If we step over the line of God’s Law, He (in His mercy) allows three consequences into our lives: guilt, shame, and fear. They each have a purpose; first I'll write about shame. I am fascinated by the casual comment that closes chapter two of Genesis. “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” With this comment, Moses drops a pin marker in pre-fall paradise and then moves into the story of sin in chapter three. Here we see disgrace for the first time (v. 7), and they weren’t glorying in it either (Philippians 3:19).
When the flush of forbidden excitement faded into monochrome reality, Adam & Eve first saw themselves in the cold light of conviction. They were not just naked; they were now the raw edge of genetic vulnerability. And they were... ashamed. It was a flashing “check heart” light on the dashboard of their tender conscience.
Six thousand years later (give or take a week), we seem to have entered a different time in history. Shame is no longer an approved tool in society's toolbox. And it’s actually a shame. Shame can keep people from making many dumb decisions.
The self-esteem movement of the 1960’s has given birth to a world without concern for behavior or excellence. I really like a quote I heard recently: “They keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity.” For instance, an international math test found that although American students ranked low in skills, they were at the top of the world when it came to believing that they were good at math. As David McCullough said last year in his Wellesley Massachusetts High School commencement speech, “Today’s B was yesterday’s C.”
In Western culture, the self-esteem movement has essentially become the anti-shaming movement, and now wants us to feel good about everything. But it isn’t good to feel good about bad things, is it? We tend to call that psychopathic behaviour.
Here’s another example of anti-shame. Last year, a Children’s Hospital in Georgia started a campaign to reduce childhood obesity. They released several nice videos and put up numerous billboards with real-life overweight children talking about the real-life problems that obesity causes.The videos (watch them on YouTube) are presented with neither judgment nor excessive dramatization. But, now there is a campaign to have the Children’s Hospital take down these billboards! The belief is that these billboards bring shame to children who are obese. I don’t agree that these apropos billboards are making kids ashamed, but if they are it could become a good thing (40% of children in Georgia are overweight). Excess fat endangering our life should make us ashamed. It should be noted that excess fat covering their bodies also makes them ill, and it’s much easier to die of diabetes or heart disease than of shame.
Anyone sensible can see that the Georgia Children's Health Alliance wasn’t bringing shame to children; they simply acknowledged the fact that children were already feeling ashamed and that one of the many side effects of obesity is that our (get ready for it) self-esteem takes a dive. And we can’t have that.
Anti-shame has (as intended) produced a steady stream of shamelessness. Bad grades? No shame. Bad behavior? Don’t be ashamed. Immorality? No shame. No restraints, and no humility.
Thus today we have people bursting out of closets all over the place. In place of the ever popular No Fear™ Tee-shirts, we have their seamy cousin–No Shame. And I think that’s a shame.
It may come as a shock to you, but there was once a time when personal failures, deviant desires, and perverse taste were accompanied by shame and embarrassment, or at least by silence. Today these deviations are a ticket to have your own reality show, and/or maybe a book deal.
What then is the purpose of shame? If there’s one thing I’ve learned it is that shame can play a wonderful role in a civilized society. Shame helps keeps us from behaving badly (or should). To be immune to the disapproval of loved ones would hack a great piece out of what it is to love. The absence of shame is often seen around criminal and immoral activity. The opposite of shame is not goodness; the opposite of shame is shamelessness and the connotation there is not pretty. Bring back shame. It should be a national sport. A good dose of healthy shame could fix a great many ills.
What about the Bible? The Bible has much to say about shame. It defines a healthy kind and a bad kind. One bad kind occurs when others intentionally embarrass us. That’s not fun, is it? In this category I will also put false shame, when the Enemy tries to discourage & damage our relationship with God. False shame is a pipeline for negative thoughts. Perhaps we’ll talk about that kind in another article.
We receive the right kind of shame when we transgress God’s Law, as did Adam & Eve. This shame is meant to bring us to repentance. Shame, therefore, is appropriate. But it need not be permanent, for as Paul tells us in Romans, where there is hope we are not ashamed, and through Christ we are provided hope (Romans 5:5). You and I need Jesus to take our burdens and our shame away. He is willing, if we are.
Therefore I see the current anti-shame culture that surrounds us as a mortal enemy of repentance. Anti-shame is not interested in surrendering our burdens to Jesus; it just denies that sin and guilt exist at all. It has a precedent in the Bible, and the results can be devastating.
“The LORD is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, but the unjust knows no shame” (Zephaniah 3:5). This verse reveals the contrast between God’s goodness (which leads us to repentance) and a conscience seared. It’s a type of anti-shame, and here’s an even better verse: “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Now we have a people who are continuing to do wrong and receiving worldly accolades for their shameful ways. In this kind of world, carnality is king. If this looks familiar to you, that is because it is describing our current world condition. Have mercy on us, O Lord.
I close this article with two scriptural causes for the contemporary quagmire of anti-shame.
- Spiritual drunkenness. Just as alcohol causes people to lose shame, the wine of Babylon is removing the inhibitions of Earth’s inhabitants (Jeremiah 51:7; Rev. 14:8).
- Fighting reality. Calling good good and evil evil cultivates the right kind of shame. Calling evil good and good evil is the combustion engine of anti-shame (Isaiah 5:20) and pride is its deep-cycle battery.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. — Jeremiah 6:15-16