Tuesday, January 7, 2014

You Too can be "Shameful without Shame"!

Kevin Tierney at Catholic Exchange has written his best post yet on the Theology of the Body, correcting the sex-saturated pop-Catholic misinterpretations of it.

Kevin's article is about shame.

The Westians want us all to be "naked without shame" - as if that were a good thing.

It is a shame that Tierney has to instruct us on shame.  It is a shame that shame is presented as a thing that is entirely negative by Catholics who should know better.  It is a shame that these same Catholics are so ignorant not only of human nature but also of holy Scripture that they don't recognize how shameful we fallen men actually are.

Tierney alludes to Sirach 4:21

There is a sense of shame laden with guilt, and a shame that merits honor and respect.

or, in another translation

for there is a shame that leads to sin and a shame that is honourable and gracious. 

... which reminds me of 2 Cor. 7:10

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.

And in so far as the Westians are addressing the kind of shame laden with self-loathing that brings us to the sin of despair, they are right in counseling against it.  But their program is not that; they want us to be "naked without shame" - in other words to overcome the shame that "is honorable and gracious".

The Greek word for shame that appears in Sirach 4:21 is the same word for shame that Christ uses in rebuking the Laodecians in Rev. 3:18, instructing them to put on the white garments of a Christian "so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen".

Is Our Lord a Puritan, a repressive Manichean?  Hasn't He read Christopher West?

Apparently not.  The remedy for shame, according to Jesus Christ, is not to remain naked, but to be clothed.  Yes, this clothing is symbolic, but Our Lord does not say, "Laodecians, be naked without shame!" but "Laodecians, let me clothe you!"

Nakedness, in Scripture, from the Fall of Man on, is always shameful or at least embarrassing.  If we don't feel that shame, there's something wrong with us, for shame is not merely a subjective thing, but an objective reality.  When we feel shame for shameful things, our reason is in accord with reality.  

But for modern man, it's not enough to be ashamed regarding the shameful; we insist on being proud of shameful things. "Gay pride" is one example ("Perverted without shame!"), the "Prosperity Gospel" that encourages us to look to worldly rewards is another ("Greedy without shame!").  All of these programs are simply elaborate exercises in placating that nagging thing that causes a sense of shame, the voice of God within us, our conscience.

But St. Paul talked about this long ago - using the same Greek word for shame that appears in Sirach and Revelations.

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Phil. 3:19)


Images of nakedness abound in Scripture.  After the Fall, nakedness is always a thing to be remedied, because it is an image of the essential vulnerability and ridiculousness of man.

Perhaps the most memorable image of nakedness occurs on the most horrible night in history.  When Our Lord is arrested in the Garden, one of his disciples, wearing only a linen cloth, is seized by the thugs, but slips away ...

he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:52)

And when Jesus is crucified, He is first stripped of His garments (one of the most heart-wrenching
Stations of the Cross).

And so behold the man - naked and pursued by a bloodthirsty mob (Mark 15:52), exposed and crucified for the sins of humanity (Mat. 27:35).

To deny the shame - indeed the ignominy - of our nakedness (which is to say of our essential sinfulness and vulnerability) is to glory in the very thing that should lead us to humility.


Sebonde said...

"Erat autem uterque nudus, Adam scilicet et uxor eius: et non erubescebant."

Kevin O'Brien said...

Exactly, Brother Sebonde. Before the Fall we could be naked without shame. Your citation (Gen. 2:25) is the last time in Scripture that nakedness appears as something that does not require a remedy.

To insist that fallen man can be "naked without shame" is to make immanent the Eschaton.

jvc said...

A problem with the Westian idea, which I have never seen discussed before, is that the elimination of positive shame, in the sense that Alice von Hildebrand uses it, also necessarily means the elimination of intimacy. There are some things, some gifts, that are exclusively held out for the gift of a spouse, and to have anyone else take part would be an offense against the gift. The Westian idea seems to be that no privacy should exist and that no intimacy can really exist.

The Westian war on Catholic doctrine seems to me to be a war on the intimacy and grace of spousal relations as much as anything else. (If only the women I know invested in West understood this...)

Kevin Tierney said...

For the record I kinda covered that in the article on look or lust over at CE.