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Opening Salvo

The Inception of Guilt

This past summer’s hit movie Inception is summarized at IMDb: “In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job till date, Inception” (my emphasis).

Redemption is a magical word. Even though it comes out of our culture’s Judeo-Christian theological heritage, a tradition that drives secular elites to distraction, it has survived even their censorship and is quite fashionable, if used in the right way.

So go ahead and use the word redemption in a fashionably correct way, and you will be considered deep and insightful, even in superficial contexts. You may describe the redoubled efforts of a baseball player haunted by a costly error in a game, or the strivings of a discredited politician who at the end of his career seeks to leave behind a positive legacy, as seeking redemption—and no one will raise eyebrows.

Inception’s main character, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), seeks redemption. From what does his need for redemption arise? From guilt. Cobb bears a heavy burden of guilt over the death of his wife and the resulting impossibility of seeing his children because he is wanted for murder. He cannot escape the sense of guilt, and he is driven to pay whatever price it may take to clear him of the charges, so he can be restored to his children.

Redemption comes when guilt is removed. But where does the sense of guilt come from? Why does guilt exist in the cosmos? Is it merely culturally conditioned, or are we born with a capacity for guilt? (How would a Darwinian materialist explain the survival advantage of guilt?)

While certainly there are taboos that are, to use the current jargon, culturally constructed (e.g., don’t run red lights), other moral prohibitions seem to be, to use biblical language, “written on men’s hearts.” Augustine, a fourth-century North African convert to Christianity, writes in his Confessions of such innate laws that they “cannot be erased,” observing that “no thief can bear that another thief should steal from him.” One need not explain the thief’s objection to being stolen from. We all understand.

Similarly, we understand why Cobb feels guilty. Yet he might be persuaded to stop feeling guilty—after all, he did not intend his wife’s death, and in fact sought to do the best thing in a very difficult situation. Feelings of guilt can be ambiguous and confused. The recognition of guilt, confession of it, and redemption from it are not always straightforward, and the path can be difficult and painful.

Just ask any of the women quoted in Marcia Segelstein’s “A Buried Grief” (page 30). While cultural elites and professionals connected with the abortion industry assure women that any emotional problems that might arise after an abortion are, says Planned Parenthood, “about as uncommon as they are after giving birth,” the experience of women says otherwise. For many, grief and guilt creep in. While Planned Parenthood may have assured them that “most women feel relief after an abortion,” many women discover, years later, a buried grief that can only come from an innate sense of morality. They took a life and know it.

Segelstein describes their path toward redemption and healing. Other young women, such as Lila Rose (page 35), have seen abortion for what it is from a tender age and have acted accordingly. But what about those who actively promote abortion? There is hope for them, too: Read Abby Johnson’s story (page 38).

In each of these articles we see an “inception,” as in the movie. That is, an idea—“abortion takes a life”—enters and changes a mind. Salvo presents true ideas, immutable facts about the human condition and our world, which we hope will take hold and change lives. 

—Jim Kushiner

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