Monday, May 14, 2007

Guilt-based and shame-based cultures

Dr. Sanity has been on a roll this week - her Tuesday essay using the Satan of Paradise Lost as an illustration of what has gone wrong with the Left is quite brilliant.

But I think it ties in very well with something she's been writing about for some time - the difference between "guilt-based" and "shame-based" cultures. It would be interesting to have a list of the two. I think "shame-based" are the more common. Our Western culture is a guilt-based culture, which comes from our Christian origin. We know that God knows the secrets of our heart, so no matter how good everything looks to everyone else, they're not the audience that really matters; God is the real audience, and He can never be fooled. Of course, the guilt-base trait descended to Christianity through Judaism, which also focussed on a God who knew our inmost thoughts and was not contented with just the appearance of goodness.

Among the shame-based cultures, Islam is the most prominent today. One thing about the modern Left that is a real puzzle is the way this highly evolved product of a guilt-based culture has mutated into a supporter of a shame-based culture like Islam. I think looking at the table Dr. Sanity reproduced in her essay on these opposing cultures is very informative:
Now, it seems to me that a lot of people on the Left are caught in our guilt-based culture and are desperately seeking a way out. In the past, we Westerners had our faith in God, which could lift the burden of guilt from us and enable us to continue living even joyfully. But today's "liberals" no longer have any real faith that God can take a guilty human and save him. Their faith is now so etiolated, they can only conceive of a God who flatters them with professions of fellowship and never has the bad taste to refer to sin or guilt at all. This only suppresses guilt - it cannot heal it. Hence, the insistence by liberals that what we used to call sin (usually sexual sin) isn't really sin at all, and so they don't have to feel guilty. But guilt isn't gotten rid of so easily, and so the quest for deliverance hasn't been satisfied by just pretending that nobody cares what happens in the bedroom. This failure has set the stage for Phase II - the abandonment of the guilt-based culture altogether, and its replacement by the shame-based culture.

It has always seemed incredible that liberals who have nothing good to say about traditional Christianity could be so indulgent towards Islam. At first I thought it was mere opportunism - any old stick will do to beat the Christianity-based culture that liberals find so irksome, and at the moment Islam is a stick that looks like it could do some damage. But I think it's deeper than that.

I think, in some way, liberals crave life under a shame-based culture. In some ways, it's easier - if despite all the arguments and protests and convoluted arguments, you still can't make yourself forget that God has said that what you're doing is wrong, think what a relief it would be to live in a world where all you have to do is make sure the people around you think well of you. No more inner conflicts, where you're always on trial and always bound to lose - in this culture, even if you're guilty, if no one else knows, your place in society is secure. You're safe at last.

This would explain the fanatical exertions liberals devote to stamping out dissent - in a shame-based culture, it matters what others think of you, so it is essential that there can be no conflicting voices among the "others". A shame-based culture only works if everyone agrees on the rules, and can move like a school of fish, all in the same direction at the same time. If some people think it's terrible to get drunk in public, and other people think it's joyful and freespirited, and still others think that it's just not worth even bothering about, there is no possibility of shaming people who break the rules, because it's clear that the rules are not firmly fixed. Depending on who might be standing by, a drunk can be a jerk, or a hero, or just a bore. And that puts you right back at having to decide for yourself what to think about your own drunkeness, which is what a guilt-based culture does.

But if you don't WANT that kind of freedom, if it is an intolerable burden to have to realize again and again that you're a guilty failure, the simplicity of Islam is very tempting in an abstract way. All you have to do is make sure the rules are exactly suited to yourself, and then follow the rules. And if there's one thing that Islam and liberalism have in common, it's a passion for a minutely-regulated, rule-bound existence.

This, I think, is the key to the most perplexing thing about liberals: they keep up this bizarre courtship of Islam, even while we tell them, "Don't you realize that under this system, you would be killed?" But they never answer. They're looking at something completely different - they don't see Islam as it is, a culture where the homosexuals would be executed and the women enslaved. They see it as a vehicle that will carry them away from the terrible Christian God, and the burden of conscience and guilt He has heaped on them, and which is crushing them.

Liberalism and Islam have one thing in common: they are both debased forms of Christianity. Liberalism is what you get when Christianity runs dry; it's taken Western liberals hundreds of years, but they've finally arrived at a point where they're eager to exchange the burden of freedom for a handful of threadbare maxims and the mindless safety of the herd.


Blogger C. Andiron said...

That's what we should ask ourselves when we get caught in a misdeed "Do I recognize my guilt, or am I merely ashamed?".
Also, I think liberals not only want to eliminate guit, but eventually shame as well (ex. Alec Baldwin, or McGreevey ultimately just excusing their behaviors). Reminds me of C.S. Lewis "It is mad work to remove hypocrisy by removing the temptation to hypocrisy. The frankness of people sunk below shame is a very cheap frankness."

9:55 pm  
Blogger RkBall said...

Well reasoned. I might have said "liberalism is Christianity run wet" -- it likes the spirit of liberty promised by Christianity, while Islam is Christianity dried-out -- no liberty, no substitutionary grace, back to externals.

But that would be quibbling.

Islam denies the possibility of (substitutionary) grace, while liberalism denies the need. Both are a denial of the One who was declared to be full of grace -- and truth. And both are thus, at heart, false.

9:44 pm  
Blogger Hamza said...

I love how the article that Dr. Sanity quotes completely disagrees with her main thesis.

"But this tactic is not, I suggest, a product of Islam. Rather, it is a product of the bruised Arab psyche."

I find Dr. Gutmann much more convincing than either you or Sanity.

12:47 am  
Blogger Steve S. said...

...well, Christianity can hardly be the source of our justice/guilt based culture, seeing as how it was born out of an honor/shame culture, and continues to flourish in the East. It is only because Americans are so ignorant of world history, politics and sociology (not to mention church history) that we could even suppose that our culture is an extension of Christianity...

7:18 am  

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