We are not merely living in an uncivil moment. The growing incivility of right and left, so-called Trumpian-style politics, Twitter mobs, the #metoo accusation-fest, Democrat bloodlust and economic insanity, and the viciousness of media attack dogs is not just a rough patch in American relations. It is the static electric charge that necessarily builds in a land of guilt and shame. The guilt and shame are real and they must be discharged, and as Rene Girard taught us (and the Bible before him), the desire to be clean, to be free of the shame, the envy to be justified must erupt in violence against innocent victims — scapegoats. This is built into the very fabric of the world. As static electricity builds in the atmosphere and must discharge, so guilt and shame build and must discharge on societal scapegoats.
Helen Andrews has a fascinating new article up at First Things entitled Shame Storm, chronicling her own personal experience of our cultural descent into the media psycho lynch mob dimension. Andrews’ analysis is as erudite as it is ultimately empty. The Christian response to this moment must not be a semi-pious stoicism, bracing and ducking, and vaguely “trusting God.” Yes, of course Christians must trust God, but an evangelical and biblically informed response to this moment must be a deliberate, thoughtful, courageous, and joyful despising of the shame. Until Christians lean into the “shame storm,” until they see the forces of shame for what they are and walk into the shame storm gladly, Christians will continue to find themselves chased by fear of the mobs.
Different Kinds of Shame
Helen Andrews’ essay is illuminating and terrifying in its exposition of the lay of the land, but she ultimately fails to comprehend the true nature of the shame storm and therefore offers an ultimately vacuous consolation. In the first instance, she substantially underestimates the capacity for human rage — and by this, I don’t mean that she understestimates the surface level spite and grotesque reputational smearing and utter disregard for truth — she clearly understands that perfectly fine. What I mean is that she appears to underestimate how deep it all goes. She appears to underestimate what’s driving it all. She gets the highest macro level right and all she appears to offer in the face of the storm is a bland moralism that echoes like an empty ketchup bottle. In all seriousness: God bless her; she’s been through media Hell, and I don’t mean to make light of that in the slightest. I also don’t doubt what she testifies — that God used the public shaming to do good in her life. But if her greatest consolation has been found in the Stoically chastened but unrepentant sodomite Oscar Wilde, she is of all men (and women) to be most pitied.
In fact, what Andrews has offered, I assume unintentionally, is actually a small sample of the very virus she so loathes and despises. What causes the shame storm? Guilt and shame. Oscar Wilde is no comfort to any Christian. He was one of the early pride farmers. And pride, when it is in full bloom, brings nothing but shame. Helen, how can you say it doesn’t matter whether you are innocent or guilty? It does matter. It absolutely matters. Real shame and true guilt are the low pressure and high pressure systems colliding in the air. They are the static electric build up in human society that cracks the black sky open. Shame rages and guilt thirsts for blood.
There is a holy shame, a gracious shame — the shame that rightly accompanies real sin, biblically defined. That shame tells sinners to repent, to turn to God in holy fear, to cry out for forgiveness in Christ — a forgiveness which is freely offered to all who call out in truth, a forgiveness that is accompanied by unfathomable glory that covers all our shame.
But hardened sinners feel no shame. They grow numb to shame. They sear their consciences with hot irons as they press on in sin, so that they come to feel nothing, growing utterly accustomed to the darkness. And as they plumb the caves of corruption, hardening their hearts, they come to rejoice in their sin. “Who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked” (Prov. 2:13-14). They search for sin like it were treasure, rejoicing to do evil, and so they grow utterly shameless; they glory in their shame. They celebrate their depravity. They toast their toxicity. They celebrate their carnality. ”For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence” (Prov. 4:16-17).
And therefore, a necessary element of that pride is shaming those who will not join them in their corruption: ”For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4).
In other words, the logical end game of disobeying the message of holy shame is shaming those who will not celebrate sinful shame. Glorying in sin ultimately requires sinners to speak evil of those who will not join with them. Any and all dissent must be silenced.
In God’s world, holy shame accompanies guilt. It is possible to feel false shame for something someone else did or for something embarrassing that is not sinful, but I’m speaking here specifically of the shame that rightly accompanies true guilt for real sin. Guilt is the objective reality of wrong doing — the debt you owe for transgressing the law of the holy and living God. And the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Guilt necessarily and in all places cries out for blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22). This is why human cultures the world over have always had blood sacrifices of some sort, including human sacrifice and child sacrifice. Human beings instinctively crave blood for the remission of guilt. The primal bloodlust of man is rooted in his guilty conscience. Cain killed Abel not just because he was jealous. Cain killed Abel because Cain was guilty. Cain didn’t offer a blood sacrifice to God, and therefore, in his guilt, he craved blood.
Now put this bloodlust together with shame. Men and women in sin are set to drift and wander toward hard-hearted shameless evil. This is the natural default of fallen man. This doesn’t mean that every unbeliever is as evil as they could possibly be this minute, but it does mean that apart from God’s gracious intervention, they will grow more sinful and more proud of certain sins as the months and years go by and more and more jaded toward any testimony against their sin. Of course the image of God is never fully eradicated from people, and this means there is still real glory being manifested even while truth is being suppressed beneath all the bumptious japery. But sinful men are still able to work up quite the bumptious japery — you know, like ironic mustaches and dietary fascism.
The Hunger of the Herd
Now one more piece to the puzzle: not only is all of this true, but man also has a deep herding instinct, which some of us call covenant reality and others prefer to pin on the preening zoological brutes these pride farmers are imitating. And speaking of pride farming, the exact nature of this enterprise is a complete farce, but in the dark, where this activity is done best, preferably after 6 jello shots of something moonshiney, it has the effect of keeping all the mood rings somewhere in that ambient equipoise. The point being that all the shame and guilt is really there burning on the insides of these pride farmers, but when they plant pride, they are actually planting shame and guilt and therefore the only thing coming up is rage and pain and a growing frantic twitch — which they wrap in swaddling clothes and continue calling their PRIDE. Rinse and repeat.
And this is where the mobs come from. This is Antifa, riots, Twitter blitzkriegs, media shriekfests, school shootings, and the rest, and abortion and sodomy are the planned liturgical blood-lettings. Tattooing and piercing are the mild sedatives that many take to keep the Perversion Parkinson’s to a minimum — a little blood and pain for that quick rush to the head from the kudos and selfies on Instagram.
Now this is the point of all of this: Every human society must have blood, but since there is only One source of healing blood, all the other blood is like salt water for the thirsty. It feels like the hit that was needed and five minutes later isn’t enough. It’s never enough. This is why abortion has gone from being “safe, legal, and rare” to being a fundamental “human right.” We’re not merely going up against ghouls, we’re going up against vampires. They must have blood to keep up the habit. They must have blood to stay alive. They cannot sleep unless they have done evil. Mischief is their bread and wine. They are addicted to blood. Which brings me to the point of all of this.
How Deep the Rot Goes
The industrial shame complex has exploded and shows no signs of abating. And this is because it really is an industry. Pride farmers grow shame in order to keep their bloodlust alive. Only they think what they are growing is glory and the holy ground must be watered with industrial strength blood which has no hormones in it, unless of course you were using those hormones for sexual deviance, in which case, the more the better.
Helen Andrews deftly traces the sick media #metoo cycle erratically dry-heaving accusations and rumors like a sorority girl during rush week. One facebook friend who shared Andrews’ article remarked that this was why he is not on Twitter and why his Facebook security settings are set on Super Duper Extra Secure. And to be sure, I’m somewhat sympathetic with this instinct.
But all of this means that this is not just an unfortunate moment of incivility. This is not a sociological phenomenon that can be explained by economic forces and forgotten flyover zones. This is not an ethnic thing or even a philosophical thing. This goes all the way down to the core of human nature. You can’t murder 60 million babies in a country and then one day just decide to stop and move on. The blood of the innocents cries out from the ground to the Lord. Our land is cursed and defiled; it is filled with the bodies of infants. It reeks with our abominations. You can’t vote a solution to this mess. The storm is not going to simply blow over. And turning our security settings to MAX is really a futile and ultimately worthless exercise in naivety. You don’t fight demons by changing the locks on your doors. Good luck with that.
The only answer to this darkness, this growing cacophony of rage, this bloodlust, this industrial pride farming is despising the shame through the cross of Jesus. Helen Andrews has no answers. Surely, God is in the shame storm, and surely He works all things for good. But just hope it blows over? It won’t. It can’t. How could it? The only solution is the cross of Christ, the blood of the only innocent man in the history of the world — the infinite, eternal, holy God become man, become one of us, with the express purpose of bearing our sins and shame in His body on the tree. By His stripes we are healed. Jesus took our shame when He was betrayed by His friends and when He was falsely accused and maligned by the mobs. He took our shame when He was beaten and whipped and when He was mocked and a crown of thorns was hammered into His head. He took our shame when He was stripped naked and nailed to the cross to slowly die for sins He didn’t commit. But not only that, but He did all of it despising the shame.
“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
Despising the Shame
The task of Christians today and at all times is to look unto Jesus who endured the cross for our shame, and He did so by thoroughly despising the shame of the cross. With no disrespect to Helen Andrews, what she offers is an enormously insightful summary with terrible advice. The answer is not to grit your teeth and hold on tight when the Twitter mobs come, when the media vampires come, when the shame witches come. No, the answer is to laugh in their face. The answer is to smile at the shame storm and then break into a grin and then chuckle and then belly laugh. Why do the nations rage? Why do they plot vain things? He who sits in the heavens laughs. He holds them in derision. He mocks them to scorn. He has set His King on Zion, His holy hill.
We fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and when we do so, we see Him laughing at His enemies for the small swarm of hysterical fleas that they are. Twitter mobs are a mist. This is not a moment to hope our nation turns over a new leaf and magically learns the art of civility. This is the moment to tell the grave truth that we are a leprous and rabid hog. Humanly speaking it can only get worst from here. But the cross really is the center of all human history. And the cross marks the spot where all shame and guilt meet their definitive end. When Jesus said it is finished, it really was finished. Where sin was paid for, there is no condemnation, there is no more shame. And if there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, then there is no shame when torches and pitchforks show up at our house. Let the videos go viral. Let the twitters shriek. Christians must learn to despise the shame like our Savior did. And this is why the truth or falsehood matters. Every true accusation of sin has been answered by our Savior’s blood, and every false slander is answered by the righteousness of our Savior, which we wear like the perfect and invincible armor that it is. This is the sure and solid ground of Christian confidence and courage. And it is the ground from which we fight. We lift up the cross of Jesus, despising that shame because it is our glory. And whether they strike us down or the Lord gives us the field, we are more than conquerors.
Let them shriek, let them hyperventilate, let them sob on their fainting couches, let them feign shock and astonishment. Christians must learn not to care. We don’t care what they think. We care about the truth. We care about the truth of the gospel. But sinners have a vested interest in playing the shame game, and Christians need to walk away from the table. We don’t need to play their game. We don’t need that currency. We have a Savior who has covered our shame, and now we aren’t afraid of anything or anyone anymore.