Our Secular Shame-Honour Culture

An interesting observation by Tim Keller:

The second influence impoverishing the modern practice of forgiveness is a rising shame and honour culture that some have called a new secular religion.

According to Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the therapeutic culture has converted us into a collection of “self-actualizers,” whose primary concern is to get respect and affirmation of one’s own identity. But the therapeutic culture also taught us to think of ourselves as individuals needing protection from society and from various groups with power who oppress us. So, ironically, we have developed “a shame and honor culture of victimhood.” Greater honour and moral virtue are assigned to people the more they have been victimized and oppressed by society or others in power. So the further down the existing social ladder one is, the greater the possibilities for honour.

The shame-honour culture par excellence is the Middle East, something I’ve noted from the early days of this blog:

Anyone who has watched The Godfather or its sequels is familiar with the whole concept of shame-honour.  Your honour is the most important thing; if anything come to you to make you look bad in front of the world, you have to avenge it, and avenge it in a way that everyone else gets the message.  Everyone is subject to a shame-honour reaction at one time or another, but there are places on the earth — and the Middle East is one of them — where shame-honour is an obsession, something that drives people to retaliate with a ferocity that we in the U.S. aren’t used to…

The concept of servant leadership is very much in vogue in management circles these days, but it is at its heart a Christian concept.  When servant leadership becomes the norm, the kind of careerism, power holding and challenging, and shame-honour that we see in the Middle East — and here also — have to go.  This is one of the principal reasons why the Middle East embraced Islam after Christianity; Islam makes it simpler to continue in the old ways.  The West’s embrace of Christianity has left a lot to be desired of, but at least enough of servant leadership has sunk in to make institutions beneficial to many people and not just those at the top possible.

Serious question: do we really want to see our culture turn into another Middle East?

Leave a Reply