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In 1946, American anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote a study of Japanese culture. Her landmark work, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, introduced to the public the concept of “guilt cultures” and “shame cultures.” Her audience was familiar with (American) guilt society, in which personal conscience keeps people voluntarily on the straight and narrow. In contrast, she characterized (Japanese) shame society by the threat of ostracism for the appearance of wrongdoing. It’s a useful analytical distinction. Today, it’s common to see it applied to Muslim vs. Western societal norms.
Where do shame and guilt come from? Both types of societies invoke the idea of honor — but the term means different things in each case. For example, “honor killing” is an oxymoron in the West, but a perfectly coherent idea in tribal cultures. That’s because in shame societies, “honor” means honor of the family, tribe, or group. It is judged by other people. Guilt societies, on the other hand, understand “honor” to mean individual honor before God. It is the root of conscience: What you do in private, too, is witnessed and under scrutiny. In shame cultures, one works to preserve appearances; in guilt culture, one works to preserve the truth.
Which is why the Left’s systematic attacks on religion, and Christianity specifically, are radically transforming our culture.
The Left has been assiduously dismantling the idea of Divine providence in every area of life — public and private, personal and communal. But when God disappears, ultimately so does conscience. There is always a justification for pragmatism. So all that’s left is honor before other people, honor of the in-group that protects against incursions by the out-group. And all that’s left to prevent wrongdoing is whether or not a person expects to get caught — or get away with it. Removal of the idea of an actively engaged higher power ultimately (over time) transforms society from a guilt culture to a shame culture.
Thus we see Harry Reid take pride in the effectiveness of his lies about Mitt Romney. We see Jonathan Gruber defend lying for the greater good. We see the Democratic Party Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, offer baldfaced lies as necessary to support her party’s spin. We see Obama’s “you can keep your plan” repeated even as he knew it was false. We see lies about the extent of domestic NSA surveillance and safeguards. We see lies that Benghazi was about a YouTube video. We see lies that Bergdahl served “with honor and distinction” used as a pretext for contravening Congress on Gitmo prisoners. We see Hillary’s illegal homebrew email server and wholesale document destruction. We see Lois Lerner get off scot-free. The Obama administration’s motto could easily be “catch me if you can.” As long as there are no consequences, there is no shame.
And then there is the flip side: the ostracization. Duck Dynasty, Brendan Eich, Indiana, Memories Pizza. Public smokers — and vapers, too. Saying the right thing becomes more important than doing the right thing. Celebrities take their private jets to climate change awareness-raisers; meanwhile, shame on you for transporting your kids in an SUV. Share the image of Michelle with the hashtag — or don’t you care about our girls in Nigeria?
Contrary to the Left’s theorizing, suppressing Christian cultural influence will not lead to a more enlightened, modern age. Rather, it is leading back to a more ancient, uncivilized one. The Left is committing a grave error: Dismantling religious freedom and respect for individual conscience will erode all individual liberties. Because truth is only the first casualty. When group honor takes precedence, all individuals become expendable.