Some thoughts on the weaponization of shame

Greta Thunberg, outside the Swedish parliament (Photo: Anders Hellberg/Wikimedia Commons)

The word “shame” appears approximately 121 times in the Bible, depending on which translation one uses, and the overwhelming majority of the time it refers to a sense of embarrassment one might quite correctly feel about having adopted an attitude and/or taken some action which one knows is in opposition to what God says it is proper and/or correct. Those who use the phrase “how dare you” to try to shame people who are not aligned with the same social, political or ideological agenda as them are, in effect, implying that they themselves have the authority that the Bible says belongs to God alone.

With that in mind, there was a funny-not-funny story recently in the Jerusalem Post about how people in Tel Aviv had begun to put little posters with pictures of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg above the words “HOW DARE YOU?!” in front of the disposable plastic cups and utensils at workplace breakrooms. The posters have the ostensible (and perhaps even noble) purpose of reminding people of the contribution that using plastic disposable stuff makes towards environmental problems that negatively effect all of us.

Indeed, the speech Ms. Thunberg made at the UN General Assembly last September brought some badly needed attention to important issues, even though it is painfully obvious that she has far more passion than knowledge of the relevant material related to these important issues. Indeed, some allege that she’s merely a puppet being used and exploited by people who have a dark, unspoken agenda to (fill in the blank with your own pessimistic assumptions) and that might even be true. But it’s also undeniably true that the issue of environmental stewardship and the negative effects on quality of life that it’s neglect have for everyone who lives on this planet has been, at best, given empty lip service and at worst completely ignored for a long time.

That having been said, what I want to talk about is this one quite powerful phrase “how dare you” which she used and with which she has become identified, but which has in fact been around for a long time. It is, in effect, just the latest high-profile manifestation of the was some people have weaponized shame in order to make people afraid and/or embarrassed to oppose or even not support a certain agenda. They have done this because of the quite apparent fact that making something against the law is an expensive, time consuming process with no guarantee of eventual success, whereas  making something that’s still legal nonetheless socially unacceptable costs very little, can be done very quickly and nearly always works in our celebrity-obsessed culture where people are worshipped as gods for their ability to sing well, look good while delivering clever lines written by someone else in front of a motion picture camera, etc. All you need for a certain idea to become an overpoweringly urgent trend and/or moral imperative is for a handful of such celebrities to Tweet statements in support of it to their tens of millions of devoted fans and the next thing you know its “just how normal people feel about it” and anyone who doesn’t go along with it is “abnormal” and probably evil. 

This is quite visible in the way openly expressing support for Biblical principles is still legal in most Western countries, but doing so can and sometimes does cause tremendous damage to the personal and professional life of the person who does it.

This even happens within the Body of Christ, as I discovered (to my utter shock) early in my time of writing blogs here at KNI when I wrote one in which I pointed out that the Bible does not support militant feminism and I was hit by “HOW DARE YOU???!!!!” style pushback in the comments section from a handful of women (including the wife of a local pastor here in Jerusalem) who took the position that “the Bible was written FOR men, BY men” and was therefore not as important as I seemed to be saying it was.

I shared my shock and bewilderment at these events with some pastors and elders who have been working in Jerusalem for many years and they assured me that having the “HOW DARE YOU?!” thrown at one for standing on Biblical truth and what Paul referred to as “sound doctrine” in his Epistles to Titus and Timothy is something one should get used to, as it happens quite often. This is, they said, simply a feature of ministering to a post-modern culture.

 In the years that have passed since then, I have been blessed by a tremendous amount of confirmation of this counsel, and so I hereby bequeath it to whoever might be out there reading this blog. Because the “How Dare You?!” routine is indeed a feature of life in the season of history we’re living in, and not only for Bible-believing Christians. The only advice I can offer for how to deal with it is that offered to all of us in 1 Peter 5: 6-11;

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.