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Shame, Sin, Guilt and Judgment

Updated on July 5, 2011

17th Century Ducking Stool

Shame, sin and guilt are not bad words. When used properly they’re good words. They are tools that can help us become spiritually healthy.

There was a time not so long ago there were many things that used to cause someone shame. For example, cheating, dishonesty, unwed pregnancy, sexual perversion, divorce and being on welfare were things that brought shameful feelings. Nowadays we act as if there is nothing even marginally questionable about any of those things. It's like we're desperately trying to make bad people feel good or at least slightly guilty when they should be feeling bad.

People seem to have the idea if we can get rid of shame we get rid of the moral offense. To say someone ought to be ashamed is like saying they ought to feel guilty.

Remember the stocks, whipping posts and ducking chairs used by society in Colonial America? Stocks usually were placed in the town square. Persons convicted of some lesser offense would be secured in a stock and put on public display so everyone would know they were guilty of a crime. Today the concept seems barbaric, although the stocks caused no physical harm.

San Diego County has been experimenting with a similar concept. No, no one is being locked into stocks, but they are using the “shame factor” in trying to curb prostitution. A billboard there proclaims: "Dear 'Johns,' when convicted, La Mesa offers free photos."

Whipping Post

What that means is if you are convicted of soliciting prostitution, your photo goes in the newspaper. That's kind of like the old colonial “lock’em in the stock” theme. According to San Diego officials, it is working quite well. The point is public humiliation and shame. Many other communities across the country have also followed suit.

America has always had a conscience but it hasn't been politically correct to focus on moral issues. However, that thinking seems to be changing. The idea is shame is something we should be ashamed of.

But in today’s tolerant society, people hesitate to make moral judgments. Were told it’s not politically correct to judge another person’s actions. So the country’s collective reasoning now is: “What you believe might work fine for you, but don’t try to impose your thinking on anyone else.” Today, people live their life with various sets of values. No one has an all encompassing monopoly on moral truth and one set values is just as valid as the next.”

As a result people’s vocabulary has changed. The word “sin” is now rarely used seriously. People no longer “live in sin”; they just “live together.” “Adulterers” are simply “having an affair” and “homosexuals” are merely practicing “an alternative lifestyle.”

It wasn’t long ago preachers thundered ominous warnings from their pulpit against what is termed the “seven deadly sins…lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. “Now,” writes one journalist, “most religious messages pass over the uncomfortable reality of sin to focus on ‘feel-good’ themes.”

Newspaper columnists have observed the same inclinations. Here are a few comments from the esteemed fourth estate:

· “The old categories of sin, repentance and redemption are out and the therapeutic language of self-esteem and self-love are in.”—Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio.

· “The urgent sense of personal sin has all but disappeared.”—Newsweek.

· “We no longer ask ‘What does God require of me,’ but rather, ‘What can God do for me?’”—Chicago Sun-Times.

As the above quotations show, the concept of sin appears to be in deep crisis today.

There is no doubt modern society is prepared to accept sin as “normal.” But what is it about sin people today find so objectionable and why have attitudes changed? And whatever became of sin and does it matter what ones’ view is?

The Wall Street Journal puts it this way: “The idea of Original sin, that we are all implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity, does not sit well with the modern mind. But then neither does the idea of sin itself. . . . People like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin may have sinned, but the rest of us are victims of circumstance and maladjustment.”

There are two sides to the concept of sin, inherited sin and personal sinful behavior. The first is something we inherited, whether we like it or not, while the second is something we practice.

The Bible states moral failing, the original sin on the part of Adam and Eve was passed on to all humanity. Consequently, all of us are born imperfect. “All unrighteousness is sin,” 1 John 5:17.

For many Christians however, the idea humans are flawed because of something in which they took no part in is not logical or acceptable. Edward Oakes, a professor of theology, writes: “The doctrine is met with embarrassed silence, outright denial, or at a minimum a kind of halfhearted lip service that does not exactly deny the doctrine but has no idea how to place it inside the devout life.”

President Calvin Coolidge was well-known for being a man of few words and getting straight to the point. There’s a story told about him that after attending church one day, someone asked him what the sermon had been about. “Sin,” Mr. Coolidge replied. “And what did he have to say about it?” the questioner continued. After pausing for a moment, Coolidge replied, “He was against it.”

There was a time when people felt the weight of guilt and shame. Today, one be hard pressed to find someone willing to admit to being a sinner. So, whatever happened to sin? Sin has been redefined.

We live in a day of political correctness. Today it is politically incorrect to call a person "ignorant.” Instead he is "factually unencumbered." A person should not be called a "loser.” He is a "uniquely fortuned individual on an alternative career path. People are not "obnoxious,” just "charismatically impeded." See how simple it is to make ourselves feel better by simply redefining a word? Here’s a few more “redefinitions.”

Fornication has become “casual sex.” Drunkenness has become “chemical dependency.” Sodomy has become an “alternative lifestyle.” Pride has become a “superiority complex” or “inflated ego” and gossip is “sharing.”

Today, the idea of sin is casually dismissed and accountability for one’s actions is negligible…what a shame.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I whole heartedly agree Christine. This article doesn't imply there isn't any that don't still maintain Christian values, but obviously many don't.

    • Christine P Ann profile image

      Christine P Ann 7 years ago from Australia

      Well written hub, but I feel the need to make a point here of saying that I believe that there are still a few things that are still sins in most peoples eyes, such as child abuse in all forms. Most offenders make lame excuses for abusing kids but the minute this becomes a life style choice I will opt out of the human race.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Well, thanks guys! This one really took a while to write and actually one of the hardest I've ever tried to put together in all my years of writing. But apparently from the immediate attention it received it was worth it.

    • kentuckyslone profile image

      kentuckyslone 7 years ago

      Cool, I love old stuff like this.

    • Sunny Barb profile image

      Barbara Lease Walker 7 years ago from Central Florida

      Really enjoyed this. Another well-written and informative hub. Well done!

    • profile image

      alastar packer 7 years ago

      Agree with the above comment.Even entrepreneurs have gotten into the shame business with there dollar mags in conv. stores showing the areas recently arrested mug shots.

    • torconstantino profile image

      torconstantino 7 years ago from Maryland

      This is a GREAT hub - not only informative and thought-provoking but extremely well-organized and written. Very nicely done, and I look forward to more! Voted up and awesome!