Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fun with Definitions and Living

guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined. ( definition number 2)

shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another. ( definition number 1)

Now as a Christian, I think guilt and shame can both be useful in motivating us to change our ways and repent; but I find that guilt (which I associate with actual wrongdoing on one's own part) is both healthier and more theologically sound as a motivator than shame (which I associate with wrongdoing only insofar as it is perceived by society.) Example:

A Christian man who is a regular church attender goes to a strip club. Now his guilt is a function mostly of his own moral code as it has been built up--if he's been in church most or all of his life, it's probably acting up at some point during the evening. But the shame is relative to his different social circles: his congregation, and the people, if any, who are at the strip club with him. One of those circles places a good deal more shame on the incident than the other.

I guess I find shame problematic because it gives others too much control over how one feels and makes moral decisions and is relative to society, whereas guilt is (at its best) a function of a well-formed conscience.

But what if we notice something about ourselves that causes both feelings? Guilt and shame? Is there a way to properly respond to the guilt within us without giving too much power to the shame? Certainly I distinguish the two, but certainly they are not without commonality, and find themselves often intertwined or at least incidentally aligned.

So what to do if I do something, or find myself doing something, that causes both?

Blood sugars will be posted after prayer tonight.


Anonymous said...

i need shame - to a certain extent - because I don't think I feel enough guilt for my actions - I feel guilt about an action or how it effects others but not enough to change my behavior - for me, the shame comes not from what others think of me, but from what I think of myself and what I think God will think - He loves me, but he is disappointed in my choices/actions - disappointment is a killer. the whole strip club analogy doesn't work for me - that guy is toast in my book - have no time for men/boys who lack integrity - which is why I will probably stay single unless your parents have that doctor hidden away somewhere to spring on me at Nico's graduation - that is a joke Leslie Jean.

Anonymous said...

The explanation of shame versus guilt that has been the most instructive for me is this: Guilt says you did something wrong. Shame says, you are what is wrong. In the "old days" parents often made a habit of saying, "Shame on you" to their children. Shame does then attach on you and becomes a part of you. It is a continuing battle for me personally to say no to shame and yes, mea culpa, mea culpa to my sins of commission, ommission and thoughts.