“That They Might Have Joy”: Conquering Shame Through At-one-Ment

*Film spoilers*

Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame is one of the most devastating movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. I’m wading into potentially touchy Mormon territory given its NC-17 rating and subject matter, but I think it’s worth the risk. In short, the film follows Brandon (an incredible Michael Fassbender) as he struggles with his all-consuming sex addiction; one that includes frequent pornography viewing and masturbation at both work and home, casual sexual encounters (including one in a gay bar despite being quite straight), and multiple hired sex workers. In the midst of his nihilistic despair, we witness his withdrawal from those around him, including his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who is temporarily staying with him. Yet, the underlying theme of all this is–as the title makes clear–shame.

The word shame may bring to mind a mixed set of meanings. For example, the word is obviously central to “ashamed” or even the phrase “have you no shame?” This understanding of the concept is very ancient in origin. Biblical scholars have labeled societies in antiquity (including the Greco-Roman world Jesus inhabited) as honor/shame societies (this has been discussed here at Times & Seasons before). While the modern Western world features a highly internalized, personalized morality, other cultures place stronger emphasis on the connection between personal behavior and community values. “In shame cultures,” writes one pair of biblical scholars, “people are more likely to choose right behavior on the basis of what society expects from them. It is not a matter of guilt, nor an inner voice of direction, but outer pressures and opinions that direct a person to behave a certain way. Rules and laws are less a deterrent for bad behavior than the risk of bringing shame on oneself or one’s family.”[1] New Testament scholar David deSilva points out, “Those living or reared in Asiatic, Latin American, Mediterranean or Islamic countries have considerable advantage in their reading of the [scriptures] in this regard, since many of those cultures place a prominent emphasis on honor and shame.”[2] Modern researchers recognize that aspects of this more ancient view of public morality can lead to “healthy attitudes that define a wholesome character.”[3] Social pressures can establish boundaries and create context for our behavior. These constraints remind us of our limitations and can foster a sense of humility. Or, as the Lord said to Moroni, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things strong” (Ether 12:27).

However, this is not the type of shame addressed in the movie above or in this post. Rather, I mean shame as an identity. In his popular book Healing the Shame That Binds You, author John Bradshaw explains, “As a state of being shame takes over one’s whole identity. To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing.”[4] Similarly, researcher and author Brené Brown defines shame as “the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection…Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”[5] It creates a “gnawing self-doubt” and even “inflamed self-hatred,” which “drives people toward perfectionism, withdrawal, diffidence, combativeness.”[6] Brown makes the simple, yet helpful—if not idiosyncratic—distinction between shame and guilt: guilt says I did something bad, while shame says I am something bad.[7] A helpful comparison would be Paul’s contrast of “godly sorrow” and “worldly sorrow” in 2 Corinthians 7:10. As President Uchtdorf proclaimed, “Godly sorrow inspires change and hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Worldly sorrow pulls us down, extinguishes hope, and persuades us to give in to further temptation…Yes, heartfelt regret and true remorse for disobedience are often painful and very important steps in the sacred process of repentance. But when guilt leads to self-loathing or prevents us from rising up again, it is impeding rather than promoting our repentance.” Such sorrow is not worldly because it privileges the opinions of man rather than God (as is often taught). It is worldly because it is not of God: it disconnects us from our Heavenly Father and one another. This worldly sorrow or toxic shame can cloud our vision and prevent us from seeing the inherent dignity, beauty, and potential within each person, including ourselves. In essence, shame causes us to forget that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).

We’ve all experienced this in one way or another:

  • The voice that tells you you’re not pretty or skinny enough as you examine your body in the mirror.
  • The voice that tells you how dumb you are when you don’t get into the college of your choice.
  • The voice that tells you what a terrible parent you are after you yell at your kids.
  • The voice that tells you how big of a failure you are when you are laid off.
  • The voice that tells you how you’ll never be loved after watching pornography yet again.
  • The voice that tells you your colleagues talk behind your back because you’re such an idiot.
  • The voice that tells you that you don’t belong at church because you’re not worthy enough.

Or, from my personal collection:

  • You’re a skinny, gangly looking creature. No amount of exercise will change that.
  • You’re a sucky writer. Why do you waste so much time doing it?
  • It doesn’t matter how much you read, you’ll always be dumb and always be behind. Nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual.
  • You’ve been playing guitar this long and you can’t even do that? You’re a disgrace to the instrument.
  • No one at church cares what you think. You’re just the overly opinionated guy in the back. You probably don’t even have a real testimony.

(There’s a lot more, but you get the point.)

These are the stories Adam Miller so rightly suggests we lay down. All of these whispers drive us away from others and lead us to disconnection. They then leave us lonely in a crowded room. Returning to the movie, it is clear from the beginning that Brandon is detached. Sissy calls and leaves multiple messages in the first few minutes of the film, each of which is either ignored or erased (she finally just shows up, much to Brandon’s annoyance). He is disgusted and angered by his sister’s promiscuity, likely because it triggers his own self-loathing. As he berates her for sleeping with his boss and attempts to kick her out of his apartment for being “a burden,” she claims,

Sissy: If I left, I would never hear from you again! Don’t you think that’s sad?

Brandon: [silence]

Sissy [with more desperation in her voice]: …Don’t you think that’s sad?!?

At one point Brandon relays his negative views of commitment and marriage to a recently separated co-worker, admitting that the longest relationship he’s ever had lasted only four months. Later, he is unable to sexually perform with this same co-worker because there is too much affection and emotion involved. However, he performs easily enough with a prostitute in the very same hotel room the very same day in the very next scene. Sissy’s own shame becomes apparent. The numerous scars on her arm tell us that she has attempted suicide (as she does in the latter part of the film) and/or engages in cutting. A desperate message left for Brandon provides a brief, but ambiguous insight into why they are the way they are: “We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.” Whether they come from a place of abuse, dysfunction, and/or instability is left unclear. These addictive behaviors, however, are not the cause of the detachment and shame, though they certainly entrench them in a vicious cycle. Rather, it is shame that ultimately gives rise to these self-destructive behaviors.

How Fassbender and I looked by the end of the movie.

As I wiped the tears away at the film’s end, one of the first things that came to mind was “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). While Mormonism embraces a slightly muddled version of a Fortunate Fall, it is difficult to side step the negative reactions of the first couple following their partaking of the fruit.[8] Terryl Givens traces the more exalted view of Eve’s initial choice back to an 1875 issue of the Woman’s Exponent. Yet, “it took three quarters of a century before a leading church authority, John Widtsoe, intimated that Eve deserved praise, not censure, for her decision…Decades later, leading Mormon intellectual Hugh Nibley returned to the theme…Soon thereafter LDS leaders were picking up that thread.”[9] But attempts to smear Eve in some Christian traditions or even exalt her in ours can cause us to miss an important, yet subtle (cf. Gen. 3:1; Moses 4:5) element of the Fall; an element that is universal to the human experience. Prior to the serpent’s introduction, the man and woman are described as “naked” and “not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25; Moses 3:25; Abraham 5:19). I imagine that most would say shame was introduced after Adam and Eve’s disobedience: it is the natural consequence of transgression. However, I think it can be argued that shame was introduced before the partaking of the forbidden fruit. As psychiatrist Curt Thompson illustrates in his new book The Soul of Shame,

In stating flatly that the woman will not die, the serpent offers her a new rendition of the truth. A startling one, to be sure. But this is not merely a factual sleight of hand. To be told that you will be like God may seem like a good thing…But the subtle corollary to this idea is that, given the prohibition to the fruit of this particular tree, by implication God does not want you to be like him. God does not want you to have what he has. He does not want you to be as close and as connected to him as you might think he does. And by further implication, therefore, you are not as important as you think. You, as it turns out, are less than you think. You. Are. Not. Enough.[10]

It is interesting that Satan (according to the temple depiction) approaches Eve while she is alone in order to further isolate her and place her feelings of love and security in doubt. Even prior to the breaking of commandments, the idea that “it is not good that [wo]man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18; Moses 3:18; Abraham 5:14) was under assault. The image of God in which man and woman were created was being torn apart. And all by exploiting the mind’s sense of shame. By itself, shame is simply “our system’s way of warning of possible impending abandonment.” However, we “tend to respond to it by relationally moving away from others rather than toward them, while experiencing within our own minds a similar phenomenon of internal disintegration.”[11] Thompson writes, “When an individual, relationship or community is touched by [shame], the mind moves toward a more disintegrated state. Sensations, images, feelings, thoughts and behaviors have a more difficult time flowing as a coherent whole…In the same way that a destructive weather system…disrupts the connected infrastructure of power supply and people, so shame does to the mind and relationships.”[12] This “process of disintegration…follows a predictable, inevitable trajectory, one that begins with separation and ends in the hell of utter isolation.”[13] As Eve became more convinced of her loneliness with a growing sense of vulnerability, she reached out for something “to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6); something to distract her from or help buffer the gnawing emptiness of shame. Yet, as both Adam and Eve partook, it locked in a continuous cycle in which all they could do was grab fig leaves in an attempt to cover their shame (a suggestion, of course, made by Satan himself). Perhaps this story isn’t about moments of weakness, selfish disobedience, or even wise, future-oriented decisions. Perhaps it is about the way we tend to experience the world and often react to it. Perhaps it is about how shame infects the creation (including our relationships) like a virus, deteriorating anything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report.[14]

Yet, as Lehi told his sons, “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24). It is interesting that Lehi mentions that Adam and Eve “would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good for they knew no sin” (vs. 23). While Lehi’s main thrust is the nature of opposition,[15] the passing remark about children and thus the outcome of “multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28; Moses 2:28; Abraham 4:28) should not be overlooked. Because what follows is the famous declaration that Adam fell so that humanity could exist; and humanity exists to have and experience joy (see 2 Ne. 2:25). In some sense, the multiplying of persons (not merely reproduction) and the increased potential for relationships brings about joy. Drawing on the Hebb’s axiom “Neurons that fire together wire together” and Daniel Siegel’s research on integration, Thompson offers this description of joy:

Joy can be understood as the primary positive developmental affect in whose presence the process [of integration] is grounded…[I]ntegration is a contingent process, one in which the mind of the child is working interdependently and in response to the intentions of the adult, a process out of which joy emerges…It is not simply joy for joy’s sake but rather that joy is the signature indication of deep, mindful, intentional connection. It is contingent on an interpersonal process in which the infant essentially hears from the parent, among other things, “I am glad to be with you!”[16]

Of course, this goes far beyond a parent/child relationship: “[A] secure base, no matter how old a “child” is, creates the context for exploration, proper risk and extension into realms of imagined experience that is, as the Victorian poet Robert Browning hints in Andrea del Sarto, beyond the child’s and then the adult’s grasp.”[17] Continual research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, primatology, and others find that we are wired to connect. Supportive, loving relationships help us to flourish because they help us become more of what we are: social beings. When we explore the theology of Joseph Smith and the rituals and practices of Mormonism, we find that God is plural and indwelling and that salvation is about kinship. In essence, as Blake Ostler put it, “I’m not saved unless you are. My exaltation depends on your exaltation. So when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really mean a thing unless you’re all there with me. Because if a single one of us isn’t there we’re all diminished by your absence.” This is perhaps why the risen Lord told the Nephites that he experienced “a fulness of joy” because “none of them [were] lost” (3 Nephi 27:30-31). He took joy in his connection with others. He was “lifted up upon the cross, that [he] might draw all men unto [him]” (3 Nephi 27:14). Philosopher Robin Collins explores the meaning of Christ’s vulnerability as he was “lifted up upon the cross”:

[M]ost of us try to avoid confronting our own vulnerability, dependence, alienation, and brokenness. Indeed, thinkers as diverse as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, (1941), Pulitzer Prize winning author Ernest Becker (1973), and psychologist M. Scott Peck (1983), have claimed that this unwillingness to confront our own vulnerability and other “threatening” aspects of our human condition is one of the prime roots of human sin, wickedness, sickness, and neurosis, along with the world-system of status, domination, and oppression. Instead of recognizing that we are vulnerable, dependent and insecure human beings, for example, we attempt to possess, dominate, and control people and things, to give ourselves the illusion of invulnerability, security, and status; and instead of acknowledging our own shadow, we project it on to others and then demonize them. In fact, it has become a common thesis among thinkers in this century–for example, René Girard and Michel Foucault, in addition to the thinkers mentioned above–that the world-system of psychic and social domination, oppression, bondage, and its associated values, rests on expulsion, scapegoating, and marginalization of both aspects of our own psychic lives and the subjectivity of various individuals in society. Given that these thinkers are at least partly correct, it follows that the “fallen” human subjectivity characteristic of the world-system is largely based on the denial of the subjectivity established in Christ on the Cross. Consequently, mimetically participating in this new subjectivity established in Christ will tend, as yeast leavens a lump of bread, to undercut the entire world-system of psychic, spiritual, and social bondage both in our personal and social lives.[18]

The ending of the film Shame leaves Brandon’s fate unknown. As temptation presents itself once more, the screen goes black. But the message of the film is similar to a point recently made by British journalist Johann Hair: “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.” I don’t suffer from the same problems as Brandon, but I recognized far too many similarities for comfort. I recognized the numbing, the seemingly cool but ultimately protective detachment, and the constant looks of defeat. I think we all would. And this is why we all need each other. The Atonement is not a magic spirit cleanser or something that must simply be believed intellectually. It is at-one-ment. It is becoming one with God, with Christ, and with each other. It is to follow Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame” of it (Heb. 12:2). It is about faith as it was originally meant: loyalty, commitment, fidelity, faithfulness; all of which are relational in nature.[19]

Perhaps as we begin to reconnect, that sense of shame introduced in the garden long ago can finally begin to recede and the creation can begin to heal.

 

 

NOTES

1. E. Randolph Richards, Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 116.

2. David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 25.

3. Robert Karen, “Shame,” The Atlantic Monthly (February 1992): 42.

4. John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame That Binds You: Expanded and Updated Edition (Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 2005), xvii.

5. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Gotham Books, 2012), 68-69.

6. Karen, 1992: 42.

7. Brown, 2012, 71.

8. For the obstacles to what is known as the Wise Choice Theory of the Fall, see Julie M. Smith, “Paradoxes in Paradise,” in Fleeing the Garden: Reading Genesis 2-3 (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, BYU, forthcoming).

9. Terryl L. Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (New York: Oxford University Press), 188.

10. Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About Ourselves (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 130.

11. Ibid., 62.

12. Ibid., 66.

13. Ibid., 67.

14. I do not pretend that this interpretation is the meaning of the Eden story. I merely present it as one theological angle that could be explored. For example, from a historical critical approach, God in the Yahwist (J) account doesn’t want mankind to become like him, which contradicts the Priestly (P) account’s depiction of deity. See David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 51-54.

15. “The first problem with remaining in the garden is that Adam and Eve would have had no children. While this is a crucial theological point, it is not Lehi’s main point. Rather, the important problem is the lack of opposition in Eden, leaving Adam and Eve without the power to achieve exaltation. Lehi’s use of “joy” will become more significant in verse 25″ (Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon: Volume 2a: Second Nephi 1-20. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007, Kindle edition. Commentary on 2 Ne. 2:23).

16. Thompson, 2015, 61.

17. Ibid.

18. Robin Collins, “Girard and Atonement: An Incarnational Theory of Mimetic Participation,” in Violence Renounced: René Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking, ed. Willard Swartley (Telford, PA: Pandora Press U.S., 2000), 10 (online version). Download here.

19. See Zeba A. Crook, “BTB Readers’ Guide: Loyalty,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 34:4 (Nov. 2004): 167-177.

 

 

17 comments for ““That They Might Have Joy”: Conquering Shame Through At-one-Ment

  1. Debow
    1
    November 21, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Brilliant! Thank you!

  2. Eric Russell
    2
    November 21, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, I’ve just finished books by Brown, Siegel, Hari, and Ostler within the last month or so. It’s fun to see someone else on the same wavelength! I’m not familiar with Thompson, I’m going to look at that.

    I like the post – I had not read the Fall that way before, but I like that.

    One thing I would add is that connection is as much a result of healing as it is an instigator of it. So I think addressing shame needs to begin within, by addressing the underlying causes of it. These causes come from ones own lived experiences – almost always from childhood. Healing the wounds of early broken attachments has to be accomplished first in order for active connections to really be successful.

  3. November 21, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Given that I can’t recall ever feeling shame, and certainly not relating to anything on that list, is something wrong with me?

  4. Eric Russell
    4
    November 21, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    It’s worth noting that the wounds that produce shame are just as likely to produce grandiosity. Very generally speaking, women are somewhat more likely to experience shame, while men are somewhat more likely to manifest grandiosity.

  5. Nate
    5
    November 21, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    An interesting take on shame. In the story of Adam and Eve, you make a case that shame comes from Satan, from His temptation “you shall be as the gods,” or the assumption that God didn’t want them to become “as the gods,” and thus they weren’t good enough. That’s a hard sell. Those who believe Eve was a sinner won’t see her as latching on to the fruit because she was depressed, but rather being enticed by her pride, “you shall be as the gods!” And those who believe Eve made a righteous choice wouldn’t believe Eve ate because she felt inadequate. Of course all interpretations of the story are valid if one finds personal meaning in them.

    I personally think shame has an important place in the human journey. It is not entirely evil, even though it is problematic. In spite of the message of the film, I think we live in a society saturated with shamelessness. Nudity, casual sexual behavior and dirty jokes are everywhere. Sex is not special or shameful in the modern world. By reintroducing shame into a shameless world, LDS culture makes the sexual world more erotic and appealing, and this is great news for exciting marriages and baby making. Shame heightens eroticism, because what is forbidden on some kind of metaphysical plane, becomes more enticing.

    If we kill the shame we inherited from the Fall (“see you are naked!”), we become just like the bonobos, shameless humping animals. I believe what is felt as “shame” is what is often described as “sacred,” by members of the church who see the sex act as divine. What they really mean by “sacred” is that sexuality and human nudity is imbued with an aspect of mysterious ambiguity which should be carefully guarded and protected. Milan Kundera said: “Without the art of ambiguity there is no real eroticism, and the stronger the ambiguity, the more powerful the excitement.”

  6. November 21, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    This is a really great post. I love Michael Fassbender, so I might have to see this movie. I found the part where you quote Blake Ostler and comment on his words particularly intriguing: “’I’m not saved unless you are. My exaltation depends on your exaltation. So when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really mean a thing unless you’re all there with me. Because if a single one of us isn’t there we’re all diminished by your absence.’” This is perhaps why the risen Lord told the Nephites that he experienced ‘a fulness of joy’ because ‘none of them [were] lost’ (3 Nephi 27:30-31).”

    I very rarely see Latter-day Saints with this idea of collective salvation. Blake’s quote even goes so far as to seem to suggest an idea of universal salvation, where God will end up saving all of humanity.

    I’m interested: is that what you believe in, or have I completely misunderstood this part? If you do believe it, do you mind sharing what led you to that belief? These aren’t meant to be leading question. I’m honestly curious. I have had times in my life where I have pondered the idea of universal salvation, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts on it. I’m interested in how that interacts with your concept of shame. It seems to me, if we could all internalize the idea that God is saving us, we wouldn’t have anything we would feel the need to shame ourselves and others over.

    Alternately, a correctly-applied concept of universal sin does the same thing, because, as your post expressed so well, shame is related to relationships, and is felt in relation to other people. If everyone accepts that they are irredeemably corrupt, it seems that would also end the culture of shame. It has always been interesting to me that Peter’s sermons in Acts, which, if they are accurately reported, are probably the first post-resurrection Christian sermons, all contained as part of the message an injunction for his listeners to accept that it is their fault that Christ was crucified (see, for example, Acts 2). To me, this suggests that, as Christianity was originally taught, before you repented or were baptized, you had to accept the fact that Jesus suffered and was killed because of you: it was your sins that made him hang on the cross. Because of that, there is no reason to compare yourself to anyone else, because they’re in the exact same position as you: it was all of our sins that made Jesus die, and no one is more or less to blame for it. Since we’re all alike in our nakedness, there is no need for fig leaves for some to cover up while others are exposed. As I think your post suggests, part of Satan’s success with us in the garden is in isolating us, and separating us from each other and from God, making us think that God wants us to be separate and different from Him. Latter-day Saint theology, though, suggests that the reality is just the opposite: God was once just like us, and His mission is for all of us to become just like Him. If that’s true, then when we create divisions of shame, we are going against God’s work, and are distracted from the path of salvation.

    On the other hand, I can see theological justification for seeing things completely differently, too. That’s why I’m interested in hearing more people’s thoughts about this than just mine.

  7. November 21, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Wow.

  8. Terry H
    8
    November 21, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    This was a fascinating post.

    mirrorrorrim: The baptismal covenant we have certainly makes a type of universal salvation argument such as you state plausible. “Mourn with those that mourn”, comfort those that stand in need of comfort” and “bear one another’s burdens”. Even the Law of Moses had a type of collective guilt, which was why there were different sacrifices. A fairly easy explanation was from J.Milgrom, “Israel’s Sanctuary: The Priestly Picture of Dorian Gray”. RB 83 (1976), 390-399, esp. 394, reprinted in Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology, Brill, 1983 (pp. 75-84, esp. 79). I scared the ______ out of some in my Ward trying to wrestle with this idea in a GD class several years ago (during our Leviticus lesson). My (greatly simplified) attitude about it (and ignoring the complex problems of composition) is that if its in the Law of Moses, somehow, its meant to lead us to Christ. I like your comment. To a certain extent, we all become our “brother’s keeper” when we make the baptismal covenant. This makes it more imperative when we leave the ninety and nine and see out the one. Of course, it also makes it more imperative when we (as a society) become more condoning and accepting of what is clearly sin. I believe its a balancing act that we have to follow under the guidance of the Spirit (which means imperfect application by imperfect beings imperfectly understanding perfect inspiration).

  9. November 22, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Debow: Thank you.

    Eric Russell: Excellent points, though I would argue that grandiosity is one attempt to cope. I think it falls under what Collins talks about.

    jader3rd: You’re one of the lucky few.

    Nate: It may be a hard sell, but I think it is just a plausible as the “selfish” interpretation and probably more plausible than the knowingly wise choice. Other than that, I don’t really disagree with anything you wrote. I would argue, however, what you’re referring to has more to do with the healthy shame I described in the second paragraph than the kind I’m discussing. Many therapists and psychologists are starting to make similar distinctions. One therapist I know who mainly handles sex addiction doesn’t even like to distinguish between “healthy shame” and “toxic shame.” He finds it too confusing and simply labels what is toxic as “shame.”

    mirrorrorrim: I think salvation and exaltation as understood in Mormon theology is inherently about relationships. This is in a sense what makes God God (i.e. Heavenly Father & Mother in a marriage for lack of a better word; the Godhead in union). As for universal salvation, I’m pretty much a universalist. I think Terryl and Fiona Givens cover this idea pretty well in ‘The God Who Weeps’, but pretty much only those who absolutely want nothing to do with God will be allowed to remain outside of salvation. When one considers the three degrees of glory, one must realize that all of these are portions of *God’s glory*. Mormons still apply heaven/hell labels to them, but that’s not very accurate. In essence, the worst of the worst will still receive glory. And although progression between kingdoms is not known or taught (though some Church leaders did teach it), I tend to believe there will be.

    Steve Evans: Hope that’s a good “wow.” ;)

    Terry H: Thanks.

  10. Eric Russell
    10
    November 22, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Oh yeah, I don’t disagree. It’s coping.

    I don’t like “healthy shame” either. I think it should be called either “guilt” or “a sense of decency” as the case may be.

    Nate, I would add that shame in this context is not the opposite of shamelessness. In fact, overt shamelessness is almost certainly an expression of shame.

  11. Marc
    11
    November 22, 2015 at 4:56 am

    Great post Walter. I had a very similar reaction to the movie Shame. It remains one of the more heart wrenching movie experiences I’ve had.

  12. CJB
    12
    November 22, 2015 at 11:14 am

    This post helped me re-evaluate something important to me personally. Thank you for posting so thoughtfully.

    I think this is an explanation for why telling singles “no blessing will be denied… in the eternities” is not helpful. I need to be enough now or I’m disconnected/shamed.

    It never helps for “marrieds” (Muggles without this special magic ability/expectation to be happily single) to include me as long as I’m shamed (not good enough) in the overall culture (NOW – not in the eternities). It will almost always feel like I’m an ox included only to pull the wagon, or a waiting bench warmer, not as a fully integrated member of the traveling party or a valued team player.

    Your words “protective detachment”, “the constant looks of defeat”, really resonate with my single status experience in the church.

    When a (many/a few/maybe just me) single member experiences this, “touched by [shame], the mind moves toward a more disintegrated state” it is often seen by the outsiders as just overly sensitive or whiney or ungrateful or unfaithful or combative. I feel like I’m disintegrating in the cultural values. I’m at a complete loss as to how to respond better.

    “Instead of recognizing that we are vulnerable, …. we give ourselves the illusion of invulnerability, security, and status; …. and rest(s) on expulsion, scapegoating, and marginalization.”

    Like you, I’m afraid it’s damaging to all of us, singles are just canaries in a coal mine (along with others who feel “different” in our valued same-ness). I need not to be so vulnerable to disconnection/shame. I’ve no answers, I’ve just been invited to rethink the issue.

    Thank you.

  13. November 24, 2015 at 3:56 am

    “But the subtle corollary to this idea is that, given the prohibition to the fruit of this particular tree, by implication God does not want you to be like him. God does not want you to have what he has. He does not want you to be as close and as connected to him as you might think he does. And by further implication, therefore, you are not as important as you think. You, as it turns out, are less than you think. You. Are. Not. Enough.”

    Wow. This resonates with me as a very possible layer of the lies and the awful taunting. I think, in fact, that it’s taps into more of the more insidious way the adversary uses shame. It never made sense to me that he was just sort of half-lying by saying she could be as the gods. This explanation adds more to think about and just feels more like the lies of shame really feel. (Toxic shame has been one of my biggest struggles. I thought it was interesting that you used the context of an addict’s story in your post. Have you ever been to a 12-step meeting? If you ever want to witness the antithesis of shame, spend some time reading (or better, listening) to addicts in recovery. I’m not an addict in the classic sense, but 12 step work has had more impact on helping me with my toxic shame stuff than anything else. hands down.)

    FWIW, another author that has some done focused work on shame is Pastor Remy Deiderich.

    In a spirit of just wanting to help others, he offers his books for free.

    Healing the Hurts of Your Past: A Guide to Overcoming the Pain of Shame

    ePub File: http://bit.ly/19bDbhC
    Kindle File: http://bit.ly/1cpjzK8
    PDF File: http://bit.ly/17cG7H9

    Stuck: How to Mend and Move on From Broken Relationships

    ePub File: http://bit.ly/1a6bWCb
    Kindle File: http://bit.ly/17hMDeO
    PDF File: http://bit.ly/17hMOXz

  14. November 24, 2015 at 4:05 am

    Can I also just share a thought about the question re: universal salvation? In Mormon doctrine, salvation and exaltation are two different things. And within our Mormon world, we usually focus on the latter. After all, most of us really wouldn’t choose to be Mormon if there wasn’t an eternal reason for the ordinances and authority and the commandments, etc.

    But this quote to me captures the heart and reach and spirit of God’s plan. As I read it, there IS an element of universal salvation and it’s pretty stunning.

    “The scriptures teach that through the covenant family of Abraham and Sarah “shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.” (Abr. 2:11.) Foremost among the blessings that the family of Abraham brought about is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

    “Jesus, who was a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, blesses all people through his atonement. Because of him, all will be saved from the bands of death through resurrection; and all but the few who commit the unpardonable sin will receive an eternal inheritance in a degree of glory.”

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/02/the-abrahamic-covenant-a-blessing-for-all-people?lang=eng (emphasis added)

  15. November 24, 2015 at 4:05 am

    (There is a comment in moderation that had several links to a free book on shame.)

    Admin says: Now freed, see #13.

  16. November 26, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Absolutely superb, Walter. ;) You’ve done a great job, as always, in bringing a broad range of insightful thinkers into dialogue with each other. I love the re-thinking of the Adam and Eve story, in particular. It’s a good reminder, too, that Satan is the accuser. Where he wants us to wallow and withdraw, God calls us to use our weakness as a means to develop greater humility, fidelity, love, kindness, and patience. I forwarded this to my clinical psychologist dad who has spent much of his career helping mormon folk who wrestle with how to deal with guilt and shame in the proper way.

  17. Nate
    17
    November 29, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    I found a quote that sort of goes along with your interpretation of shame from the Garden of Eden, interpreting Eve as being in an infant state, the one we all have come from and we all share with her in our infancy:

    “All infant omnipotence is coupled with helplessness. When an infant realises that it is dependent on others, we can therefore expect a primitive and rudimentary emotion of shame to ensue. For shame involves the realisation that one is weak and inadequate in some way in which one expects oneself to be adequate. Its reflex is to hide from the eyes of those who will see one’s deficiency, to cover it. If the infant expects to control the world, as to some extent all infants do, it will have shame, as well as anger, at its own inability to control.

    Notice, then, that shame is far from requiring diminished self-regard. In a sense, it requires self-regard as its essential backdrop. It is only because one expects oneself to have worth or even perfection that one will shrink from or cover the evidence of one’s nonworth or imperfection. To the extent that all infants enjoy a sense of omnipotence, all infants experience shame at the recognition of their human imperfection: a universal experience underlying the biblical story of our shame at our nakedness. But a good development will allow the gradual relaxing of omnipotence in favor of trust, as the infant learns not to be ashamed of neediness and to take a positive delight in the playful and creative “subtle interplay” of two imperfect beings.”

    -Martha Nussbaum

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