Tim Challies reflecting on a book by Diana West called The Death of the Grown-up was struck by the chapter that dealt with the loss of shame. Challies notes that shame can be positive and negative. In it’s positive form it is brought about by guilt or realizing our inadequacy. Shame can have positive effect when it’s cause and cure is rooted in the Gospel, as the Apostle Paul writes:
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter, (2 Cornithians 7:8-11, ESV).
When we realize that our shame is due to sin and that brings about repentance that is a good thing. Where shame is negative is when we still struggle with it after we repent, after we apply the Gospel cure to the cause of our shame. That isn’t from God.
Society, however, wants to do away with shame all together. That will be disastrous. Challies cites West tracing the decline of shame to the death of the notion of obscenity which is most poignant in the arts.
“By the time the courts, in effect, declared obscenity was dead, they had killed something vital to a healthy society: the faculty of judgment that attempts to distinguish between what is obscene and what is not obscene—the avowedly ‘grown-up’ sensibility of an outmoded authority figure who had long relied on a proven hierarchy of taste and knowledge until it was quite suddenly leveled. From this leveling came another casualty: society’s capacity, society’s willingness, to make even basic distinctions between trash and art.
Once the law balked at recognizing obscenity, the populace began to doubt the very basis for shame. With no legal, institutional support for consensus, little wonder the bottom fell out from under morality.” As obscenity became a thing of the past, so too did it’s necessary consequence: shame. Shame is increasingly missing from our culture. We do things, watch things, enjoy things, participate in things that at any other time and in any other place would be considered shameful. Politicians show little remorse, little shame, when their dirty sexual deeds are exposed. Parents cavort with children, acting like children. “Shamelessness sheds light on why it is that American matrons are more likely to host sex-toy parties than Tupperware parties; why the Major Leagues showcase Viagra ads at home plate; why a presidential fund-raiser for GOP candidates includes a well-endowing—that is, contributing—porn star and pornographer; and why at grocery store checkouts shoppers can check out “hot sex tips” along with a loaf of bread. We have all learned—or at least we have all been taught—that the mental blush is superseded by the genital tingle.”
When consider this is it no wonder we have kids sexting, increasing amounts of pornography, and junior high kids giving each other oral sex after school? We shouldn’t be surprised. West goes on to say…
“By the twenty-first century, shame and embarrassment have zero association with sexuality—or so we are endlessly, numbingly instructed—and, correspondingly, an infantile lack of behavioral restraint may be observed in everything from freak dancing, to ‘super-size’ eating, to McMansion-building. Without the concept of obscenity, without reason for shame, the ‘self’ in self-control sees no greater, larger, socially significant point in holding back.”
Do we have any shame? Evidently not.