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...