Agnostic Humanist In The South

Guilt Without God

I remember a friend saying once that she actually was impressed with people who choose to be good people without the fear of punishment or judgement from a God. This made me laugh and I told her that she was WAY underestimating her own ability to understand the ramifications of her actions. I explained to her that I truly believed that she would be a good person, even if she didn’t believe in God. I wasn’t trying to take away that belief from her, but I wanted her to understand that I believed she would still want to be good, even without the promise of an afterlife.

This is also why I often prefer the term “Humanism” over the term “Atheism” – because I prefer to focus on my faith in human nature than on my lack of faith in any sort of God.

You hear Catholics joke about guilt issues all the time. For a long time I would blame my own guilt issues on my Catholic upbringing. But I have learned in recent years that my guilt is actually stronger than it was when I believed in a God or an afterlife, my guilt as a non-believer is something I feel much more vividly than any guilt I felt as a Christian.

Let me explain.

I did two things this week that – in reflection – were probably kind shitty. (Full Disclosure – I’ve done WAY more than two shitty things this week, but I’m focusing on a specific two.) The guilt I felt over these two things – things that wouldn’t have even touched my “sin” radar as a Catholic – was WAY stronger than any guilt I felt over any sin confessed as a Catholic. And let me tell you – in the Catholic church’s eyes? I had some SEVERE sins to feel guilt over. But I felt MUCH stronger guilt over these two events from this week than I did over any of those “sins” of my past.

Thing One: Poorly Worded Email
I sent an email earlier this week that I realized after the fact was worded poorly. I was trying to jokingly apologize for doing a task someone else would normally do, and I realized my word choice might have been such that it implied that I had to do because someone else wasn’t there to do it instead. And that’s not what I meant. It was just one of the many times in my life where I type too fast for my brain and hours after I send an email or post a comment there’s a part of me that replays it (for whatever reason) and says, “That was a REALLY poor choice of words. It could totally be interpreted negatively.” And man…I felt SO BAD about it.

Would I have felt guilt about this in my Catholic years? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have related to any religious fear of judgement. But this guilt I felt over this email was a million times stronger than any guilt I felt associated with a sin in my childhood. Why? Because of my faith in humanity. I know that any negative energy sent to another human (like in the form of an email that sounds really shitty) gets spread from that human to other humans around them (because that shitty email puts them in a bad mood) and my one action that I could have prevented if I had slowed down and thought for a second…ended up causing a chain reaction of ugliness along the way.

So, I feel guilty, not because of any sin or judgement, but because I believe strongly that my actions can cause ripples of negativity to flow through the lives of others.

Thing Two: Jumping The Gun
I was SO excited that a registration was open on a local race yesterday BEFORE the 8am time it was “supposed” to be open, that I jumped in and registered my husband and I. Now, was there a voice inside my head that said, “Wait until 8am.” YES! Of course there was. I’ve managed huge events before and know that things like that open up early for administrative reasons or tests and that doesn’t mean they want people jumping in on it. But did I listen to that voice? No. I just let my enthusiasm guide me and registered. And then posted my excitement all over Facebook.

And you can imagine what happened. Other people jumped in and registered too.

And then, of course, it was brought to my attention that it had been opened early for administrative purposes only and I stopped and thought and was like Dammit, Kim. You know how this stuff works, why did you do that? Why didn’t you wait until 8am? And I took down my Facebook posts just in hopes to keep it from snowballing worse but in reality? I had already screwed up. And I felt SO BAD about it. Why did I have to be the one to jump the gun? Why didn’t I step outside my enthusiasm for one second and listen to the voice that was telling me to wait? Was it my fault dozens of people registered before 8am, probably giving my friends on the other end of that process a huge headache? No. I wasn’t the first person who registered and posted. But still…I did register early and did post on FB probably causing at least one or two others to register early. So I felt SO BAD. SO BAD that all day I just kept kicking myself over it.

Because an onslaught of unexpected registrations coming through a system that may have not been fully tested yet causes the people (my friends) on the other end of that TONS OF STRESS. And then that stress causes them to be tense and short and frazzled during their day and who knows what negative actions they may have done as a result of the stress I caused.

So, I feel guilty, not because of any sin or judgement, but because I believe strongly that my actions can cause ripples of negativity to flow through the lives of others.

And this is why non-believers, Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics – whatever you want to call people without a rigid sin/judgement belief system – can have morals and ethics. Not because of some faith in a reward/punishment system relating to a religious dogma, but because of a faith in humanity and an understanding that even the smallest actions can have negative effects.

So, I tried to spread a little bit of extra love yesterday to help balance things out. I send a few kind notes to people in hopes that the positive ripples would eventually catch up to the people I might have caused stress before. And I plan on trying to go out of my way to do the same today. I feel bad that my actions might have caused a chain reaction of crappiness and the only way I know to “seek forgiveness” is to try to start a few chain reactions of AWESOME in their wake.

1 thought on “Guilt Without God”

  1. I used to carry stress like this around on a daily basis until one of my friends said to me (not unkindly), “do you really think you’re that important?” It sounds awful, but it helped me reframe my thinking because I realized that I was placing a lot more importance on my actions than anyone one else was. I’m not saying that is the case here, but it might be worth storing that question in your brain bank for the next time you feel you’ve caused someone discomfort.

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