'Catholic guilt,' 'Jewish guilt,' 'Mormon guilt' not just a joke, it's essential

Guilt gets a bad rap as a relentless joke: Catholic guilt. Jewish guilt. Mormon guilt. Even Lutherans have guilt, or, some say, guilt envy. We dub our trivial naughtiness "guilty pleasures" to put a little frosting on those thorns of conscience.

But as Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement nears (it begins at sunset Friday), experts say guilt is not passé, it's essential — and probably inescapable.

"Guilt has been with us as long as humans have psyches, "but we still don't know definitively how it works in the human psyche or the best way to deal with it," says Temple University psychology professor Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association.

Even so, Farley, faith writers and clergy say the best response to guilt is to face up, embrace it — then let it go.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles offers a defense of guilt.

Facing up to the hurt we cause others with cruel speech or callous acts, and to our myriad failures to meet the marks God sets for living a true and good life, "makes forgiveness meaningful, not merely a catchphrase," Wolpe says.

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