Monday, May 24, 2010


I have been thinking about shame the last few days. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject and I am just going to get them all out sort of randomly, but hopefully coherently.

Shame is so prevalent in Christianity. I was thinking about the origins and it really comes down to the belief that people need to feel bad enough about themselves that they realize they need a Savior. The belief goes that once they realize that they are inherently evil, the vile scum of the earth, then they will fall down and confess their sins and get saved. Which, under the same belief system, supposedly "washes all your sins away," which would logically follow that it would wash away the shame for the sins too, and yet Christians are probably the most shame filled group of people I have ever met. Why is that?

I should clarify what I mean by "shame" and how that is different from guilt. Guilt is our natural reaction to doing something wrong. And by wrong, I don't mean developmentally appropriate childish behavior, mistakes or having a different opinion than your parents. I mean, in it`s simplest terms, "hurting someone." It is totally natural and healthy to feel guilt if we hurt someone. That feeling is like a guide, showing us the way towards making amends. I would even say it's an extension of love, because if we love someone, we care if they are hurt. If we caused it, we feel guilt. Guilt is an internal process, between us and the Holy Spirit.

Shame on the other hand is externally imposed and is used to control another person`s behavior. It is yet another chapter of the Bible of Behaviorism: Christian Child Rearing Practices by B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. When a parent shames a child they are essentially saying, "If I can make you feel bad enough, you will stop that behavior, thereby making parenting you more convenient for me and making me look better to those around us." Things like "don't act like a baby," "how could you do something so stupid," and "can't you do better than that?" cut to a child's heart, but do work in the short run for changing or stopping behavior.

For Christians, it is too often one of the primary tools for making kids (and adults) realize that they are sinful and need a savior. I was just told a story about a mom who went trick or treating with her kids and her six year old was given a tract. The tract went into great detail about how Jesus suffered and died for her sins, and the mom was concerned that some kids would believe that doing normal childish things were deserving of not only a man's death, but the death of God himself. I don't know exactly what the tract she saw said, but I remember handing out those tracts myself at Halloween when I was around 10-12. Some of them were pretty intense and scary!

Those tracts and the shaming parenting methods are designed to show kids just how bad they are, out of the belief that we are all inherently bad, in order to get them saved. And it works! Lots of people are saved out of fear of hell. Fear is a great motivator, but not a good relationship builder. I know people who have "gotten saved" multiple times out of fear that they somehow messed up the first time. I did that a few times myself as a kid, but never had a real relationship with Yeshua until I started dropping the shame.

I am not saying not to tell kids about sin, but I think the definition of sin needs to be challenged as well. Torah is God's directions for how to live and love and serve. It is "the way" and to deviate from that way is to be like an arrow missing it's mark. We all miss the mark every day, and therefore all feel some level of natural guilt. Even those who know nothing intellectually about how God wants us to live, have Torah (love) written on their hearts, and feel guilt when they have missed the mark and not acted as loving as they could have.

Shame does nothing but cloud up those natural feelings. It turns something very loving, into something very self centered. Shame makes a person feel worthless, hopeless and scared. Fear drives people to be people pleasers, always trying to prove that they can be good and that they are worth something. Shame makes people feel like if only they can follow a certain set of rules well enough, *then* God will love them.

YHVH wants a relationship with us based in love, not fearful groveling. Yeshua provides a way for us to have that relationship and *then* out of love, we can strive live out loving actions.

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