A confession is a statement – made by a person or by a group of persons – acknowledging some personal fact that the person (or the group) would ostensibly prefer to keep hidden. The term presumes that the speaker is providing information that he believes the other party is not already aware of, and is frequently associated with an admission of a moral or legal wrong:
In one sense it is the acknowledgment of having done something wrong, whether on purpose or not. Thus confessional texts usually provide information of a private nature previously unavailable. What a sinner tells a priest in the confessional, the documents criminals sign acknowledging what they have done, an autobiography in which the author acknowledges mistakes, and so on, are all examples of confessional texts.
Not all confessions reveal wrongdoing, however. For example, a confession of love is often considered positive both by the confessor and by the recipient of the confession, and is a common theme in literature. With respect to confessions of wrongdoing, there are several specific kinds of confessions that have significance beyond the social. A legal confession involves an admission of some wrongdoing that has legal consequence, while the concept of confession in religion varies widely across various belief systems, and is usually more akin to a ritual by which the person acknowledges thoughts or actions considered sinful or morally wrong within the confines of the confessor's religion. In some religions, confession takes the form of an oral communication to another person. Socially, however, the term may refer to admissions that are neither legally nor religiously significant.
Confession often benefits the confessant. Paul Wilkes characterizes confession as "a pillar of mental health" because of its ability to relieve anxieties associated with keeping secrets. Confessants are more likely to confess when the expected benefits outweigh the marginal costs (when the benefit of the offense to them is high, the cost to the victim is low, and the probability of information leakage is high). People may undertake social confessions in order to relieve feelings of guilt or to seek forgiveness from a wronged party, but such confessions may also serve to create social bonds between the confessant and the confessor, and may prompt the listener to reply with confessions of their own. A person may therefore confess wrongdoing to another person as a means of creating such a social bond, or of extracting reciprocal information from the other person. A confession may be made in a self-aggrandizing manner, as a way for the confessant to claim credit for a misdeed for the purpose of eliciting a reaction to that claim.
In law, there is an exception to the hearsay rule that allows testimony concerning someone else's confession to be admitted if the statement had a great enough tendency "to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability". The theory is that a reasonable person would not make such a false confession. In U.S. law, a confession must be voluntary in order to be admissible.
Confession is also a pillar of mental health, for confession is about self-examination. It demands something for which there is no substitute: that we be honest with ourselves.
[...] there is no evidence, either in the available documents or in Wang Hongwen's shallow personality, to suggest he arrived at his confession through a searching self-examination in the manner of Nikolai Bukharin's elaborately conceived philosophical confession presented in his Stalin-era show trial.
During a 'study' session, the person receiving criticism usually makes a substantial verbal response of some sort. [...] In contrast, objects of a struggle session are typically expected to bow their heads contritely, bend forward at the waist, and succinctly confess their guilt [ren zui]. [...] The required parts of the struggle session ritual include the stage or platform where the bowed objects of the strugle stand contritely next to gesticulating and slogan-shouting cadres or other leaders, along with the audience seated nearby, who parrot the slogans in a shouted refrain. For example, Song Shan remarks that all seventy-six times she was subjected to a struggle session in front of thousands of people, the format of the event was exactly the same.
[...] through self-criticism, social control over individual behavior or conduct operates by virtue of the social origin and basis of such criticism. That is to say, self-criticism is essentially social criticism, and behavior controlled by self-criticism is essentiall behavior controlled socially.
Confession also occurs outside religious institutions. Within political systems that actively discourage religion, such as offshoots of Marxism, forms of confession or self-criticism are fostered.
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