Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Guilt vs. Shame

Occasionally a topic crops up where religion and politics cross in such a way that only someone like myself with my dual topic blog can address. Guilt and shame is one such topic. It's world view issue. It's a religious issue. And it is a political issue.

In the west, we have a guilt culture. What we mean by this is that things are right or wrong. It doesn't matter if you can get away with something. It doesn't matter if no one knows. We are accountable to an objective standard of right and wrong. Why does the west look at the world this way? This is the influence of Judeo-Christian religion. God's law is objective and plays no favorites. King David is guilty of murder and adultery the same as anyone else who does these things. It does not matter if the world knows or not. We ourselves know in our hearts and God knows. In fact, while we can lie to ourselves, we cannot lie to God. He knows our hearts and our actions better than we ourselves do.

In much of the rest of world society operates as a shame culture. Shame is about the public face. It doesn't matter if you are a pedophile so long as you don't get caught. There is no sense of right and wrong at all. Only that which promotes honor before the world and that which causes shame before the world. Further, shame cultures tend to clannish. By this we mean that what I do affects the entire group.

In a guilt culture, the remedy is repentance and forgiveness. Thus, each person must recognize their sins, confess them to God, or in some cases to the offended parties, and receive forgiveness. It is the responsibility of each individual. In a shame culture, there is no repentance. You simply cut out that which causes shame. Thus if a girl is raped, her family might kill her to remove the shame. This girl from Ohio that converted to Christianity has a very real fear born from the fact that Islamic society is a shame culture. Converting from Islam is a great shame for her family and the broader Muslim society. In some circles it is indeed open season on this girl. Her life is indeed in great danger, even in Florida.

So now, we have a court case over a religious conversion being driven by the differences between a guilt and a shame culture. Let's hope the judges have the wisdom to understand these differences and thus protect this girl.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful and wise post.



Walt's World of Religion and Politics said...

Thanks. I see you've done some blogging on the ELCA situation. We will have some tumalteuous years ahead for all of American Lutheranism. While many in my own church body, the LCMS, see the error of the ELCA, few get it. Many of our own leader don't understand how they are replacing the WORD with something else. In our case it's usually missions trumps all. So we'd all best have the weather canvas out on the masts.