Features, Human Rights, Religion

From Ancient Times to the Present: Transferring Guilt Makes a Mockery of Justice

One of the foundations of modern ethics is crumbling. Having rights is about being respected as a human individual who shapes his or her life through choices. Whether with respect to original sin, honour based violence, the burqa, or ‘burkini’, ‘incitement’ to violence, or white guilt—the transference of moral responsibility from individual moral agents to others, or from others to the individual, makes a mockery of justice. Either we are responsible for our own behaviour or we are not. Imagine how wonderful it would be if we could all take credit for other peoples’ good deeds. But we cannot, and we do not because only the moral agent responsible for the act deserves praise—or conversely, blame.

The Doctrine of Original Sin

Transference of guilt has its religious precedent in St. Paul’s Christian doctrine of original sin, according to which the entire human species is tarnished by the sins of their disobedient progenitors, Adam and Eve. Transferring guilt across generations from ancient ancestors to their heirs was highly convenient for religious authorities. It created a very sizable market for their product. Since we’re all born with a moral sickness, we need the medicine they’re peddling— salvation.

“The selling of “indulgences” was a practices of the late Medieval Catholic Church, wherein payment of a sum of money gets you forgiven for a sin. Painted by François Marius Granet, 1825

To get this remedy for our hereditary disease we need only assent to our guilt and then give eternal gratitude to God for providing his son Jesus—the sacrificial lamb who remedied the situation by enduring the punishment that we so richly deserved. According to this narrative, God took an economical approach to punishment. Instead of sending another flood and killing all of us (again) he gave us a loan—his son—so that we could pay him back, with interest, in the form of a lifetime of joyless repression and slavish obedience. Thankfully some self-appointed middle men (priests) took over the day-to-day business operations and began collecting our obedience dues on God’s behalf.

Honour Based Violence and Collective Morality

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women are killed each year for ‘dishonouring’ their families. ‘Honour based violence’ (HBV) is defined by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers as “a crime or incident which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community.”

Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus view honour and morality as a collective family matter.  In the normative paradigms of these cultures, rights are primarily collective, not individual. Family, clan, and tribal rights supplant individual human rights.1

While not all honour killings in the West are perpetrated by Muslims, the overwhelming majority are. In two studies of press-reported successful or attempted honour killings in North America between 1989 – 2008 and in Europe between 1998 – 2008, ninety percent of the honour killers were Muslim. In every case studied, perpetrators viewed their victims as violating rules of religious conduct and acted without remorse. Honour killings reported in the press in the United States, Canada, and Europe show the killings to be primarily a Muslim-on-Muslim crime.2

The underlying belief of those who commit ‘honour’ violence is that the victim’s illicit action somehow transfers the moral stigma for misconduct from the guilty individual to other family members. Ironically, this Muslim understanding of honour—guilt by association—is exactly what Islamists and their apologists seize upon and bewail following every jihadist terror attack.

Transference of guilt from the one to the many is the cardinal sin committed by ‘the far right’ for daring to suggest that terrorism is a Muslim problem. Transference of guilt from the individual terrorist to other Muslims innocent of his crime is the most egregious, inexcusable error when non-Muslims do it

Yet the same Islamophiles who constantly revile this logic when deployed by allegedly ‘right-wing’ commentators have never complained about the same guilt-by-association logic when it applies to the Islamic concept of ‘honour’.

In the case of honour-based violence the absurdity is multiplied by the fact that the victim’s transgressions in question do not even harm anyone else. Her ‘dishonourable’ behaviour merely harms some people’s abstract ideas about what is or is not “honourable” for a woman to do with her own body. This antediluvian male chauvinist claptrap is unworthy of modern enlightened minds. It gets its clout from a combination of superstition and violent coercion.

Religious Dress

Religious-based gender uniforms such as the burqa follow a similar logic. The immodestly dressed female is deemed to be responsible for the indecent behaviour of males, whose predatory sexual behaviour cannot be controlled absent a strict ‘modesty’ code.

Modest dress transfers the guilt of sexually interested males onto females

The rationale is that a man’s biological sexual urges ‘naturally’ overpower his will to the extent that he cannot really be expected to control them. Again, this idea is not far removed from Pauline Christianity, as we can see in his letter to the Romans 7:14—24: 

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!

In a similar vein to this antiquated belief, a Muslim male cannot be expected to exercise sexual self-discipline, and it follows from this that he is not really a free and responsible moral agent after all. This explains why women must be ‘modest’. If women were to uncover their irresistible bodies—especially their hair—or to give them any ‘opportunity’, then men would be right to molest them. It would be tantamount to leaving fresh meat out and then expecting that the cat will not eat the meat, according to Australia’s most senior Islamic cleric.3

Transference of guilt from male sexual predators to their female victims is the rape culture mentality that Labour MP Sarah Champion was sacked for suggesting correlates with Pakistani perpetrators’ ethnic heritage.4 As Trevor Phillips astutely pointed out, “What the perpetrators have in common is their proclaimed faith.”  Justifying the call for Champion’s resignation, a source close to Mr. Corbyn said: “There can be no question of stigmatising entire communities on the basis of race, religion or country of origin.” (emphasis mine) Indeed. But challenging their deeply held beliefs and ideas is not the same as stigmatising a group of people. Moreover, by challenging religious ideas about ‘modesty’ we could hope to prevent people from stigmatising entire groups of people (namely women) on the basis of their biological sex.

This thinking is crystal clear in Saudi Arabia where the ultra-conservative version of Islam (Salafi-Wahhabism) prevalent among UK-based Islamist extremists originates.5 In 2006 the Qatif General Court sentenced a 19 year old woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes for the ‘crime’ of getting herself raped.6

Irrespective of hair-splitting exegetical debates about whether the veil is genuinely Islamic, it has been interpreted as such by ultra-conservative clerics who exert powerful influence in Muslim communities. The fact that there is no official Islamic mandate to wear it becomes immaterial. There was no Biblical mandate to burn witches either, but that didn’t prevent Christians from doing it.

A 19th Century woodcut illustrating an execution by burning at the stake.

White Guilt

Which brings me to the most colossally popular genre of guilt-transference current today: instilling ‘white guilt’ in victims or critics of Islamist terrorism. The story goes like this: Islam is ideology-free. Islamism has nothing to do with waging jihad in conquest for the advance of Islam.  Its rare violence is grievance-based; a mere response to maltreatment and injustices suffered at the hands of Western colonialism. It might be revenge, but it is a just reparation, not aggressive religious imperialism seeking to conquer the world until all nations are brought under sharia law and Dar Al-Islam.7  The victims of the terrorism are the distant descendants of past perpetrators of colonial crimes. Here the guilt even transfers across generations.

The individuals attacked by today’s jihadis did not commit the colonial crimes for which they are being punished; but they are guilty by association and so attacking them is just.

Now let us imagine for a moment that everyone punished heirs for the sins of their forefathers. (In the case of jihadist terrorism, the victims may have no blood relationship to past perpetrators at all. But never mind that, white people are all the same.)  The world would be a constant theatre of bloodshed if all of us felt that we had the right to dish out punishment to the progeny of every nation or tribe that ever committed atrocities. In Rwanda, the grown up children of Tutsis would avenge their parents’ deaths by taking machetes to the skulls of Hutus’ offspring. Would we really applaud this and say that the Hutu descendants deserve this?  If not, then our enthusiasm for making white people bear the guilt for crimes they did not commit seems a bit, well … racist.

But of course evil Belgian colonialists propelled Hutus to slaughter Tutsis, so they had no free will! Which brings me to . . .

Incitement to Violence

Obviously speech and expression are influential, otherwise liberals like myself would not spill so much ink defending them. But the fact that we are influenced does not allow us to abdicate personal responsibility for our actions. Human beings have competing desires and choose between them all the time. When someone influences me, it is because I value what he says or writes. I select these opinions or perceived truths from among other opinions or viewpoints and invest them with importance. If I did not then the potential causes of my actions would be endless—films, books, parents, teachers, preachers, television personalities… any combination of these ‘influences’ could be held accountable and I could be let off the hook. But how would we ever know which of them to blame for my action? Was it a Netflix documentary I watched or a Guardian columnist’s opinions, or both?

It is true that ideas can be as pernicious as they can be enlightening. But even more dangerous than bad ideas is the atmosphere of fear in which they may not be challenged by better ones. In every instance in which dangerous ideas have precipitated actual harms, from Nazi Germany to Rwanda, there has been a chilling silence from fearful listeners who—had their freedom to protest been protected—should have put a halt to the rhetoric by speaking back. It is in a climate of censorship and coerced conformity that the beast of bad ideas takes root and grows into a monster.

The ‘incitement’ argument against free speech, in its current (distorted) usage, presupposes a direct causal link between someone’s expression of extreme views and other peoples’ violent behaviours. This causal theory undermines the presupposition of individual moral agency at the core of the justice system. If someone commits a criminal act of terrorism, defence attorneys may attempt to diminish the defendant’s responsibility in various ways. However, if the forensic evidence points to his guilt, and if he is an adult of sound mind, we do not accept outside influences as somehow causing him to act. If we did, we would reduce the sentence accordingly or even exonerate him completely—but we do not.

The fact that adult citizens are responsible moral agents entitles them to basic rights and protections on the one hand, and obligates them to accept moral accountability for their actions on the other. Civil liberties come with concomitant responsibilities. Only children, because of their relative naïveté or inexperience, are incapable of responsible moral agency. To say that Hutu individuals were not responsible for the acts they committed in the Rwandan genocide only infantilizes them and treats them with the kind of patronising contempt for which colonialists are so often roundly condemned. 

Lessons From the Past

When World War II finally ended and the scale of Nazi atrocities came to light, some of those involved faced criminal charges. The defendants argued that only states and not individuals could be held responsible for the types of war crimes of which they stood accused. The court’s rejection of this argument set a landmark precedent, establishing that state authority could not be used to shield individuals from criminal accountability.

The Nuremberg Trials marked the first prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

In the decades that followed, philosophers and social psychologists such as Stanley Milgram asked how individual human beings could have allowed themselves to become passive instruments of authority. German citizens still bear a heavy burden of guilt to this day.

Guilt is different to shame. Shame is placed upon an individual when she transgresses social taboos or conventional rules. Shame can be directed at a person even though she herself may not be convinced that she has acted wrongly. She may disagree with the grounds for a particular law, for instance, and feel that it would be immoral to obey it. A person can be shamed by others and may even internalise their blame, but this is different to the person with a guilty conscience. The individual who experiences guilt may do so even if no one ever discovers his crime, or blames him for his act. His own conscience condemns him because he has broken a law that he himself cannot gainsay.

Existentialists argued that excuses—“I was just following orders”—were attempts to deny individual responsibility and to pretend that we have no choice. This is bad faith.

Each of us knows, with agonizing certainty, that we have inescapable choices to make. No amount of duress, regardless how severe, can really force us to choose against our will. If we give in to the torturer it is because we choose to end our own suffering—even if it means throwing someone else under the bus—as Winston finally does to Julia in George Orwell’s dystopian 1984. A horrible choice is nevertheless a choice. If this were not the case then we would feel no guilt for our choices. But taking on responsibility for other people’s choices is just as weak as pretending that we have none for our own.



[1] See Chesler, Phyllis, ‘Are Honour Killings Simply Domestic Violence?’ in Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2009, pp. 61 – 69. Accessed on 23 Aug. 2017 at http://www.meforum.org/2067/are-honor-killings-simply-domestic-violence#_ftn1 See also Chesler, Phyllis, ‘Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings’ in Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2010, pp. 3 – 11, accessed on 23 Aug. 2017 at http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings#_ftn5

[2] Ibid.

[3] Muslim Cleric: Women Without Scarf are ‘uncovered meat’, Religion News Blog, Oct. 26, 2006, accessed on 23 August, 2017 at http://www.religionnewsblog.com/16378/muslim-cleric-women-without-scarf-are-uncovered-meat

[4] Ashmore, John. Sarah Champion sacked by Jeremy Corbyn over Sun article on sexual exploitation of white girls. Politics Home. Available from: https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/home-affairs/policing/news/88302/sarah-champion-was-sacked-jeremy-corbyn-over-sun-article

[5] A 2007 report by a team of researchers over a two-year project, written by Dr Denis MacEoin, an Islamic studies expert at Newcastle who previously taught at the University of Fez, uncovered a hoard of malignant literature inside as many as a quarter of Britain’s mosques. All of it had been published and distributed by agencies linked to the Saudi government of King Abdullah. Among the more choice recommendations in leaflets, DVDs and journals were statements that homosexuals should be burnt, stoned or thrown from mountains or tall buildings (and then stoned where they fell just to be on the safe side). Those who changed their religion or committed adultery should experience a similar fate. The 7/7 suicide bombers Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were salafis. See, ‘Wahhabism: A Deadly Scripture’ at The Independent online edition,  Nov. 2007. Accessed on 23 Aug., 2017 at:   http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/wahhabism-a-deadly-scripture-398516.html

[6] Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, ‘Ruling Jolts Even Saudis, New York Times, Nov. 16, 2007, accessed on 23 August 2017 at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/16/world/middleeast/16saudi.html

[7] Dār al-Islam, in Islamic political ideology, the region in which Islam has ascendance; traditionally it has been matched/contrasted with the Dār al-Ḥarb (abode of war), the region into which Islam could and should expand. This mental division of the world into two regions persisted even after Muslim political expansion had ended. See jihad. [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica, online edition, accessed on 22 Aug. 2017]

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Filed under: Features, Human Rights, Religion


T M Murray, PhD, is an American essayist, author and educator. She is a regular contributor to Philosophy Now magazine, Conatus News, Spiked, The New Humanist and has blogged for Open Democracy, Clarion Project, and The Center for Progressive Christianity and is the author of three books, including 'Thinking Straight About Being Gay: Why it Matters if We’re Born That Way,' 'Feminist Film Studies: A Teacher's Guide,' and 'Moral Panic: Exposing the Religious Right's Agenda on Sexuality.'


  1. Good article, but some fake news: “In 2006 the Qatif General Court sentenced a 19 year old woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes for the ‘crime’ of getting herself raped.”
    She was’t sentenced for having been raped, but for adultery that ended up being exposed due to the rape (yes, that is also medieval, but still very different from what you write).
    Furthermore the court also convicted her boyfriend, who had also raped. When two people are convicted for adultery, despite that they were raped, how come you are only upset on behalf of the woman, not on behalf of the man? I understand why the feminist movement does this – they are blatant sexists – but it seems odd in quillette.

    “The court also sentenced the two victims to six months in prison and 90 lashes each for ‘being alone with a man who is not a relative’ in a parked car.”
    “the Qatif court sentenced the female rape victim and her companion, who was also raped by the seven men, to six months in jail and 200 lashes. The Saudi Justice Ministry itself officially stated that the woman’s sentence (originally based on being alone with an unrelated man) was increased after she admitted to having an extramarital affair with the man whom she had given the picture to. Adultery is a crime in Saudi Arabia, so for committing adultery and for lying to the police about the circumstances of the rape, her sentence was increased.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qatif_rape_case

  2. I enjoyed this article, but think it posed an interesting question which it failed to answer; namely “why do negative actions get attributed to others and not positive actions?”

    In the individual’s case, this is psychoanalysis 101: it’s comforting to blame someone else when you make a mistake and to attribute 100% of any success to yourself.

    But when it comes to *excusing others* I’m not so sure. In the middle east, for example, there are people who blame some acts of terrorism (those that aren’t blamed on ‘the west’) on Israel. Yet they do not credit the rest of the middle east with the social justice that exists in Israel.

    Unfortunately, I expect this is a result more of misanthropy than anything more logical, and that the real point is to blame those you dislike – what they’re being blamed for is merely a useful tool.

    • In the individual’s case, this is psychoanalysis 101: it’s comforting to blame someone else when you make a mistake and to attribute 100% of any success to yourself.

      No, it’s psychology 101: attribution bias.

      Psychoanalysis 101 is wanting to shag your mother before your father cuts your dick off.

  3. Petar says

    I don’t understand how did Paul’s internal struggle ended up in comparison with Muslim men, except with very poor understanding of his writings.

  4. In two studies of press-reported successful or attempted honour killings in North America between 1989 – 2008 and in Europe between 1998 – 2008, ninety percent of the honour killers were Muslim.

    Ninety percent of the killers were Muslims or ninety percent of the killings were perpetrated by Muslims?

    Because if whole families are involved in the killings then the number of honour killers is far higher.

  5. Interested says

    Important question you have addressed. You have opined on religions unevenly, specifically with crude caricatures of Pauline Christianity. Some religions you have not mentioned at all. Given this, do you have any relevant disclosures of your own prior religious commitments?

  6. Nathan S. says

    @petar excellent point. Nor does the author know, apparently, of the major theological changes to both Catholic and Protestant churches in the last 1000 years. In fact he seems unaware that the Protestant church exists at all!

    I’m all for personal responsibility, but this is a horribly flawed religion hit piece masquerading as a thought-provoking article.

    • Paul E says

      Considering that she doesn’t evern grasp the concept of Original Sin and thinks it’s a method to shift blame for our own failings to someone else (like the leftist Identity Politics, white priviliage and pretty much everything Islam).

      Original sin is the *why* we have sin in the world. It certainly doesn’t obsolve you of responsiblity for your choices.

      The fact that the author isn’t even aware of the rudementary tenents of Christian faith just highlights her attempt to provide moral relativist fodder to condemn Christianity. We can’t have people thinking that attempting to live your life like Christ is a better way to live then murdering infidels, Jews, or blaming white people for your 6 different kids with 5 different men and lack of job skills. I’m not surprized that an “essayist” (WTF is that?) and “educator” with a PhD would be content to lump her distain for the objective morality and personal responsibility of Christianity in with every other group of blamers; PhD is a long time to be swimming in the poluted waters of “higher education.”

    • Marija says

      The logic is: I’ll question Islam, (and rightly, I must add), but I’ll mix it with Christianity just to be safe, otherwise somebody might, God forbid, call me an islamophobe.

      • Bunny Whisperer says

        Actually, the author does cirticise Islam on its own all over the place. Do you know this author’s work?

  7. Sarka says

    I think too many things are being lumped together here. For example, I don’t think the author understands the Christian doctrine of original sin, which, – though this may seem to some paradoxical – has tended to support the development of the sort of values that we might now term “liberal.” Meanwhile, the absence of a doctrine of original sin has tended to e.g. promote illiberalism in the Islamic world.
    Why? The idea of original sin shocks, or is jeered at by some secular progressives who interpret it as meaning simply that every human being is dreadfully wicked and needs Christianity to be “saved” from his wickedness and the consequences. Some formulations may look that way, but actually in the more persuasive version – i.e. that human beings are morally imperfect, and all of us have a tendency to do bad things as well as good, the doctrine allows for moral universalism and even a degree of tolerance (think of the story of the Woman taken in Adultery – when JC stops the stoning of a woman by saying to the stoners, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” (see also Judge not that ye be not judged and so on). Islam, which does not in the same way insist that believers examine their own souls for inevitable signs of sin, and which preaches that Muslims are the pure by virtue of their honour and orthopraxy (including the correct use of punishments) tends not to attribute any potential for bad to selves, or much common humanity to non-Muslims (beyond their capacity to become Muslim).
    If one looks at the history and anthropology of concepts of honour and shame, we find that it has been – in the west – Christianity that fought very hard (and up to the 19th century with success), against honour/shame values (e.g. you can be “shamed” by someone else’s behaviour and have to revenge yourself to maintain social prestige, your social face is more important than your inner guilt or innocence, individuals must be sacrificed to ensure collective honour etc.) and in favour of what are often called “guilt” or “virtue/guilt” values..which are what underpin modern notions of culpability and responsibility.

  8. You write:

    “Transference of guilt from the one to the many is the cardinal sin committed by ‘the far right’ for daring to suggest that terrorism is a Muslim problem. Transference of guilt from the individual terrorist to other Muslims innocent of his crime is the most egregious, inexcusable error when non-Muslims do it.”

    No examples are provided. It looks very much like a straw man.

    What some on the right have claimed (including me) is that many Muslims who are not terrorists bear some guilt for their individual contributions to a culture of jihad that enables terrorism. Pew Polling data shows that several different jihadist terror organizations enjoy the support of very large minorities of Muslims (upwards of 30 percent for Hamas in some places). Even those who neither participate in nor endorse jihadist terror can nonetheless be culpable for failing to speak out against it, and for refusing to challenge those aspects of Islam that justify terrorism against infidels.

  9. John McCormick says

    Responding to criticisms of this commentary, I say this: I was raised in a conservative Catholic family and attended Catholic school for nine years. As I and nearly anyone else who is Catholic understand the idea of “original sin”, the author hit the nail on the head. Furthermore, similar concepts exist in all cultures, but since Christianity has had more influence on the western mind than anything else in the last 2000 years, it serves as the most accessible example.

    I am a patron of Quillette, and I am very happy with the quality of this magazine’s content.

  10. Carl Sageman says

    On the whole, Quillette is a significantly higher standard than almost all other publications. This article is good, but, contains some issues.

    The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. Some of the examples given (as mentioned in the first comment) are incomplete. Given Quillette’s commitment to balanced reporting, this was probably an oversight.

    White guilt is often pushed by white people, not Muslims. In fact, I’d say it’s mostly pushed by black and white people.

    The other elephant that the article missed (and it was no accident) was the original sin of patriarchy (and specially the white male). I suggest Quillette avoided this because of controversy (eg. The recent DDOS attack on Quillette by hardcore ideologists was caused by presenting scientific consensus to defend an innocent white male who was presumed guilty by an entire media industry and still is assumed guilty). Pandering to the angry mob is exactly what you accused Germans of during WWII.

    Pandering to a mob is easier than you think.

  11. Epson Maverick says

    The criticisms are unfair. It is well known that the medieval Catholic Church was corrupt as hell, and the author is right to point out that people had to absolve themselves of original sin through indulgences.

    If this corruption didn’t exist there wouldn’t have BEEN a reformation. And as far as I’m aware mainline Protestants don’t care as much about original sin as Catholics do…but I attended a Catholic school, not an Anglican school so I could be wrong.

    Anyway, I thought this was excellent. Only thing I wish it contained was a couple of paragraphs about Black Lives Matter trying to attribute the guilt of slavery to white Americans today.

  12. Staffan says

    Original sin is not transferring guilt through the generations; it’s admitting your own imperfection. That idea requires conscience, introspection, and seeing yourself (and other individuals) as moral agents. It’s a manifestation of Northwest European morality. People paying money to be absolved from sin was a corruption of this morality that led to the Reformation – not something characteristic of the morality in question.

  13. James says

    Read Quillette almost daily. I’m saddened to read such an outdated caricature of Christianity. What the Bible puts forth is not what the writer says it puts forth. Writer says Jesus was a “loan” that we had to pay back. The opposite is the case: Bible presents it more like Jesus paid off the debt that no other human being could pay. Writer says this was done so the followers of the Jesus could live a life of “joyless repression.” So far from accurate. Joy and pleasure are promised everywhere, Old and New Test. The idea in both is that of “turning from lesser pleasures (sin) to deeper pleasures (connection with God).”

    • Bunny Whisperer says

      How so? I disagree. Individual responsibility for our choices = existentialism.

  14. A couple of comments:

    To those that have criticized Quillette, I view the site as one of the last open forums for academic-lite discussion where opposing views are welcome. Not all authors are Left nor are the all Right on the political spectrum or any spectrum for that matter. That being said, suggesting that Quillette should not have posted something that gives a mischaracterization of Christianity suggests that you simply want to turn Quillette into a partisan (Right) rant fest versus one of the last open bastions for discussion that it is. Different opinions and different background knowledge being shared presents a far better discussion of the topic.

    For the author:
    You mention the transference of guilt from an islamic terrorist to muslims as being a cardinal sin of the far right, do you also take the stance that the transference of guilt from a white supremacist speaker to all on the right a cardinal sin of the far (now normal) left? What about the transference of guilt from a mentally ill young man who shoots up a church in South Carolina and transferring that guilt to all supporters of the 2nd Amendment? What about the transference of guilt of a mentally ill older man who shoots up a baseball park full of Congress-persons from the right side of the aisle to all anti-Trumpers?

    The reason I ask is because that is, what I feel, is the weakness in your piece. Your thesis warrants a healthy discussion as I think it offers a lot of points that could be starting points for reflection on both sides; however, you presented with some very biased/inflammatory and one-sided examples based upon your own political leanings. This seems to have resulted in the 30+ comments focused on flaws in the examples versus discussing the underlying premise.

  15. Pingback: From Ancient Times to the Present: Transferring Guilt Makes a Mockery of Justice – Quillette | neoEnlightenment

  16. There’s no evidence that the writer considers herself a Christian, Kurt. She has merely blogged for the Center for Progressive Christianity; that doesn’t actually say anything about her own beliefs. There’s also no reason to bring Methodists into it. No one mentioned them. For what it’s worth, I attended a Methodist church for two years while I was caring for my ill father. I’d say 75 percent of the congregation supported Donald Trump, and the pastor seemed quite conservative in terms of his theology.

  17. What the author achieves by peeing on those below is anyone’s guess.

    One point of fact. “There was no Biblical mandate to burn witches either,…” Really? “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” When criticizing, try to know what you’re criticizing.

  18. Bartek says

    While this piece touches a very important subject, it contains some factual errors (like the Bible and witchhunt piece) and features many oversimplifications.

    First, there ARE actual instances where the people can take credit for other people good deeds, for example, through a different “-philias”. For example, many people in Eastern European countries are strong americanophiles (this is mainly result of America’s stance during the Cold War). They simply love the America and Americans sui generis, and, for example, American tourists and entrepreneurs may receive “unearned” benefits from that affection.

    Second, some sort of “collective” or “systemic” blaming is technically unavoidable, for example, in the time of war. If you take an absolute moral stance that you can punish those and only those who are guilty via their individual and direct actions, you would be paralyzed in the modern warfare, not being able to deploy anything efficient like, for example, mass-bombardment (not to mention the weapons of mass destruction). And the enemy will gladly use this weakness against you.

    Third, the notion of 100% personal responsibility of an individual for his/her actions, while beautiful in abstract terms, is also pretty detached from reality. Author wrote that “children, because of their relative naïveté or inexperience, are incapable of responsible moral agency” but one does not magically gain all necessary wisdom and experience on the 18th (or 21st) birthday. The difference between the children and the adults is rather quantitative and on continuous scale (Robert Heinlein once made some good points about the absurdity of “binary switch” from child to adult at the legal age).

    It is very popular nowadays, especially with regard to sexual behavior, to create the false dichotomy of “blaming the victims” versus “100% responsibility of perpetrator”. Such stance make us look morally superior but it ignores the hundreds of years of philosophical and moral struggle with the problem of temptations. Temptations are real, and the temptation management strategies, like so-called pre-commitments, are among the most advanced forms of rational behavior (e.g., the ancient story of Ulysses and the sirens). Shifting the moral focus entirely to the tempted creates some interesting challenges like, for example, the problem of provocation. In some countries the police or other special agencies could launch the provocation (mostly faked bribery, but also seduction) against technically any individual. Let’s just assume, that the chief of anti-corruption office decided to launch dozens of provocations against the leaders of one (and only one) political party. Those who endorse the “100% responsibility of the tempted” idea should not have problem with this. They should be even happy when these provocations target their favorite party or family members, shouldn’t they? Yet most of us (I hope) feel that there is something wrong with unlimited power of (even unselective) provocation. But why?

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