Sunday, April 15, 2018

at The Atlantic, Libby Copeland has a piece on how guilt is good, and how the right kind of guilt is a prerequisite to a stable society

In his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, Roy Baumeister proposed that two important emotions in the moral and social formation of a person are fear and shame. These have had a bad reputation in American psychology popular and otherwise in the 20th century but fear of bad consequences and shame at the reality (or even the prospect) of harming someone are substantial disincentives against what is colloquially known as anti-social behavior. 

In the twenty odd years since the internet has become what it has become, pseudonymity (as opposed to anything like actual anonymity) is apparently enough to catalyze vitriolic conduct on the part of all sorts of people.

There is, per the article in The Atlantic about how to guilt trip your kids, a "right" way for them to feel shame.  Americans can be so set on avoiding shame or regarding shame as an a priori bad approach to moral development we can ... well, there's that South Park episode where Randy Marsh insists that we need a shame-free America, and America without shame. The punchline being that that ,of course, is precisely the problem with American culture, it's so shameless that many people don't feel any shame about how they interact with people.  While those unfamiliar with the twenty-plus seasons of South Park might say "as if" or "the pot calls the kettle black" we're looking at a television program that is arguably an exemplar of more prevalent patterns.  It's not like anyone who watches a single episode of Rachel Maddow couldn't get the sense that there's condescension about the question of whether people who are more conservative than Maddow actually have ideas or genuine lives of the mind, much as a single episode of Keith Olberman waxing political could convey the same general impression.  The Jon Stewart and the Rush Limbaugh are not necessarily different in methodology so much as in platform. 

Satirizing how shameless Americans can be while insisting that they not be shamed doesn't seem like it's that bad a thing to do, as popular culture goes.  Anglo-American culture can produce guys who won't watch cartoons but will actually enjoy comic books by Garth Ennis as if those are somehow actually less juvenile than cartoons by Parker and Stone.  But I digress.

There's a kind of shame and a kind of guilt that is bad, obviously, but when blogging on a weekend there's such a thing as letting that stand off to the side.  It seems like we've got a cultural moment in which the temptation to shift shame and guilt into an a priori bad category is prevalent ... although ... to go by what I've seen in the roughly twenty years I've been in the Puget Sound area observing a certain religious movement the thing that stands out for me is the double standard in how guilt and shame get used.  Somebody had no problem invoking guilt and shame at "how dare you!?" levels as long as he was yelling at men for the way they treated the women in their lives as though he were the more exemplar of how to do it better.  Then a few years later when he was confronted on air with questions about the integrity and legitimacy of his intellectual property somebody was suddenly considered to be saying things that were accusatory and unkind.  Everyone can be a hypocrite who falls short of his or her highest ideals, but what played out in a leadership culture here in Puget Sound looked more like the pervasive use of a double standard in which guilt and shame were totally fine to use on the tithing peons but guilt and shame being used in anything like a comparable way on the leaders?  That was being accusatory and unkind, or being mistrustful and prideful.

But if the majority of those guys use the methodology of appealing to what they regarded as legitimate grounds for guilt and shame toward themselves first how many of them would have even considered being even volunteer pastors or elders at Mars Hill? 

Now I'm hardly a Lutheran but I recall a Lutheran saying that Mark Driscoll was very much a Law preacher and that the Law is a necessary and important part of preaching and teaching. The problem, however, is that Mark didn't have Gospel.  Being a Presbyterian myself I'm going to differ with Lutherans on a few things but this core idea seems legitimate.  Years ago I told a by-now former Mars Hill member that Mark's shtick was basically appealing to shame as a motivation to do better.  It's not even that this is really a bad way to do things in every single case.  There are cases where the Apostle Paul wrote "I say this to your shame."  The difficulty with a guy like Driscoll was how prevalently he used it as a kind of one-size-fits-all approach.  And what made it all the worse, as the various controversies that erupted around Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll from the 2012 through 2014 period showed (and which we've documented at some length as others have waded into these topics, too), is that when things came to light about Result Source and On Mission, LLC and other things, it began to look like Mark had spent the last half decade exempting himself from the kinds of standards of godly pastoral behavior he had been preaching and teaching from the pulpit. 

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones taught in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount that one of many reasons we should not be in a rush to judge is because as we judge others in like manner will we be judged. 

Matthew 7: 1-5 NAS
1 Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

In the way you judge, you will be judged, and by the standard which you measure you will be measured.  In this sense someone like Mark Driscoll who could ever be described as subjected to "accusatory and unkind" words might have to step back and consider whether he has himself taken an accusatory and unkind approach as a default.  Could the creator of the pen name William Wallace II and the author of "Pussified Nation" have found that it wasn't so good to be measured and found wanting by the measures through which he had found others wanting and said so for posterity? 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his sermon on The Sermon on the Mount said of the above passage that if you claim to have insight then you will have to be ready to be measured by that claim to insight; if you claim to be able to sit in authority to judge someone by a standard you have no right to be upset if it is by precisely that standard of judgment you, too, are judged and capable of being found wanting.  Whatever you say is your gift, that gift becomes a measure of judgment against you. 

He also said that there's an old joke that there is, in fact, something worse than the blind leading the blind, the blind oculist. No one would want to get a prescription for glasses from a blind oculist.  If you are blind to your own sins how on earth can you expect to help someone turn from theirs?

When the tables were turned and Mark had a chance to be asked "how dare you?", but implicitly rather than explicitly in the late 2013 confrontation, we got to see what his response was--he said someone was being "accusatory and unkind".  It turned out, it seems, that the man who was willing to invoke guilt and shame in others was reluctant to take it on for himself.  Appealing to guilt and shame seemed to stop being legitimate gambits in the public sphere when the tables were turned. 

But the misuse of appellations to guilt and shame doesn't necessarily mean these are never appropriate emotions or appropriate emotions to invoke and evoke.  It's good to feel bad that you had some hand in harming someone.  It's good to feel ashamed that you said or did something really wrong.  Baumeister's proposal in is book was it is precisely these feelings that can emerge in advance of doing things that are often the reasons why people don't do things; guilt and shame are a kind of moral preventative immune response in people who are considering or tempted to antisocial behavior, what Christians have often traditionally called sin. Had some guys felt guilt and shame in advance of the stupid and unscrupulous and evil things they did they might not have done them.  But ...

and that may be the rub.  You have to cultivate this capacity in yourself (or your kids) at early enough of an age that this capacity for sympathy and empathy predicated guilt and shame can do its work.  There's a point at which things are done and trying to get people to feel guilt and shame after the fact for damage already caused "could" be valuable but depending on who you're dealing with, the milk is spilt.  Some people just won't feel bad about stuff. 

But, conversely, a guy like Driscoll invoking guilt and shame to get guys to behave presumes a fight or flight response.  Not every guy is going to choose "fight" of the Driscollian type.  In other words, when presented with "this is what real manly men are supposed to be like" not everyone is going to say "I will fight to be that kind of man", some will conclude "this working definition of manhood isn't practical, possible or desirable and I'm not cut out for it."  A guy like Driscoll has a history of concluding that those guys are worthless, and of saying so.  But in a post 2014 world in which Driscoll's own controversies can be consulted in connection to the history of his teaching and actions, the question of whether Driscoll himself has really lived up to the standards by which he judged others for the record, and for which he was ostentatiously willing to invoke guilt and shame, remains an open question.  Pertinent to Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermons about the Sermon on the Mount, if a man can't even live by the criteria with which he judges others his hypocrisy is made known.  If you're more stringent on others than yourself then the real pleasure you take is in judging others rather than pursuing righteousness and this is one of the warnings within Jesus' teaching that we should not judge so as not to be judged.  The measure you measure by is what you will be measured by. 

And if there's such a thing as a right way to "guilt trip your kids" everything hinges on what kind of guilt is being cultivated.  There's room for the cultivation of legitimate fear, shame and guilt.  A whole lot of what's going on in the post-Weinstein #metoo moment seems to involve finding out what a whole bunch of men and women felt no fear, guilt or shame about doing to other people.  As I've written elsewhere I don't think that the way to approach this moment is to say "we're all monsters" as if merely saying so ensures that everyone is a Sandunsky or a Nassar.  That's obviously ridiculous, though it's not beyond the purview of a kind of Anglo-American pop Lutheran approach that, being a  Calvinist who likes to read sermons by Richard Sibbes and (obviously) Martyn Lloyd-Jones I don't agree with.  :) 

I guess what I'm mulling over here in the year of a guy like Mark getting another book deal is that it seems there's a kind of "grace" that a noveau rich, untitled aristocracy can get that the rank and file don't get.  Someone like Mark can go through a plagiarism controversy and a Result Source controversy and have what he wrote as William Wallace II disclosed for the world as a fuller indication of what his legacy is and ... Christians should forgive.  Right ... but we're hardly obliged to just assume a man is still fit for Christian ministry and service after what has been brought to light about the man.  A man who made so much hay out of invocations of guilt and shame and saying people needed to fear God, it's hard to know precisely how there's fear of the Lord in a guy who said God released him to quit being at Mars Hill when a year earlier he'd preached from the pulpit that we should not just take at face value some guy's claim that 'God told me I get to do X."    If you don't like the measure you get but haven't changed the measure you give you have an opportunity to reconsider what your standard of measurement is. 

Not every standard for fear, guilt and shame is a good one, but just as clearly not every measure of fear, guilt and shame is bad, either.  There are things we should fear, things we should feel guilt about, and things we should feel shame about.  Liberating ourselves from any possibility of shame will not make us less like those men with power who have used and abused people, it will very likely make us more like them.  A capacity to feel genuine and legitimate guilt and shame, a capacity to feel legitimate fear that doing X or Y would be wrong and harm people plays a bigger role in the formation of a moral compass than I sometimes feel may be readily granted in contemporary Anglo-American discourse, at least online.  Sure, shame, fear and guilt are invoked aplenty when they're useful but it can seem that these are invoked by those who feel a bit too confident that they can't possibly fail to measure up by the standards they invoke.  But just as awkwardly, it seems that there's nothing gained by a kind of pseudo-Lutheran Law/Gospel divide that skips the Law and goes straight for a Gospel for neo-aristocrats because that, frankly, is kinda what I think went down in Puget Sound when someone who acted with the liberties of a neo-aristocrat decided he had the divine right of a prophet/king to just pull up stakes and leave because he aid God told him to. 

So I am ... let's say ... in process about stuff like this.  I don't feel like I have a lot of wisdom to impart on this stuff.  I was somewhere for about ten years and left because I felt the problems I had were not problems that could be fixed in a setting like that.  I guess I'm saying that Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermon on Matthew 7:1-3 comes to mind, you have to be willing and able to judge yourself as wanting by the standards you have in mind constantly before you even think of doing such a thing for/to someone else. 

But I've rambled enough on this topic for a weekend.

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