What's worse: Catholic guilt or Jewish guilt?
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What's worse: Catholic guilt or Jewish guilt?

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Catholics are famous for guilt—they're born with original sin, taught that "impure thoughts" are shameful and wrong, and constantly told, "Christ died for your sins." Even lapsed Catholics say they can't escape the inner voice that says they're sinful and unworthy. But Jewish guilt is no joke either. Many Jewish people feel they can never do enough, live up to family expectations, or properly fulfill their obligations to their community. What's worse, Catholic or Jewish guilt? 😔

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The concept of original sin looms large in the psyche of many Catholics.

Can't get too far into a Catholic-oriented discussion without talking Original Sin. This is the idea that we're all born deep in the red, sinfully speaking, and no matter how many good deeds we perform on Earth, we're never getting back in the black. (Thanks a lot, Adam and Eve!)

Many Catholics feel they came into the world dirty. No matter how hard they try, they cannot wash their souls clean. 

Original sin is not a committed sin, but rather a contracted sin. Unlike all other sins, which are acts of one’s own personal sin, it is a state of the soul, representing the fallen nature that was handed on to us by Adam who fell into death upon committing the original sin.

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Sin not only has personal consequences on one’s own soul, but collective consequences that damage all souls. The Original Sin forever changed humanity by allowing sin to enter the world. Sin is rooted in our preference for ourselves over God.

The Church's teachings on human sexuality leave a mark on many Catholics.

Catholic doctrine, as laid out in spiritual statutes governing human conduct, featured an exhaustive list of enumerated offenses.

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Sex was dirty. Sex was shameful. Sex was unnatural. Thinking about it was wrong. Premeditation itself was a sin, and so was flirting. Sex had one purpose: procreation, the joyless act of breeding. 

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I can’t tell you how many Catholics I know who are trying to work through the consequences of those sexual strictures. They wonder if there are still people doing time in purgatory because of the misdemeanor sins of masturbation or premarital sex. Life was all don’ts and dark thoughts.

Catholics talk a lot about an inner voice that trails them—telling them they are dirty, sinful, and worthless.

But Jews say the pressure to do right by their family is an endless, constant guilt trip. Do Catholics have apps designed specifically to make them feel terrible for not calling their grandmothers? The app, titled "Would It Kill You To Call?" epitomizes for many the sense that they can just never do enough.

Do you, too, always forget to call your bubbe? Do you find yourself ridden with intense guilt when your bubbe calls you instead, stating in the flat tone reserved for the passive-aggressiveness only good, Jewish grandmothers can muster that she was awaiting news from you to no avail?

Judaic historians say Jewish culture's emphasis on the importance of community, success, and loyalty to the tribe was based on survival in a hostile, anti-Semitic world. Historically, if Jews couldn't rely on one other or their families, their very existence was in jeopardy. No wonder many modern Jews still feel the pressure to push, excel, and succeed at all costs, while still calling their mothers regularly.

Due to years of conditioning from my mother, father, other relatives, childhood friends, society as a whole, Holocaust movies, and the works of Shalom Alechem (but mostly my mother), I kind of have to assume that a) anything I do represents the entire worldwide Jewish community, and b) anything I can do might result in the total obliteration of the Jewish people, so c) feel really badly about everything before I even do anything.

Pop-culture Jewish mother jokes aside, we live in a post-Holocaust world, and many anthropologists and social scientists argue the Jewish people as a whole are vulnerable to survivor guilt, which only increases the pressure to do right by one's family and one's community. 

"Do uniquely Jewish experiences from the past — like the pogroms our great-grandparents escaped — affect the way we behave today? I think that’s a valid question,” Szyf says.

Some Jews say their guilt feels like never being able to do enough.

Both iterations of guilt are described as intractable and crippling—but they do provide fodder for some great comedy and a healthy source of income for many therapists.

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