even atheists, seem to have their own particular brand of this general human trait. Not everyone in each group shares the tendency, and I’m not sure there is a dramatic difference in the amount of guilt feeling from group to group, only the style. Because of this, I tend to think style is important in these matters. All of them include strong elements of not shaming your parents or “the family,” however expansively that is defined. Intriguing to me is that despite the dramatic yearly reminder during the High Holy Days of the necessity of repenting before God, the stereotypes of Jewish guilt don’t include that. Neither the humorous stereotype of parents encouraging guilt, nor the accusation by secular and uninvolved Jews that the more observant attempt to make them feel guilty, includes much suggestion that they are offending God. The focus seems to be that they are letting down other Jews, or the whole Jewish people, or their heritage.

There is much less of this from Catholics and Calvinists, I think.

Perhaps Jews don’t think that is a matter for joking, or consider bringing God directly into the guilt equation is a bridge too far. Or perhaps modern Jews really do think more about Jewish identity than they do about God. Dunno. I suspect it’s historically recent and mostly American.

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