“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
I don't know why, but I am always a little surprised at the ability of the press and political talking heads to spin a tragic story so that they can push a particular agenda. I don't think most talking heads even realize how they are being manipulated with the spin; they just repeat the story without any questions. A friend of mine who happens to be part of the media in Orlando posted on Facebook, "WORST MASS SHOOTING IN AMERICAN HISTORY HAPPENED IN ORLANDO!" She wasn't wrong and she was one of many, it is the worst mass shooting, but not the worst mass killing.
This is an important distinction. How you label something often reveals your bias. I don't know who started it, but somewhere along the way these mass killings have been changed to mass shootings. Perhaps this is because this would eliminate other mass killings (which the FBI defines as 4 or more) that used dynamite, cars, knives, fire, fertilizer truck bombs and other methods. Everyone of these methods have been used in mass killings, and there are other methods as well. In fact, the largest killing at a school did not use a gun at all, dynamite was used. Those don't count if you say mass shooting.
Of course the mass shooting label frames the discussion so that the anti-gun agenda can flourish and put everyone else on defense. Honestly, it's brilliant. I am not suggesting that all media types or political talking heads are being intentionally manipulative. Many of them are true believers and some are probably the victims of the manipulation.
What is perhaps ironic about this particular killing that is being proclaimed as the largest or deadliest mass shooting in US history is that there was a mass killing that killed far more people and as reports keep coming out appears to be motivated by the same ideology. If you haven't figured it out, I am talking about 9/11. Two planes crash into the two towers in New York. Between the two towers 3,000 people died. Even if you want to only count one plane it is far more people killed that the club in Orlando. One might say that was terrorism and committed by people who were not US citizens. This is true, but why does that matter? These people had been living in the US for some time and so far, it looks like both killings were motivated by Islam.
Maybe you didn't buy that line of argument. You want to categorize 9/11 so that it doesn't count. Okay, what about the Oklahoma City bombing? Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen, killed 168 people by exploding a fertilizer bomb he built in a truck. Once again, that doesn't count if you say "mass shooting."
It should be mentioned that the Columbine shooting wasn't just a shooting there were several bombs built that simply didn't go off. You can take away the guns, but you can't extinguish evil...only Jesus can do that.
If you don't like guns and you think they should be severely limited or even banned, that is fine, but perhaps the story is bigger than the guns. Islam clearly teaches in its Hadith and the Quran that killing homosexuals or the broader category of infidels is honorable and even commanded. I realize that many Muslims, especially in the western world, have redefined the meaning of such texts, but the commands are there and it should not be surprising that a large number of Muslims take these texts plainly. The result is numerous Islamic terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and numerous others.
Mass killings of every kind are terrible. We should mourn deeply with those in Orlando who lost loved ones. We should fight to prevent such tragedies in the future and we can have honest discussions about the best way to do that, but we should also be aware of the perpetual spin and reject the improper framing of the discussion.
It's true, I am ashamed and I don't need your help. I'm ashamed because I know me; I know my past, I know the thoughts that I have had, I know some of the things I am likely to do in the future. With that said, this post is not going to be a confession of any kind. My shame is sufficient; I don't need your help in my shame, at least not right now. This post isn't about your shame either. My intent is not to shame you, at least not individually. My intent in this post is to question the current state of culture both inside and outside the church in regard to shame.
It has become common to shun shame. No one should ever be shamed about their behavior or their proclivities of any sort. In American culture this is because the "unfettered self" is the god of choice. The individual should be embraced regardless of whether an individual's traits are healthy and beneficial or not, not to mention holy. The unforgivable sin of American culture is the rejection of the unfettered self, and the second is like it, it is the judgment of another person who has embraced their unfettered individuality. To commit the first sin is to practice self-hatred and to commit the second is judgmental and bigoted. The unstated assumption is that the individual is not at fault for who they are and there is no need to fight any temptations or desires because they are innate to the individual. At least that is the prevailing message.
Shame is "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior." The question is whether or not a person should feel shame or perhaps even more pertinent is whether or not a person should cast shame on another person.
When I was a young child and I had done something bad my mom or grandma (the two most likely candidates) would often say to me, "John Pat, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" Perhaps you have heard someone say this before. Were they wrong to cast shame on me? Before we answer that question, perhaps there is another question we should answer.
Why did they use that phrase when they addressed my bad behavior?
In short, they were training my conscience. I had committed some act for which I should have felt shame, but I did not feel enough shame to avoid committing the bad behavior. In essence my mom and grandma were helping me train my conscience. They were helping me develop discernment for what should and should not cause shame. The message being communicated was that I should have been aware of the kind of distress and embarrassment those actions would cause and my own awareness should have caused me to avoid those bad actions. Since I was not aware, they rightly felt the need to inform my conscience so I would have better discernment in the future.
Shame is something a person should feel if they have participated in wrong or foolish behavior. But, is it right for a person to cast shame on another person? The answer is necessarily yes, it is, IF another person has participated in wrong or foolish behavior and is not ashamed when they should be, then someone needs to cast shame on them. There is no doubt that there is a subjective side to this. You might ask, "how much shame should be felt for what kinds of behavior?" There isn't a clean and clear answer regarding the degree of shame a person should feel for certain types of behavior. Perhaps one could say they should have enough shame to avoid such behavior in the future. This helps, but it is still subjective. If a child has bad manners, but is not ashamed because of the bad manners, then someone else (perhaps a parent) must cast sufficient shame on the child to train the child's conscience. On a societal level the parental role is left up to society. If an adult person commits bad behavior it may be up to society to cast the appropriate amount of shame. That doesn't always work out because society doesn't always get it right, but that is societies role nonetheless. When society does not fulfill this role properly a variety of different harms are done. If society fails to cast any shame moral anarchy results. I fear this is what is happening now in America.
What about the church, should the church cast shame?
That depends on what is meant by casting shame. The church should preach and teach what is sin and what is not sin, the church must inform the conscience and move the believer towards maturity in recognizing good and evil (Hebrews 6:14). Furthermore, it should teach how sin is offensive to God and harmful to humanity (Psalm 5:4; Gen. 3-6). If that is casting shame, then that is the role of the church. This does not mean that grace is not emphasized as a response to sin. In fact, to preach morality and judgment without grace is itself a sin, but what good is grace if a person has nothing of which they are ashamed?
Does shame actually work?
Many people claim shame does not work. Most often they will tell an anecdotal story about how shame did not work for them. However, if a person takes sexual activity as an example statistics would show that as shame was removed in the 60's & 70's sexual activity outside of marriage increased significantly. When bad behavior is no longer shamed, that bad behavior increases.
If anecdotal stories are more your thing then consider my own story, and the story of countless others I have talked to over the years. It may be the case that many waited until marriage to have sex because they believed their were significant benefits to doing so, but those same people also considered sex outside of marriage something that was sin and of which they should be ashamed. Shame alone is not the answer, but it is a part of the answer. Overemphasizing shame can lead to legalism but underemphasizing shame can lead a person to believe they don't need grace - and we all need grace.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.