Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Death of Shame

Shame is normally not considered a good thing, but I do think there is a good kind of shame.  No, I'm not talking about the shame one feels who was sexually or physically or emotionally abused.  And I'm not talking about the kinds of neurotic shame and self-condemnation that people feel when they don't feel "good enough."  I'm talking about the kind of shame that is felt when one acts in a way that is unbecoming of themselves.  I'm talking about the kind of shame that rests upon the idea that we have value, that we are more than animals, and therefore that we should want to honor ourselves, our Maker, and others, by presenting ourselves to the world in a way that respects and illuminates that value.

See, this shame is different.  With this shame, the obverse side is self-respect and respect for others.  It comes out of something good.  Even in its purely secular form which pays no respect to God whatsoever, this kind of shame tells us, "Come on.  Have some dignity.  You are more than that."  While there is a sense in which we must all admit that, "No, I'm not more than that.  I'm a sinner", this has to do much less with pride and much more with common courtesy toward others and a desire to represent ourselves as one possessing common human dignity.  We all know intuitively, whether we are God-fearing Christians or purely naturalistic atheists, that mankind possesses a nobility above that of the animals.

What I fear is that this kind of shame is dying in our culture.  More traditional cultures possess an implicit social doctrine of shame.  Some of these cultures take this way too far, as we have seen in cases where the parents murder their young-adult children who have "shamed" their family by things such as premarital sex or conceiving a child out of wedlock.  But in our modern, American culture, it seems there is a burning, desperate desire to throw away all of the old.  There is a disdain for the old, for the traditional, as though the traditional was a chain around our necks, and now we are more enlightened and "liberated" from these oppressive ideas.  The problem is that in the wake of this revolution, this "liberation", good shame is being trampled under foot. 

It is being silenced, numbed out like a dulled conscience.  In the name of personal freedom, the freedom to do whatever we please, say whatever we please, look and act however we please, we have thumbed our nose at the traditional at the price of our dignity.  The motto of today, in its typical crassness, is, "I'm going to do and say whatever I want, and F@#$ you if you don't like it."  Elegance is gone.  Dignity is gone.  What is left is a defensive shell that creates the illusion of an elevated self while pouring disdain on anyone that would seek to temper our cosmic rebel tantrum.  What is left, what is hailed as god, is me and my desires, and @#K you if you don't like them.

But has it dawned on us that if we really didn't care about what others thought of us, we wouldn't have to say it (and we certainly wouldn't have to say it with such profanity and vitriol)?  Perhaps it is a lie we are merely trying to convince ourselves of as a way of coping in a society that no longer values what it ought to?  But we do care.  We were built to care about connection with others, to want love and acceptane.  Yet we try to appear strong and kill those desires, for our culture tells us that caring about connection when people can hurt you and caring about reputation when people can so easily judge you is just weakness.  And so, we respond by dehumanizing ourselves.  Kill the longings which make us human.  And kill the shame that makes us feel badly for how severely we assault our own dignity and how poorly we represent our nobility as God's image bearers in our quest to be "free" kings of our own private little ant hills.

Kill our longings.  Kill objective meaning and truth.  Kill good shame by calling it a hindrance, an arcane relic for the unenlightened.  Meanwhile, we make ourselves miserable fools with no sense of meaning and purpose other than our futile attempts to fill up the darkness and kid ourselves into believing that we don't care.

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