Jump directly to the content

Jun 23 2014
Certain shame can push us to repentance and our God of grace.

In the age of of cyber-bullying, we see deplorable instances of public shaming to rival Hester Prynne's scarlet letter. Yet, simultaneously, we are in the midst of what psychotherapist Joseph Burgo calls an "anti-shame zeitgeist." Just as it's become common to deride all who disagree with us with the epithet "haters," it's now popular to label those with any deeply held moral conviction as "shamers."

The en vogue phrase "slut-shaming," which is sometimes used to rightly discourage victim-blaming, is often wielded as a bludgeon to silence anyone who questions a woman's sexual choices. I first heard the phrase less than a year ago, when bloggers at New Wave Feminists were chastised as "slut-shamers" for their opposition to abortion.

Increasingly, we dismiss experiencing shame for any reason as a bad thing, something we shouldn't feel, something that's probably someone else's fault. From pop stars to college presidents, Burgo contends, the cultural voice is united: shame is the enemy, a "uniquely destructive force… to be resisted." Instead, we are encouraged toward pride and radical self-acceptance. But understanding shame in solely negative terms is reductionist and overly simplistic.

If we seek to smother any ember of shame or stamp out moral disagreement, will we douse our ability to experience true moral conviction and culpability? Perhaps at times, our experiences of shame are a natural, needed (if not inevitable) response to the reality of sin.

We need to allow our discussion of shame to be as complex and variegated as that of other emotions like anger, grief, or guilt. Some forms of shame are indeed distorted and pernicious. We experience false shame from manufactured standards of beauty and perfectionism or from being marginalized or abused by those in power. While false shame is routinely used to sell tooth-whitening products or shout down opponents on Twitter, it can be profoundly damaging and deeply destructive. I want to be clear: misplaced shame can be very, very hurtful. We need to hear cultural critiques that give voice to that reality. And we Christians need to be the first to admit that religious communities have misused shame as a weapon to control, judge, and silence people.

But I'd like to suggest that there is another kind of shame, akin to pain in our bodies, a natural indicator, a check engine light that signals that something is spiritually awry. This kind of shame—let's call it "ontological shame"—is inescapably part of what it means be human in a fallen world, as unavoidable as stomach aches, sadness, and boredom. And like physical pain, ignoring it or ceasing to experience it altogether poses a danger.

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Comments

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

orSubscribeor
More from Her.menutics
After Childhood Abuse, How Can I Trust Others with My Kids?

After Childhood Abuse, How Can I Trust Others with My Kids?

I equip my daughters to protect themselves and their bodies in ways I didn’t learn to.
Too Many Transitions Can Traumatize Our Kids

Too Many Transitions Can Traumatize Our Kids

I know from experience what happens when children face moving, divorce, or other stressful life change—and how we can help them.
The 5 Truths Stay-at-Home and Working Moms Can Agree On

The 5 Truths Stay-at-Home and Working Moms Can Agree On

After interviewing 120 women, I saw glimmers of a truce in the Mommy Wars.
The Truth About Living with an Invisible Illness

The Truth About Living with an Invisible Illness

God sees me and my pain even when others cannot.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

The Truth About Living with an Invisible Illness

God sees me and my pain even when others cannot.

Follow Us

Twitter

  • RT @mfarrellgarcia: After Childhood Abuse, How Can I Trust Others with My Kids? https://t.co/yVTZOmLKNc via @CT_Women
  • Researcher @hgscott talks about the widespread effects of Internet porn https://t.co/OkRrIc78rG
  • Protecting our kids and loving our neighbors @JustinHolcomb @drmoore @mfarrellgarcia https://t.co/708pIr3j79
  • RT @denverseminary: Super proud of Katie Jo, a current student, sharing about living with w/ an autoimmune disease over on @CTmagazine htt2026
  • How do we keep our kids safe, while still living in community with friends and neighbors? https://t.co/708pIr3j79


What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies

Christianity Today
No Longer Unashamed