David Hegg | Shame Matters to Society

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

By David Hegg

At the ground level of ethics is the understanding that living ethically is honorable while unethical behavior is shameful. This fundamental recognition of shame and honor can be found in every society. 

Even the idea of guilt and innocence has ties to what society considers right or wrong, honorable or shameful. When you transgress a societal law or moral standard, the unavoidable consequence is supposed to be personal shame. When a society reaches a place where egregious action fails to produce shame, it is time to consider that its ethical standards have been incrementally but substantially eroded. 

It is fair to say that public nudity has, with few exceptions, been recognized as wrong historically. Indeed, in our society, this is the case. The reason is tied to the even stronger ethical standard that public sexual activity is unacceptable. Nudity and sexual intimacy are not supposed to be spectator sports. 

The world of artistic expression has moved the moral boundaries in our day, and you can hardly watch TV, view a film, or attend a play without seeing nuanced sexuality if not scenes that leave nothing to the imagination. As a society, we have come to accept this, but it has not been without significant, if unrealized, consequences. 

As a society, we have gradually become desensitized to the point where dressing up is now undressing. The fashion world has gleefully accepted sheer fabrics and actual nakedness as a welcomed new trend in beauty. What would have been charged as public nudity just a few years ago is now heralded as boldly uncovering and flaunting those body parts that were once hidden for a reason. The bigger question is just how far will this trend go.  

The even bigger ethical question is: Should there be shame? Or is public nudity and sexuality honorable? Is shame a natural restraint to be recognized, or is shame simply a societal construct? You can’t have it both ways. Shame is an essential layer in what we once referred to as self-control of those personal desires that were hazardous to the community.  

It is no coincidence that the seeming death of shame parallels the fall of belief in God in our country. After all, God is the King of shame, given that he has determined right and wrong, calling wrong “sin.” And it is no surprise that shameful behavior rises as faith in God wanes for one simple reason. People too often worship what they can do and choose a god that allows it. Today, too many are worshiping at the throne of unrestricted personal pleasure while angrily mocking any person or worldview that dares to curb their appetite.  

Now, before you go off ranting about my puritanical views, consider this: My point is more than the surface evidence that the acceptance of public nudity and sexuality has eroded our ethical norms. My point is much more important than the differences those in our free society have toward sexuality on parade.  

My point is that, with the erosion of shame in this area, we have lost an essential guardrail on the treacherous highway of life. Those who applaud the erosion of shame do so because they understand that the train of evil is heading toward even more aggressive demonstrations, and they can hardly wait. We are watching the rise of a generation that believes freedom means absolutely no boundaries, no restraints, and no shame.  

Unfortunately for us all, in a society where shame no longer exerts a restraining force, freedom devolves into chaos. Some reading this will think I should be ashamed of my conservative views, as though my conservatism somehow curtails their freedom. But I answer to the more excellent ideal of a society where some things are sacred and need to be protected from the base passions of those that demand we let them act like animals.  

We have laws that forbid the theft of possessions. We must resurrect a sense of shame that condemns those attempting to obliterate the moral and ethical standards that should allow us to live as an honorable society.  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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