Shame is Good, Kind of

I have only heard of shame in a negative context. I’m going to give it a more positive context here. Shame is a negative word – and it should be. It should highlight something we did wrong. But we should not suppress these negative feelings of guilt and shame. We should learn from them. We have more to learn from guilt and shame than any other emotion. 

Shame is the most important feeling humans can feel. It’s our gut, our spirit, talking to us, and telling us we need to do something different. Shame and guilt are the ultimate motivators for spiritual growth and for avoiding vice. Even for worldly growth, it’s pretty good. For example, if we sit around depressed all day, we feel shame and know we should get up and accomplish something. However, this is more true for non-worldly matters. 

When I say worldly matters, I mean matters that manifest out of this world, not that manifest from God. Things that manifest from God are good: the universe, beauty, virtue. Things that don’t manifest from God are things like status, romantic encounters that are used for pleasure, most forms of entertainment, and anything economical or financial. 

Shame helps stay focused on the Godly things, because we get a shameful feeling in our gut when we act in a way that isn’t Godly. We know we are doing the wrong thing and should be doing something better. There’s no hiding this feeling. If we do the right thing, but we didn’t intend to do the right thing, then we still get the shameful feeling in our gut, and we can work on that. There is so much feedback coming to us that we can choose to use to become better and stronger. All we really need to do is listen. 

Saw a cool quote on reddit in a discussion of the show, The Office: 

Seeing virtuous characters invokes guilt and self awareness which feels bad. On the other hand, making shitty people into heroes feels good and validates personality flaws the viewer refuses to work on. It’s the same reason most villains today are subverted as being bad despite showing traditional virtues.

I taught a lesson on the anti-hero’s journey, which is a modern invention that explains some of the modern protagonists in these overly-edgy mass produced movies. It’s not just a play on the hero’s journey, it’s a complete destruction of the hero’s journey, and a glorification of the values that are counter to the hero. Think Roy and Dwight in The Office: the hard-working farmer and the engaged blue collar worker.

The hero is a man with a goal to reach perfection and bring that perfection to the world. This is difficult. It’s hard to be perfect, and many people don’t want to see others being perfect. These movies wouldn’t be boring, but they wouldn’t be relatable. People wouldn’t be inspired. That’s why there’s surprisingly few movies about Jesus. It just isn’t relatable. It doesn’t let people sulk. It’s a call to action, and people don’t want to act. 

It’s weird that people don’t want to act. I want to. I want to work towards perfection, and I want models that are perfect to work toward. It would be nice to not be alone in this journey, and seeing others, even in media, is a comforting thing. 

That’s not most people, at least according to box office numbers. Most people want to see a corrupted protagonist. Someone who drinks, swears, womanizes, and loses his temper: someone that we can relate to because they aren’t perfect. Not someone we can relate to because we want to be perfect. It’s strange to me that more people don’t have perfection as a goal. If you are perfect, you’re happy. That’s like, perfect, by definition. There’s nowhere else to go, since perfection has been achieved. 

This observation is important. It means perfection is going to be very difficult. It also means that striving for happiness through striving for perfection through other means is impossible. You cannot chase worldly success in order to be perfect, which, if perfection defines happiness, you will not find it. I don’t think perfection defines happiness, but it comes pretty close. You won’t come close to perfection or happiness if you become obsessed with vice and material gain. You may get closer to perfection and happiness if you pursue virtue. I’m not sure I watch enough TV to speak to the villains representing traditional virtues (other than The Office examples), but it makes sense. I suppose Thanos was pretty big on that. That ultimate chad killed off an overpopulated universe then sat and farmed his land. The second part of that is pretty based. 

While I want to promote a happy exploration of shame when it does occur, I don’t want people to feel shame. It’s a very negative emotion. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul says, “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Shame is a feeling that follows shameful ways. It is sinful action and sinful intention that cause shameful feelings. Renounce those sinful thoughts and behaviors, and we will not feel the negative feelings. 

In Psalm 25, David says, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” It is by working with God, by knowing his ways and acting according to his ways, that we avoid feelings of shame. By no other ways can we avoid shame. 

Both David (lead me in your truth) and Paul (we do not use deception… setting forth the truth) make a point of emphasizing truth in regards to shame. When we lie to others or lie to ourselves about sin, we invite shame, which is really a consequence of sin. If we have sinful thoughts or we sin in action, we feel shame. That’s like, the definition of sin: we won’t be happy if we do it, and shame is one of the main reasons we won’t be happy if we sin. This truth the prophets spoke of is deeper than just being honest. It’s the ultimate truth that we must follow if we are to avoid shame. This is because we don’t always know what the ultimate truth is at the moment of sin. When I was in my 20s, I committed sins that I didn’t know were sins. I was honest with women, but I provoked lust. I thought that because I was being honest, there was no crime being committed. I was wrong. Now, years later, I feel shame for my previous actions. I hurt people, and I hurt myself and my relationship with God. If I knew the ultimate truth: more truth than I had access to at the time, I would not have committed those sins. 

That is a really difficult concept to teach to young adults: don’t commit sins that you aren’t even aware are sins. How do you teach that? The concept will not register with them on a logical level. That’s part of the reason I became a teacher: I want to connect with students on multiple levels to teach them morality. I want to be a source of ethos, a source of credibility in my arguments in favor of Biblical morality. It is through credible, logical, and emotional arguments that I might be able to influence students to do the right thing. Logic alone will not work for students at that age, because they haven’t experienced enough to reach the same conclusions about truth. The ultimate truth depends on their future experience or their trust in an authority who has that experience, like me, or God. 

Don’t commit sin. If you do, feel shameful. You deserve it. Repent, and don’t sin next time.

Is there objective morality? Yes.

A girl from youth group asked me during class the other day, “Is there a such thing as objective morality? Why do Christians insist there is?” Or, something like that. 

In short, YES. There is a such thing as objective morality, and we Christians do insist that our way is right. We believe our way will create the most happiness for the most people. Now, I’ll share the long version. It’s not just Christianity. While science will always be at odds with God, I think it would move a lot faster if they started assuming Christian ideas were correct, instead of starting over from nothing. 

I study happiness. Meaning, I want to be happy, and I think about what that means, a lot. That led me to study psychology and try many things, for the sake of, like, science and happiness. Lots of my actions, especially early on, were hedonistic. Happiness isn’t’ hedonism. Not exactly. 

What is hedonism? 

Hedonism is maximizing good feelings and minimizing bad feelings. While this sounds pretty great, I think – it ignores morals, and therefore is an inefficient way to think about happiness. Ignoring “morals” is circular in reasoning. With hedonistic action we are led back to morality, what makes us not feel bad inside. 

What is morality? An online dictionary says: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Who cares about morality, if all we really care about is happiness? I do. There’s also societal – political implications. Institutions, like governments and churches, retain order, so we can’t harm others. 

Within us, there are also considerations of order. Our values allow us to make decisions with confidence and to not feel bad when we act. Without having these values in place, we are lost. We are in chaos. It’s these values that give us solid ground to stand on. 

Here’s where we get to the objectivity of values. It’s still going to be objective, but it’s tough because objectivity requires finding out what makes, and this is important, a mature person feel good or bad. 

The issue with sin is that an immature person can sin and not feel the consequences until later in life. That happened to me. I didn’t know I was sinning, back then. Now I have to pay for that. Other people are similar. Prisons aren’t full of old people that are full of hate. It’s mostly young people are full of hate. People come to a maturity and settle down from their violent ways. 

What is morality without God? 

Without God, morality is just important. We feel bad when we lack the courage to act. As we mature, we feel bad when we are dishonest. As we mature further, we feel bad when we lead others to want more – through advertising or sex. This is where chastity becomes a virtue. As we mature even further, we feel bad when we aren’t doing the right thing. This is what honor is. We bring honor to ourselves and, as Christians, to God. 

Pericles, general and speaker in ancient Athens, said, “It is only the love of honor that never grows old; and honor it is, not gain, as some would have it, that rejoices the heart of age and helplessness.” No need to wait for old age to start practicing and enjoying this glory.

Why God? And why Christianity? 

Several reasons – there’s the theological virtues. Faith, hope, charity. These are things that make us feel good. Faith that we’re doing the right thing by God. Hope in better things to come. Charity – looking to do good for others and not just our selfish efforts. It’s wanting others to be happy, not just stopping at ourselves. 

Christianity is more beautiful than coming up with virtues on our own. We can write an academic paper linking our actions to our hormones like dopamine and serotonin and link that to our feelings. That paper would be a lot less fun to read than the poetry in Psalms or Ecclesiastes or Matthew. The Bible is more beautiful than the academic writing, even though it contains the wisdom only the most courageous academics are willing to address, and it was written by people 2000 years ago who were relative nobodies. It wasn’t Ovid or Virgil or other famous authors of the era – it was authored by fishermen and accountants. Now, I think all great artists have God-inspired creativity, but it’s really impressive that these nobodies wrote what became the Bible. That’s part of what made me Christian – the most wise writing, more than 2000 years before academia can catch up. 

Then there’s the communal aspect of Christianity. We have a community of people with similar values, or at least exploring and considering similar values. We all believe in Jesus and look to him as a source of goodness. 

All this is really about happiness, and whether it varies from person to person. Does it? 

I think happiness is a complex equation. It’s self esteem plus good feelings plus purpose plus not wanting things. Self esteem is the achievement of our own goals – not those of others. Good feelings come from pleasure, but also, like the hedonist discussion, from doing the right things and not doing the wrong things. Having direction, or purpose, in our lives can go with self-esteem. It’s important that we’re working towards something. Last, not wanting things. Living virtuously is living to not want things. This is what the Beatitudes are all about. 

All of these are satisfied by morality. Morality gives us something to work toward. It gives us good feelings. It gives us a goal to set – not one from a corporation, but something to work toward and accomplish over time. This also gives us direction – to do the right thing, and to follow our gut to determine where that will lead us. We practice virtue, not wanting things, and in doing so we transcend above worldly interests to those that are more spiritual and Godly. 

A secular student would view God as an ideal – an image of perfection made up of the previous great things. Eternal happiness, not reliant on other people or things. Jesus is our example of that, and the Bible, God’s word, is our “how to.” 

The Christian student believes in the truth of these as well as heavenly reward. It’s more fun that way. I think. 

People say YOLO, usually in the context of go out and have fun. I agree that we only have one life on Earth, but my advice is to, because we only live once, find wisdom fast. There’s no time to waste if we’re going to avoid the suffering and problems so many people face. Trying to have more fun is the way most people try to escape problems, but yet most people have these problems. Should we listen to them, who are trapped in a cycle of repeating their mistakes?