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Shame and Shaming

By Slave2Six ~

Whether you read Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, Martin Luther, John Calvin or any other notable voice from either Orthodox or Protestant Christianity, one of the principal aspects that you will find is moral outrage at the behavior of those outside the faith.

You will read any number of prognostications against those who are "shameful" or even accusations that people have lost their ability to feel shame at all.

I am in agreement with the idea that "Shame is fear arising from the anticipation of blame" (John of Damascus) and "he who does not escape notice is wont to abstain from sins, on account of the shame of reproof" (Justin Martyr).

Said another way, one whose actions are either known or likely to become known are far more likely to behave well than those who have no one to help them stay on a good path. I would even argue that shame can be a good thing, in a proper context.

But to the Christian, shame is simply evidence of man's separation from god:

But when, by counsel of the serpent, he departed from the consideration of God, and began to regard himself, then they not only fell to bodily lust, but knew that they were naked, and knowing, were ashamed. (Athanasius, "Against the Heathen")

Shame is one of the pillars of Christian doctrine. It is an obsession that one cannot escape if one is to be within the Christian faith.

There are three aspects of Christianity that relate to shame that I think are worth noting.

This Time It's Personal

Throughout ancient history and notably in the Old Testament, shame and guilt were applied to individuals who were sick or outcasts or who were actively breaking the moral code of conduct. This sense of shame was inflicted on individuals by the community at large.

But shame was also a national issue. When god got involved, it was to punish the nation by sending them into exile or dishing out plagues and other natural disasters.

With the exception of the book of Revelation (whose author is not John the Disciple but some other guy who we know nothing about), shame in the Christian context is entirely personal. Rather than calling nations to repentance, the Christian god calls holds individuals responsible for their "shame" and not the community at large.

The first example we see of this is found in Acts chapter 5. Jesus, having been freshly resurrected and ascended into heaven has left the Apostles to start the church. Two of its congregation sold their house and gave some of the proceeds to the church but claimed that they had given all of the proceeds. For this lie, god killed them both.

Since when is lying is a capital crime? Ask any Christian and see if you can get a satisfactory explanation for that.

Such an act by god only makes sense in light of...

Thought Crimes

In the Old Testament, a person could be punished for actually doing something that was against the moral law. Christianity introduced thought crimes:

You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court. ' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You fool, ' shall be guilty before the supreme court...

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart...

In the Old Testament, the worst that god could do was kill you, and that was the end of it.

Christianity introduced eternal damnation to accompany thought crimes:

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell...

Damn! Seriously? Thanks a lot Jesus.

As a Christian, why wouldn't you be constantly introspective and on the lookout for anything that might be considered shameful? Conservative Christians all the way back to the Early Church Fathers went as far as to include fashion crimes in addition to any number of cultural crimes.

If wearing the wrong fashion or thinking the wrong thoughts put one in peril of hell, of course you are going to be careful to avoid those things. But isn't the natural next step to adopt a state of superiority and looking down on those who dress and behave in ways that Christians call "shameful"?

Invariably, this leads to...


Shaming is an act of causing other people to feel shame. And for what? Well, take our pick.

I grew up in a denomination that actively shamed dancing, movies, secular music, dressing "immodestly" and on and on. Of course, they also shamed other Christians, particularly those horrible idol-worshipping Catholics.

This is the darkness that is Christianity. This darkness is not just found among evangelical and politically minded Christians either.

There is a certain mindset that one cannot avoid after engaging in self-flagellation of constant introspection, constantly asking forgiveness, and being grateful that god is so good that he would send Jesus to be the propitiation for their sins. They cannot help but view the world through the god-awful premise:

You were born defective and you're going to Hell, but god loved you so much he became a human, never sinned, and allowed himself to be murdered thus becoming the perfect virgin human sacrifice to appease himself so that you don't have to go to Hell.

The premise is that you are shameful by default.

The real problem with shaming people for things that are, frankly, not shameful at all is that no matter how hard you try you can't do it without first condemning.

Natural Outcomes

Even the nicest of Christians cannot comprehend how horrible their "loving" actions toward those outside the faith actually are.

Even the nicest of Christians cannot comprehend how horrible their "loving" actions toward those outside the faith actually are. When I was a Christian, I was once approached by a college classmate who told me that he was gay. This was in the late 80s and it was extraordinarily brave of him to "come out" like that. I said, "OK" and that was really all the reaction I had. He said, "I know you're a Christian and I wanted to know how you'd respond."

I wish now that I had left it at "OK." But I continued:

Jesus hung out with sinners and outcasts so I don't see what business of mine it is to judge you.

Without even suspecting it, I had already condemned him, assigned him a place among "the sinners" and implied that I was not ("thanks be to god…").

It sounds so innocuous but it is hideously insipid. I see that now. At the time, I thought I was doing a good thing.

What Christian can possibly recognize how awful their actions and words are, and for the same reasons? Even when trying to demonstrate love, they begin at a place of shame and cannot help but convey a message of shaming.

As benign as that may seem, the true state of the Christian mindset is best expressed in this:

Jimmy (age 9), Johnny (5) and Nancy (3) were abandoned by their father and sent to go live with their father's sister and her husband. The mother of the children had died of cancer. Every day of their upbringing, all three children ended their days with a beating because, in the words of their aunt, "You did something wrong today."

That was my grandfather's upbringing. It crippled him for life.

As Ex-Christians, I think we can all agree that we have been crippled in one way or another because of this same basic sense of shame at the hands of Christian doctrine:

You are bad, that by mere fact of your existence you have done something to offend almighty god, and that you are soooooo lucky that he provided a way of escape. You should be ashamed, and if you aren't, we'll try to make you feel ashamed. But this is only for your own good so that you don't spend eternity in torment.

There is simply no way to look at Christianity objectively and fail to see that it is not only irrational but that at its core, it is in fact sick, twisted, and evil.

For those making the transition away from Christianity, it is helpful to understand these things. Recognizing the true nature of Christianity is a healthy step forward.