Should we be ashamed of shame?

The second talk at the recent Festival of Theology was by Dr Sally Nash, Director of MCYM based in Nottingham. She says:

Genesis 2.25 tells us that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed.  In the next chapter of Genesis after they have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil they realize they are naked and hide from God.  We can infer they are now ashamed of their nakedness.  Shame is present from almost the beginning of the human story and while discretion shame is necessary for the functioning of society (if it gets hot in here I don’t envisage anyone will take all of their clothes off) some uses of disgrace shame I think are inappropriate.  

Multidisciplinary literature on shame broadly supports the distinction that guilt is about what we have done and is oriented towards others whereas shame is about who we are and thus is oriented towards and affects our sense of self. Shame is contextual: what causes one person shame isn’t necessarily true of another.  This is all in the context of most churches having norms and mores which there is a pressure to conform to or comply with, and for those who cannot, shame is often a consequence.  

In this session I am going to be talking about what Lewis Smedes calls ‘the shame you don’t deserve’ and will purposefully not discuss topics over which there is significant theological disagreement—so apologies if that was what you were expecting! What can happen is that people experience what Stockitt describes here: 

This is the heart of shame, the awful dread that tells us we don’t belong, that we don’t deserve anything, and we shouldn’t even be (2012: 11). 

I believe we should be ashamed of shame in this context.  I am broadly speaking from my practical theology PhD which I did for ordination training.

My interest in studying shame derives from an incident when I was at primary schools where some teacher had the bright idea of doing a practical maths task – we were going to work out the average weight of the class.  I feigned illness to get out of the class as I was too ashamed to be weighed in front of everyone and when I got back lied about my weight.  The institution shamed me and it was completely unnecessary and was probably unthinking and inadvertent.  I would have been fine with an average height exercise but that would have been problematic for others.  I have probably had a bit of scepticism towards institutions ever since, and for many church is an institution which shames.  In some of my research that was given as a reason why people don’t want to engage with church or have drifted away.  

As part of my ordination service the Bishop said this:

Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.

I do not want to have to explain why I shamed people, made them feel bad about who they are, over issues which are cultural, often class bound, expressions of Christianity. Paul, my dyslexic husband who left school with one GCSE, was doing some training at a missionary college – and someone came up in the break to correct his grammar! They shamed him, and I wonder what do they wanted him to disclose – his disability or his class? Who he was wasn’t enough for that person – he was insufficient! This was a key word which came out in my data analysis.  

When I was a young adult, Janis Ian’s song At Seventeen resonated with me: ‘I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens…’.  One of the exercises I have done with people is to get them to rewrite this song; and this is one person’s version, one which has echoes of my experience in church in my early 20s:

I learned the truth at 23
That church was meant for men, not me
That girls should learn with quiet grace
And never run about the place

I learned that leaders had to be
Clothed in respectability
And women should modestly obey
And know the proper words to pray

And not be excited or too loud
Or speak their mind, ‘cause that was proud
And turn up everywhere on time
And always toe the party line…

Can you imagine what that does to you day after day, week after week, not being able to be who God created you to be because the expectations on you were so oppressive? It is difficult not to feel shame when we are not what others, whose opinions we value, want us to be? I know that feeling well although have largely managed to move beyond it most of the time.   

This is how John O’Donohue describes it:

When you are shamed, the space around you is eviscerated. Now your every move draws negative attention. Hostility and disgust are flung at you. It is impossible from outside to even imagine the humiliation that shame brings. All the natural shelter and support around your presence is taken from you…Everything about you is telescoped into the single view of this one shameful thing.  Everything else is forgotten.  A kind of psychological murdering is done.  The mystery of your life is reduced to one thing.  You become a ‘thing of shame’ (O’Donohue, 1998, p.115). 

I devised a typology of shame in the church out of an analysis of the empirical research – anonymous questionnaires (262) and focus groups (11) – and identified words for each element of the typology which give an indication of how and why people experience shame.  The six domains are personal, relational, communal, structural, theological and historical shame. 

  • Personal shame which relates to shame experienced by an individual as a consequence of his or her relationship with the church.   
  • Relational shame which is experienced as a consequence of identification with people who commit shameful acts within the church, particularly, but not exclusively, leaders.
  • Communal shame which relates to shame which is experienced at a group or congregational level.  
  • Structural shame which relates to shame that is a consequence of what the church or organization says, does, or believes at an institutional level.
  • Theological shame which is experienced when people’s view of God or their core beliefs are challenged, opposed, ridiculed or misrepresented.
  • Historical shame which relates to something which has happened in the past that is often not spoken about but still has an impact.

Because of the limits of time I will talk only about the personal domain which I understand to involve such shaming can occur as a consequence of practices, structures, processes, behaviour, attitudes and liturgy that people encounter through their involvement in and with the church.  

Dualistic lifestyles of young people (and others) can be a case in point:

When I was growing up in church I felt unable to be honest about how I lived my life. This led to a dualistic lifestyle, where at home and church I was completely different to at school and with friends.  I have felt that church had made me feel like I needed to appear sorted, like I had no issues and that I couldn’t be open and vulnerable with people, because if I was, I was rejected or made to feel dirty, bad or shameful! 

Perceived judgement of others affects us deeply; some have found church leaders fine but church members difficult. Some parents I know gave up on church because of the shaming by congregation members of their parenting skills (or that is how they perceived it): Bad Mum or Dad can’t control their child is what they heard even if the words were not expressed.  We all have tender points:

I think that sometimes there are things in your own experience that perhaps make you prone to feelings of shame and you can perhaps … be very vulnerable to it.

Welcome to the world of the barren – imagine being unable to have children, and read the Bible in that light and see how hard it is not to feel shame for all sorts of things, not to mention conversations with well-meaning Christians! ‘Have you got a family?” is a really unhelpful question for many, and I am never sure what the point of spouse and child details are attached to a biography for a conference!  

Others felt shame when they did express struggles – the word ‘insufficient’ was identified to cover some of this. I feel I am an insufficient Christian: all I want to do is go to church and all you want me to do is go on the rotas!  You might laugh but it stopped some people going to church: if you make me feel bad why would I want to keep coming back.  My theological ‘every member ministry’ can be seen as bossy lazy clergy!

A feeling of being a nonentity was the experience of others. I have heard that a little from older people in the congregation who feel that they are compared unfavourably to the younger people who can still do things and are not valued or particularly wanted. Diocesan vision statements are not always helpful in this regard.

You can feel shame by both complying and conforming and non-complying and non-conforming – it depends where you stand in relation to your church! As one respondent suggests:

If you have done anything wrong in your life we will judge you when you come in here. We are goody two shoes and don’t tolerate sinners. We will try and change you, then we take your money.

Caring for those who have been shamed

This is how it feels to some people:

Just as the notion of “grace” designates a feeling that God approves of what he sees, the concept of “dis-grace” designates a feeling of disapproval, an experience of others – who have seen how we have disgraced ourselves – are looking on with contempt and scorn (Kilborne 2002, p.6). 

It is so much about who we are not what we have done.

  • Self awareness – know our triggers and process our own shame
  • Conscientization – what is shame and how different from guilt – preaching, liturgy. The Anglican Prayer of Humble Access is so unhelpful for some.
  • Storytelling, from the Bible and other sources, facilitates reframing.  A variety of biblical stories may also be useful in helping change self-perception such as David and Uriah (2 Samuel 11); the woman with the haemorrhage (Luke 8.43-8); the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53-8.11); the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32); Jesus responding to Peter (John 21.1-19); Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1-10).  
  • Quality of relationships can be particularly important in shame. One person was happy to talk about concerns in a context where she felt loved and that those talking to her wanted the best for her.  She was not receptive to judgment or condemnation. This is backed up in literature.
  • Explore how you can develop the ‘carrying capacity’ of the community – a functioning body of Christ where people can be cared for and held. 

Finally, a quotation which returns us to Genesis from John Swinton:

The doctrine of the imago Dei (Genesis 1.27) is a deeply pastoral doctrine which offers hope to the hopeless, comfort to the downhearted and a wholeness to those whose lives have been broken and damaged by fate and circumstances” (Swinton 2000: 32). 

I hope not damaged by a church that shames when it shouldn’t.  

If you want to explore shame through a story Ignatian or Godly play style then the woman at the well in John 4.4-26 is a good place to begin, not least because it can be used in relation to a wide number of contexts and issues. In keeping with my understanding that I need to explore my own shame first, I have used this story to look at some of the issues in my life since, despite being very well aware of what shame is and what triggers it in me, I still experience it.  These are my responses.

I wonder which part of this story you like best?

I like the part where Jesus sat down by a well because he was tired.  I don’t always find it easy to rest, particularly in “work hours” although I know I do more hours than might be expected.  That Jesus felt tired helps me to see that he was fully human and that if I gave him a chance to talk to me he might well say, Sally, come and sit down and join me by this well.  We can have a drink and relax together.  I find myself finding it hard to justify self-care choices sometimes while encouraging them in others.  Somewhere there is still a sense of shame in not getting everything done that needs to be done.  I am not a good Centre Director, priest, daughter, wife, and so on, if I have not…

I wonder what part of the story is the most important?

The most important part of the story is where the woman responds positively to Jesus and asks him for the living water; she wants to receive what it is that Jesus has to offer.  She is receiving from someone who first asked her to give to him, there was a mutuality of sharing even though a differential in what was given.

I wonder where you are in the story?  I wonder what part is about you?

I am the woman, the person with the baggage and history that sometimes holds her back.  My baggage is different from hers, but there are times when I try to hide a bit or avoid situations or see myself in her at the beginning of the story rather than the full-of-joy messenger of good news at the end of the story.

I wonder if there is any part of the story we can leave out and still have all the story we need?

I don’t think we need to know what it is that she has done wrong in the past, perhaps just that she has done something wrong, but that Jesus talks to her and sets her free.

After a time of wondering there is usually, in Godly Play, an opportunity to make a response to the story and questions.  Having done this activity, I am visualizing (I might draw if I had the materials nearby as they would be in Godly Play) Jesus sitting on top of a pile of my baggage; he has it now, he doesn’t want me to pick them up again and the thought that even if I can leave just one bag it would be progress!   Ideally the bag full of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ would be left with Jesus.


O’Donohue, J.  (1998).  Eternal Echoes Exploring our Hunger to Belong. London:Transworld Publishers.

Kilborne, B. (2002).  Disappearing Persons.  Albany:  State University of New York Press.

Stockitt, R. 2012.  Restoring the Shamed:  Towards a Theology of Shame.  Eugene: Cascade Books. 

Swinton, J. (2000).  Resurrecting the Person. Nashville: Abingdon Press

Come and think about the End of the World and Christian Hope at the teaching morning on 10th November 2018.

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43 thoughts on “Should we be ashamed of shame?”

  1. My question is to what extent is making some people (or rather everyone at some point) feel ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’ or ‘insufficient’ an unavoidable corollary of having any kind of standards or expectations or concepts of what is good or even just a prevailing culture (eg family friendly)? And, following on from that, to what extent is how people respond or feel about these things the church’s responsibility to remedy? Don’t we all have to take some responsibility for the way we might sometimes feel about not having all the good things, or achieved all the worthwhile goals, that our church or wider culture holds up to us?

    An example: the church regularly rejects people for ordination (or advancement), perhaps for things outside their control, the consequence of which is they can feel foolish, inadequate, unwanted and purposeless – ashamed. But to what extent does the church need to take action to remedy that, beyond pastoral support for those in such circumstances?

  2. Ian,

    Interesting article on “Shame.” I do like the six types of shame that were listed and their respective definitions. One type of shame that is not listed, and may be related to “communal shame,” is that of “cultural shame.” This type of shame is different from “communal” due to the fact that it is NOT related to the actions of individuals or groups within the church, but that which is outside of the church. Three examples follow.

    The first example is found in Proverbs 14:34,
    “Righteousness exalts a nation,
    but sin is a reproach to any people.”
    What is of interest is that TWOT, following BDB, has the following definition for “reproach:”
    “699a ????? (hesed) shame, reproach (Lev 20:17; Prov 14:34). Thus, hesed, although normally translated to refer to “covenantal love,” has a secondary root for “shame.” This is related not to communal standards, but to that of the “righteous deeds” or a “national righteousness,” or, “conformity to a norm” as found in the character of God as revealed in the Torah. When that righteousness is violated by the nation, it causes “shame.”

    The second example is more compelling in that the leaders of Philippi (Acts 16) were ashamed at their behavior when Paul and Silas were beaten by rods even though they were Roman citizens. Needless to say, that did not go over well.

    The third example is the prayer of Daniel 9:7-8 regarding the Seventy Years Exile in Jeremiah. This was a confession by Daniel on behalf of his nation, his people.

    “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.
    To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.”

    Example three above could be an example of religious shame on a national scale, but I list it as cultural since it is an entire culture that is at fault or to blame.

    The Ancient world had an “honor-shame” component that is frequently ignored by most commentators. Every nation, society, culture, etc. have to deal with it. Some with reference to a “civil” religion; while others, use traditional categories of national honor. In all instances, a response of repentance is required.

    BTW, the latest incident involving the murdered journalist and Saudi Arabia would be an example of this “cultural shame.”

  3. Hi Will As a ddo and vocation officer in my diocese can you clarify your statement:
    ‘the church regularly rejects people for ordination (or advancement), perhaps for things outside their control, the consequence of which is they can feel foolish, inadequate, unwanted and purposeless – ashamed.’ I am not sure what ‘things’ you refer to? Thanks.

    • Hi David. I was thinking of things like intelligence and personality, which people have very little control over, but which are key in determining suitability for senior leadership roles.

      • OK Will. But still not sure what you are saying. If someone does not have the personality required for a certain job then isn’t it better for them not to do it? The key word we use is ‘formation’ – and that includes a growing at all levels of understanding, gifts and personal maturity. I believe our vocation goes ‘with the grain of what God’ is calling a person to be and where they may best express it. Although it is not a perfect process I am not aware of people being ‘regularly’ (your word) excluded from areas of ministry they may genuinely be suited and called to.

        • Hi David. I said it regularly rejects people i.e. people are being rejected at every BAP. I said such people ‘can’ feel unwanted etc, not hazarding how many. I didn’t say people were regularly ‘excluded from areas of ministry they may genuinely be suited and called to’ – that was your phrase.

          But part of my point is that shame here is defined subjectively – it’s about how people feel about themselves in response to circumstances they encounter. To respond in terms of what people may ‘genuinely be suited and called to’ is to speak in objective terms, which was kind of what I was getting at. We need to think in objective terms about things, and place subjective feelings like feeling ashamed, inadequate etc within that objective framework, so we don’t start feeling bad about everything that makes people feel bad!

      • Will – personality and intelligence would certainly rule me out for a senior leadership role 🙂 However increasingly ‘theology’ will do this for those otherwise ably suited – how many today have been put out to pasture rather than receive preferment because of their traditional conservative theology on sexuality? I look down the long list of remarkably gifted 50 something leaders known to me who have built and sustained vibrant churches whose share keeps their diocese afloat, who have served as leaders in national ministries, who have all the requisite leadership, managerial, visionary, intellectual and psychological qualities that would fit them to be outstanding Bishops, and yet their commitment to traditional views on sexuality mean they have been put out to pasture, despite being on the Preferment list for years! Can you think of any traditional evangelical on sexuality who has received preferment to a Diocesan role in the past….5years? Is it possible to become a Bishop these days if you are decidedly traditional orthodox on sexuality?

        • Hi Simon. I almost added theology but thought I wouldn’t stir! Yes indeed, people like Viv Faull are promoted, but where are the champions of what the church actually believes rather than what some would like it to believe? There are so many impressive evangelical leaders who have led churches to considerable growth, yet how many liberal mediocrities are promoted because they are the ‘right kind of person’? And what about our estimable host?

          But then do you really trust the church establishment to make sound, biblically grounded decisions? Look at how it has just added its support to the absurd and risky government proposal to make it easier to change gender – a proposal even opposed by feminists and lesbians.

          As time goes on the more it seems to me that the ban on same-sex marriage is a fig leaf for keeping the biblically orthodox sweet. Except for dutifully (and grudgingly) retaining that, the church establishment has been busy throwing its support behind every other ‘progressive’ movement it can find: permitting clergy to enter civil partnerships, banning people with unwanted same-sex attraction from getting help, working with Stonewall on guidance for schools, affirming ‘radical inclusion’ of people in same-sex ‘marriages’ in every level of church life, permitting the public and official endorsement of Pride events and movements by churches and cathedrals without criticism or comment, stating that there is no theological or ethical problem with transgenderism including in church leadership, and now supporting moves to gender self-assignment. Does that sound like a church ready to make a courageous stand against an anti-biblical cultural Zeitgeist to you?

          • …..’Does that sound like a church ready to make a courageous stand against an anti-biblical cultural Zeitgeist to you?’….

            now you come to mention it……nope
            Let’s hoist the white flag and have a Gin and Tonic eh?

        • The newly appointed Bishop of Truro, former Director at CMS Philip Mounstephen, is orthodox and conservative on human sexuality I believe. But, point taken, he is sadly not very representative.

  4. Thank you Sally for your well thought out and encouraging words. As someone who completely resonates with the poem about women plus has experienced stigma and shame due to my struggles with my mental health, it is encouraging to believe that “the church” is beginning to acknowledge the impact it has for good and for evil in people’s lives, rather than subscribing to blame the victim ideology.

  5. Multidisciplinary literature on shame broadly supports the distinction that guilt is about what we have done and is oriented towards others whereas shame is about who we are and thus is oriented towards and affects our sense of self.

    Hm. This seems to rest heavily on the idea that ‘what we do’ and ‘who we are’ are separable.

    But from a virtue-ethics point of view, the two are not only not separable, they are not even different: what we do is a merely a reflection of who we are. Someone who lies is a dishonest person. The lies someone tells are not something external, other-directed, but are in fact merely the external symptoms of the deeper character flaw of dishonesty which is rooted in their soul.

    So if we take a virtue-ethics, rather than a consequentialist or a deontological position — and virtue ethics has always seemed to me to be far more in tune with the Christian notion of sin than either of those alternatives — then can we really draw this bright line between ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ that the article demands? Are not, in fact, ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ the same thing?

    And are not at least certain types of shame — the shame the dishonest person feels when they tell a lie, for example, and realise they are a dishonest person — a good thing?

    I mean, a dishonest person’s ‘sense of self’ really ought to be affected by the knowledge that they are dishonest — shouldn’t it? Otherwise they have nothing telling them to reform their character and cultivate the virtue of honesty, in order to change their self and become honest.

    • Shame can be felt as a result not of what we do, but of how we are, or perceive ourselves to be. We may feel shame because we have learned that we are not good enough; and churches, schools and families can encourage this type of shame.
      Or we may feel shame because of something we inherently are, which cannot be changed, such as being gay or trans, autistic or disabled. Again, some institutions seek to inscribe and valorise such shame.

          • We’ll surely guilt is culpable. Shame isn’t necessarily

            It’s certainly possible to feel guilt about something one isn’t culpable for. Survivor’s guilt, for example.

        • Isn’t shame sometimes “a feeling of guilt by association” rather than about something “I have done”?

          One can be ashamed of what a friend or relative has done but in which you played no part at all. The feeling of guilt is false but the shame is real. It’s horrible cutting edge is one’s helplessness to do anything about it. The intrinsic power of a relationship makes the shame real not false and it certainly isn’t guilt.

          • Isn’t shame sometimes “a feeling of guilt by association” rather than about something “I have done”?

            It is and that’s important, but I don’t think it’s what the article is about. It just shows that the English word ‘shame’ covers many related but not identical concepts.

    • The woman caught in adultery is surely a useful case study here. Those who brought her were trying to ‘shame’ her. Jesus was having nothing to do with the shame. He restored her sense of self, and was then able to deal with the guilt. ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more’.
      I agree that people need to reflect on their own sense of self. But it’s when others try to do that for them that shame goes wrong.

    • Thanks for this. Its an interesting perspective. I think there’s an issue when it comes to thinking in a judicial/penal/forensic framework. Guilt is concerned about action. And recompense is a further action. So the wages of sin is death, but there is a [potential] exchange paid for by the death of Christ.
      However, this is not a helpful way to address the feeling of shame, of falling short, of being unclean, of not being good enough. How do “I” change? To understand the courtroom metaphor can still leave one with the knowledge that one is not good enough. One stands shamed before a holy God, as much as one stands guilty before a holy God.
      Shame wants what is flawed, what is polluted, what is sick, waht is not good enough, to die. Body language is that of shrinking, disappearing and even to die. (“Ground open up and swallow me now”). However, if we die with Christ (in union with him) and are raised in newness of life with him, then there is no condemnation. All that was bad, all that is polluted, all that is shameful is not the new me. As I have heard it put “Joined with Christ, I am dieing but have been raised. And that new part of me is clean and good. The old is still dieing, and will die completely. The new is clean, good, holy child of God.”.

      • Guilt is concerned about action

        Only in a consequentialist ethical framework, which, I would argue, is less in tune with a christian understanding of sin than a virtue ethical framework.

        All that was bad, all that is polluted, all that is shameful is not the new me

        Right, but it’s not like flicking a switch, bang, I become a Christian and I no longer have anything to be ashamed of. A dishonest person doesn’t suddenly become honest because they become a christian: they have to work on changing their very self to become an honest person, and until that process is completed (which it may not be until they die) they ought still to feel ashamed insofar as it is incomplete, yes?

        My point was that the article seems to think a bright dividing line can be drawn ebtween the concepts of ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ and that ‘shame is unnecesary and bad and we should work to eliminate it.

        Whereas if one takes a virtue ethical framework (again, which I think is more in keeping with the Christian idea of sin than a consqeuentialist one) firstly, that division between ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ is either heavily blurred or non-existant; and secondly shame is not always bad, it’s only bad when unustified (just as unjustified guilt is bad). Justified shame is appropriate and good.

        • ” ‘Guilt is concerned about action’ Only in a consequentialist ethical framework, ”
          Well, also in practise. I would say that in psychology that’s quite a common take on things. In every day perception we tend to reflect the thinking that guilt is more action and shame is whole person. I hear what you’re saying about a theoretical framework, but I don’t think that expresses lived experience very well.

          “Right, but it’s not like flicking a switch, bang, I become a Christian and I no longer have anything to be ashamed of. ” Oh I agree. Its a long process. “I am dieing, but have been raised”. That’s a lifelong change process. However, I would also like to add that I lived in South Asia for 17 years. I saw people come to faith. I saw one chap who was very poor, was a day labourer (like in the parable), and was of very low status. Of the small group of believers, it was he that was targeted and taken in by police. I was astonished at how he expressed his new-ish faith in terms of a new status, of being a child of God, of being rich in Christ, and of being clean before a holy God. He was released 2 days later having given testimony of new life in Christ. He taught me a lot.

          • Well, also in practise. I would say that in psychology that’s quite a common take on things

            I’m talking ethics, though, not psychology.

            I hear what you’re saying about a theoretical framework, but I don’t think that expresses lived experience very well.

            Is ‘lived experience’ (which is presumably subjective) very useful in finding objective truth, though?

          • “Is ‘lived experience’ (which is presumably subjective) very useful in finding objective truth, though?”
            A/ When it comes to understanding humanity, do you have another way?
            B/ How useful is a theoretical framework which is at odd with lived experience?

          • A/ When it comes to understanding humanity, do you have another way?

            Do you mean understanding how humans are, or how they ought to be?

            Because it seems to me lived experience can only tell you about the former, which is both less important and less interesting than the latter.

            B/ How useful is a theoretical framework which is at odd with lived experience?

            Very useful if the framework tells you how humans ought to be while the lived experience only tells you how they are.

          • And how is this theoretical framework to be calculated and evaluated? Who decides?

            I recommend reading Phillipa Foot, Rosalind Hursthouse, Elizabeth Anscombe (for some reason this is an area of philosophy where all the top figures are women — I don’t know if that’s significant or just that given the odd some area had to be and it happens to be this one).

          • Ah well that sounds like a subjective approach then S. That’s just a recommendation for other peoples’ thoughts.
            Where do we see the objective truth and objective theoretical framework you have talked about?

          • Ah well that sounds like a subjective approach then S. That’s just a recommendation for other peoples’ thoughts.

            If that’s what you think you clearly haven’t read Foot, Anscombe or Hursthouse.

          • Well, not recently, but certainly some of that work on virtue ethics whilst an undergraduate.
            Two major criticisms, as I recall, are that there is no general agreement on what the virtues are, and that there is a significant culture/context component.
            Both of which suggests it is not very robustly objective.

          • Foot explains the objective basis of her virtue ethics in Natural Goodness, available here: It’s essentially an argument about natural normativity which proceeds by comparing the human organism as a natural phenomenon with other organisms and their characteristic norms of behaviour. You’ll be pleased to hear, Andrew, that she disavows any potential implications for sexuality.

            The main problem is that it isn’t clear how the right norms are to be distinguished from the other potential candidates. Foot’s main guiding principle is that good behaviour for an organism is that which promotes its survival as a species in its characteristic way – as a good Aristotelian taking the distinctive features of humanity (especially rational autonomy) to be its defining characteristics. This is fine, but is it really conclusive when nature is ambivalent on such crucial matters as the dominance of the strong and survival of the fittest? It’s fundamental problem is that it is trying to do natural law without a lawgiver, reading the norms off the facts as though there is no gap at all.

            On the other hand, if you add God in to the picture, as the Author of nature (something Foot would not do as an atheist), and cast man as the creature that bears his image, then you can get a good solid foundation for an objective, necessary, normative ethics.

          • This is fine, but is it really conclusive when nature is ambivalent on such crucial matters as the dominance of the strong and survival of the fittest?

            Though do remember that the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ has been hit somewhat by semantic drift: to modern ears it sounds like it means those who survive are those who go hit the gym most frequently, but the actual meaning is that those who survive are those who are best-adapted for their particular niche in their particular environment. That might be the strongest or the fastest, but there might equally be environments where being strong was a disadvantage, for example if food was to be found at the bottom of small holes that the big and muscly couldn’t fit through.

            In other words the ‘fit’ in ‘survival of the fittest’ isn’t ‘strongest’ or ‘fastest’ (or even ‘most intelligent’); it’s ‘fit’ like a hand in a glove or a peg in a hole.

            So there’s no sense in which a more highly-evolved (‘fitter’) species or individual is in any way ‘better’ than another; and if you take the ‘fittest’ species or individual out of the envionment to which it is best-fitted (or change its environment underneath it) then it may well die quickly as the very things which fitted it best to the old environment prove disadvantageous in the new.

            Or in other words, you can’t derive any moral worth from evolution, even if you were to take nature as your guiding principle.

            Otherwise, spot on!

      • Apologies Colin, and thank you.
        I hadn’t read your comment properly, before setting out to comment myself. It is spot on, the main point of union with Christ being duplicated, but somewhat differently, in the comment I made. If I may misquote and misapply Spurgeon: union with Christ is shallow enough for a child to happily slash about in, but deep enough for an elephant to luxuriate and swim in.

  6. I commend to you the brilliant missionary/theologian, Simon Cozens, who has written and taught on shame culture/theology – his articles on it can be found online and he has a major book out soon by IVP on in spring 2019

  7. If shame is based on identity, it is a marvellous opportunity for the Gospel, for the transformative identity of union with Christ and for scriptural pastoral application
    Not long after conversion to Christ, a short course was put on by a local non stipendiary CoE minister who had a separate healing and prayer ministry. The course was based on the Clinical Theology of Dr Frank Lake. At the deepest level, where do we get our, safety, security, significance, identity from as Christians? – from Jesus Christ, who took on our shame:
    “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb 12:2 ESV

    • “If shame is based on identity, it is a marvellous opportunity for the Gospel” I completely agree. We need to be able to live out the Gospel, to express it, in a way that resonates with those who are attuned to hear things through a filter of shame. I lived in south Asia for 17 years, and shame is a significant part of their culture. Phrasing concerning Jesus saving us, using judicial language just doesn’t resonate with people. But expressing the idea of being joined with Christ, one with Christ, part of him in his death and resurrection is one that really resonates with people. That’s how most Christians that I know there will describe their faith.
      In the UK the young generation and people of all ages from cultures where Islam dominates are very tuned to language of Shame.
      For western sense of shame Alan Mann has a book (The atonement for a sinless generation) that gives a great diagnosis of the problem. The second half of hte book is a lot weaker as its treatment seems based on moral example theory of atonement, which is one that I think is particularly weak. But the first half of hte book is very insightful on how the modern generation percieves shame


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