Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Why it's cool to be part of a gang

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Muller attributes the loss of shame in western cultures to the result of the work of the followers of Freudian psychology which has taken guilt from our culture and substituted ‘guilt feelings’ and where any fault is generally attributed to others (e.g. parents). From the 1960s onward the west has seen a shift from ‘right and wrong’ to ‘cool and uncool’ – part of the honour/shame paradigm.

According to Muller, the major difference between the east and the west is not the shame concept but the difference between the group mentality and individualism. Eastern shame is the more powerful because it rests on the group and not the individual.

Western culture has lost most of its understanding of shame and honour, but the Bible is full of it. It begins with man’s fall into shame and ends with glory and honour for Jesus. Old and New Testaments together contain 190 references to honour, guilt has 40, while shame has over 100. However, counting words is not enough to convey the reality that honour and shame hold a high place.

The story of slavery in Egypt and the Exodus shows God’s power to raise his people from shame to honour. It is not just a story about God redeeming his people (legal concept) but of raising them from shame. This leads us directly to the concept of grace since it is an unwritten rule of the east that no-one can elevate themselves. That everyone knows their place and must stay in it is a fact countered by the message of the Gospel: God has the power and the desire to elevate man from his lowly position to one of honour.

God also moves us from defiled to cleansed, naked to clothed, from expelled to visited by God and rescues us from shameful relationships. The story of the Prodigal Son embodies all these elements – he returned in shame, the father raises him from a place of shame to one of honour, covering him in a new robe. The ultimate picture is of Christ on the cross bearing our sin AND our shame. To be thrown out of the family is the ultimate shame - apart from which the family/tribe (with the accompanying group mindset) provides what is needed in life – fellowship, money, opportunity, education, spouse, security. A man without a family/tribe is in an impossible situation.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Who me, officer?

Continuing an overview of Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Muller challenges western theologians who work within the guilt/innocence paradigm to wrestle with developing other approaches to salvation and examines what he sees as the principles behind fear-based cultures and then shame-based cultures.

Fear-based cultures deal with the need to appease unseen powers and to live in peace with these gods and spirits. The fears are directed toward other men or other tribes as well as toward the supernatural and involve explanations of how the world works, with sickness being a sign of gods/spirits reaping revenge. The struggle to acquire power and control over the universe results in the establishing of rules in an attempt to protect the wary from harm. If bad things strike, there are procedures to appease offending powers and to oversee these principles a priesthood comes into being – priests, shamans and witchdoctors become the mediums through whom the god/spirit communicates. In this context missionaries are involved in a very real power struggle.

Shame-based cultures present a different set of challenges. This is typified by something as simple as being pulled over by the traffic police. Westerners react to this situation on the basis of guilt/innocence (Who me, officer?), Africans (say) on the basis of fear/power and Arabs on the basis of shame/honour. A shame-based culture also has honourable and dishonourable ways of doing the same thing and thousands of nuances that convey shame and honour. So – which chair you sit on, who entered the room first, the way you express yourself, the way you walk and hold yourself – all these communicate your place in the world.

In the west, shame is lack of self-esteem – in the east, shame is a controlling force. As an example of this, western youth can act loudly as long as there is ‘no damage done’, eastern youth represents the family/tribe at all times and must act honourably to uphold that honour. Shameful deeds are covered up and if that isn’t possible they are avenged. Such attitudes and actions predate the arrival of Islam and reflect an ancient Bedouin code of practice.

In the shame-based culture, possible responses to loss of honour are lying (if a lie protects the honour of the tribe it is fine – if it is for personal benefit, it is shameful), suicide, and tribal warfare. This last option is often only resolved by the skilful intervention of a third party and hostility may continue for years – or generations.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Why right and wrong isn't the whole picture...

Further ideas from Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

Western Christianity’s predominant concern with guilt/innocence and the law had early roots. The foundation of the Roman Republic established that no-one was above the law – not even the ruler. Prior to this the ruler WAS the law. This elevation of the law can be found in the thinking of early church theologians such as Tertullian who was steeped in Roman law and an outstanding apologist of the Western church and the first known author of a Christian systematic theology. Augustine used rhetoric for debates in Roman law. Even during the Reformation this thinking is traced in the work of Calvin – a lawyer as well as a theologian. Concerned with establishing guilt and innocence in law, each of them brought this thinking into their theology which was absorbed by a developing western civilisation. The New World and ultimately the US was built on these principles that were foundational to their thinking.

In the East, meanwhile, Christianity centred on the shame/honour relationship. Historically, Eastern Orthodox theology majored on being able to stand in the presence of God and was not primarily concerned with sin, guilt and redemption. From this tradition, Chrysostom wrote 680 sermons/homilies – not one on justification - and was banished for speaking against western theological views.

Muller maintains that the book of Romans has become the centre of our biblical explanation of the gospel because of our guilt-based culture and because Paul contextualised his message to them as he had done to the Greeks at Mars Hill. Muller observes that

‘Most western believers have a hard time finding the Gospel in the Gospels’ (p33)

and concludes that we must put aside our Roman, guilt-based understanding of the gospel, strive to understand other world views and discover a way to communicate the Gospel to a mindset not pre-occupied with right and wrong and guilt and innocence.

To be continued...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Three world views relevant to us all

Since King’s is located in southeast London, the issues that surround cross-cultural ministry are very relevant for us. Input from Dave Devenish, with his wide experience in this area, has been very useful and I am always happy to follow up his recommendations for relevant reading. One of the books he suggested is Honor & Shame by Roland Muller – this series of blogs will cover some of Muller’s insights.

Roland Muller identifies three building blocks that together make up the worldview of every society/culture – fear, shame and guilt. In each case man strives for the opposite so that the dynamic becomes fear/power, shame/honour and guilt/innocence. Muller observes that most of the 10/40 window is shame based, the Western nations (N Europe, N America, Australia & New Zealand) are primarily guilt based, and primal religions and cultures (such as tribal Africa, much of Asia and South America) are mostly fear based.

Christian missions have done best at presenting the work of Christ in fear-based cultures, where the victory of Christ has been the main message. Work in shame-based cultures, such as the Muslim cultures of the Middle East, has often struggled historically.

Our Western culture is primarily guilt based – we maintain a foundational belief in right and wrong and plot everything on a continuum between guilt and innocence. The unspoken goals of our society are righteousness and innocence (as we define them!). Wars are justified on the basis of established guilt and situations that aren’t clear disturb us – e.g. the hungry child who steals.

Many Christians believe that a culture based on right and wrong is built on Judaeo-Christian principles and is therefore correct. The origin of thinking that this is the whole picture comes from the Greek and Roman cultures and continues to impact the church and our understanding of Scripture.

To be continued...