Guilty of Guilt

2011-0087 Cinematheque Wild Strawberries Poster

In a haunting dream sequence in Ingmar Bergman’s film Wild Strawberries, an old professor is arraigned before the bar of justice. When he asks the charge, the judge replies, “You are guilty of guilt.”

“Is that serious?” the professor asks.

“Very serious,” says the judge.

But that is all that is said on the subject of guilt. In a universe where God is dead, people are not guilty of violating a moral law; they are only guilty of guilt, and this is very serious, for nothing can be done about it. If one had sinned, there might be atonement. If one had broken a law, the lawmaker might forgive the criminal. But if one is only guilty of guilt, there is no way to solve the very personal problem.

And that states the case for a nihilist, for no one can avoid acting as if moral values exist and as if there is some bar of justice that measures guilt by objective standards. But there is a bar of justice, and we are left, not in sin, but in guilt. Very serious, indeed.

–James W. Sire,
The Universe Next Door

Can injustice exist when God doesn’t?

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?…

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

–C. S. Lewis
Mere Christianity