From Bill Clinton To Harvey Weinstein: How American Culture Is Becoming More Shame-based

In his Nov. 18, 2017 New York Times article, What if Ken Starr Was Right?, Ross Douthat, writes, “(According to Clinton’s supporters)… our 42nd president was only guilty of being a horndog, his affairs were nobody’s business but his family’s, and oral sex with Monica Lewinsky was a small thing that should never have put his presidency in peril.”

I doubt if, deep inside, many of the above supporters didn’t think that President Clinton had committed an immoral act. Yet, at the same time, they felt that “the effort to impeach him was a hopeless attempt to legislate against dishonor.” Again, Mr. Ross says,

That narrative could not survive the current wave of outrage over male sexual misconduct. So now a new one may be forming for the age of Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. In this story, Kenneth Starr and the Republicans are still dismissed as partisan witch hunters. But liberals might be willing to concede that the Lewinsky affair was a pretty big deal morally, a clear abuse of sexual power, for which Clinton probably should have been pressured to resign.

aggression-683910__340A question we should ask is, what changed? What is this new narrative that now says, “the Lewinsky affair was a pretty big deal”? To me, this new narrative is written by the social media community, which is using shame as a means to control those within her boundaries.

Here I need to explain what I mean by shame brought about by a community, or as it’s called a shamed-based community. The phrase “shame culture” was coined by Ruth Benedict in her book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, where she described American culture as a “guilt culture” and Japanese culture as a “shame culture.”

A shame-based culture (Sometimes called shame/honor base) consists of a community where a continually reinforced feeling of shame and ostracism is used as the main instrument to control the people within that community. In those societies, a person is punished by coming short of the standard which her people have collectively chosen to be the norm. The punishment for acting against the norm is being shamed and shunned. As David Brooks puts it, “The desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled and condemned. Moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong (As in a guilt base culture); it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion.”

Having been born and raised in Iran, I didn’t just study the shame culture, I lived in it for 19 years. After living in the guilt-based culture of America for almost 50 years, I still have nightmares about being exiled and condemned instead of being praised and embraced (honored) by my old Persian community. That’s because in that culture everybody is constantly living in fear of being at the mercy of a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no clear standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture that compels all her members to just go along. By the way, that’s why I wrote my book, Shame On You.

For the last 15 years I’ve been teaching on shame and honor. And for that many years, I was sensing a shift in the American culture, but I couldn’t put it to words. I could sense that the younger generation was tilting more towards a culture of shame, but couldn’t quite see, or name the nuts and bolts that were creating such a society. Then, last year, I read Andy Crouch’s essay, The Return of Shame.

According to Andy, this above society is social media and the nuts and bolts are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.. The shame-based community of social media is the community of “constant display and observation” where the desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled and condemned. Moral life is not built on the standard of right and wrong, but a standard of acceptance and rejection. By the way, how many Facebook “Likes” did you get on your last post?

In this community, each tribe demands instant respect and recognition for their group. They react with intense violence toward those who dare to disrespect the community by questioning their codes of conduct on some biblical values. As Crouch argues, the ultimate sin today, is to criticize a group, especially on moral grounds. Talk of good and bad has deferred to talk about respect and recognition. Crouch writes, “Talk of right and wrong is troubling when it is accompanied by seeming indifference to the experience of shame that accompanies judgments of ‘immorality.’”

Crouch calls the social media community a “fame” culture rather than a “shame” culture. Again, he correctly argues that this shame culture is different from the traditional shame cultures, of many third-world nations, for example. In traditional shame cultures the opposite of shame was honor or “face” — being known as a dignified and upstanding citizen. In the new shame culture, the opposite of shame is fame — to be attention-grabbing and aggressively unique on some media platform (Aka the Kardashians).

Going back to my original question, “What is this new narrative that now says, ‘the Lewinsky affair was a pretty big deal?’” As David Brooks puts it, it was “The shifting fancy of the crowd” and not a moral awaking. The community, in this case, “#me too” established a set of common behavior patterns. Then, the enforcers within the tribe went after everyone who broke the group code. Maybe Clinton’s supporters were correct—you can’t legislate against dishonor. But you can establish a culture where its enforcers can come after you when you break their codes of conduct. And this my friend, has all the nuts and bolts of a shame-based culture.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m delighted that almost every day more women are coming out to name their abusers and shame these predators. However, having experienced both cultures, I much rather live in a guilt-based culture where my identity is built on a moral code of right and wrong. It’s much less stressful. But here, all I’m talking about is a shift in the culture. If, along with many others, what I’m saying is true and there’s a cultural shift in the wind, then what is the church’s place in such a community?

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Please, No More Information!

Recently I read an article that started with the following statement,

Do you know what your problem is? Your problem is not that you are uninformed. That is what you might have thought your problem was. Your problem is also not that you lack information. This is a common misconception. In fact, people nowadays have lots of information… Ezra Klein’s philosophy in running Vox.com has been precisely this: people do not need facts, they need explanations.

I didn’t agree with the article, but the above statement reminded of a church meeting I’d attended a few days earlier.

The meeting was good. After a great time of worship, the pastor introduced the guest speaker who spent 30 minutes or so talking about how every believer was a light and the salt of this world. He talked about the properties of salt and light. He said what it meant for each believer to have those qualities. He gave examples using a flashlight while the lights in the sanctuary were dimmed. He had us tell the person next to us how precious they were for being the light and salt of this earth. By the time he was done, most of us knew more about salt and light than we needed.who-wants-change

While sitting there, I wondered how many believers in that room weren’t already familiar with Christ’s teaching in Matt 5:13-14? How many needed more information about those verses? How many had not, over and over again, heard what salt and light do? I am sure that for most of those present, the problem was not lack of information, but what to do with it. I’m confident that everyone left the meeting feeling great about who they were in Christ, but to what end?

I am a practical follower of Christ. I believe, at this age, after being a believer for over 40 years, I don’t need more information on what it means to be a disciple/servant of Jesus. What I need is how to implement all I’ve learned about what it means to be a Christian.

I wish, unlike most teachers I’ve heard all these years, our teacher that night had sent us home with some practical steps on how to make our lights shine, or how to attract people to our saltiness, so they become thirsty for the things of God. I wish he had said something like:

Now that you know you are the light and the salt of this world. Now that you’ve become aware of who you are in Christ, I want you to implement what you learned tonight. Go from here and be the light and salt to your own neighborhoods. Fulfill God’s greatest commandment—loving your neighbor through God’s love—by, at least, getting to know your next-door neighbor’s name, offer to mow his/her lawn (if they need it), make a casserole dish and take it to them, or something like that.

In order to be the light and salt of this world, the majority of us doesn’t need any more facts and information on the subject. We need to put to work all that we already know. And for that, we need teachers who can give us simple and yet practical ways to achieve that goal. And for the Church to stop being just a hearer/information gatherer and become a doer also.

If You Don’t Change Them, They Will Swallow You UP!

 On the Sunday after 9/11 my message to my Iranian church started by me asking the following question and answer.
Who put a gun to your head and demanded that you leave Iran and come to America?
If you don’t like living in America, I’ll personally buy you a one-way ticket and send you back to Iran.
Using Jer. 29:4-7, I then went on to show them, as immigrants in this country, what our responsibilities towards America should be. Once I made them aware of our role as immigrants, I then challenged them, as followers of Christ, to put aside our Third World corrupt habits that almost all of us were raised with, and be a light and salt to our community.
Over a year ago, I felt the need to preach the same message again, but this time to English speaking churches—Christians who are born and raised in America—along with a long disclaimer repeated throughout my message. I felt the need to include the disclaimer because these days, many Americans take offense to everything, even on behalf of those who are not asking for it. So, I had to start my message with the following warning, which I kept repeating throughout my teaching:
Please be advised that I gave this message to my IRANIAN church, and it is NOT directed at you. By the way, after I was done preaching it, the whole church gave me a standing ovation, so PLEASE don’t get offended on their behalf.
My message had to do with change, that of heart, mind, soul and behavior. It was an attempt to help them become more like those who belong to the Community of Jesus. It challenged them to outflowing action that would influence the adverse Iranian community that surrounds them. In doing so, I gave them example after example of the corruption that exists within much of our culture. The type of Third World mentality that is so, so foreign to the majority of American Christians, but so, so natural to us who were born and raised in Iran.
“But, why are you giving this message to the American church,” one might ask.
Because I am very concerned about the type of society my grandchildren might be facing in America.
In his article, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, Ed Stetzer says,
As the Nones (Nominal/Cultural Christians) rise in their number, Christian influence on culture will begin to wane. The minority of Christians in a culture will begin to feel even more like a minority when more nominals become Nones. As people no longer claim to be Christians, Christianity will be further marginalized…
Although Mr. Stetzer considers this to be something positive for the future of the church—She then will be full of REAL (Whatever that may be according to him) Christians.—he doesn’t take into account the vacuum this lack of Christian influence will create in the society. Those of other mentality/cultural mindset, i.e., Muslims, will not sit back and wait for the Christians to easily once again get their influence back. These non-Christians will fill the void.
In his recent column in Los Angeles Times, How corruption abroad threatens U.S. national security, Doyle McManus wrote,

 We often look at corruption as a secondary issue in international affairs: as a moral problem that allows Third World governments to steal from their people and gets in the way of equitable economic development…But the lesson of the collapse of the Iraqi army, an army built with $25 billion in U.S. aid, is this: Corruption isn’t only a moral issue; it’s a national security issue, too.

That’s the message of Sarah Chayes, a former reporter for National Public Radio, who spent 10 years working on economic development projects in Afghanistan — only to find that corruption was getting in the way of nearly everything she did.

 I want the American church to understand what happens when she losses her influence in society, an influence that is directly related to the teachings of Christ. I long for the church to realize what an unscrupulous society awaits her if she doesnt stand up for Christian Principles and offer the life changing teachings of Christ to those around her, especially those of us from the Third World.
After hearing my message at his church, a member, a white American, who was offended by what I’d said, asked the following question,
“So, what is the redemptive value in this message?”
My answer: If you don’t change my mindset with the teachings of Jesus, I WILL swallow you up.