Our Sense of Shame: Can We Get It Back?

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.”

The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”   Luke 18: 10-13

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is a call to get past self-righteousness to the humbling self-awareness that is essential to growth, to learning and to a healthy community. It brought to mind a homily given by a crusty old Jesuit priest with a craggy face and a lop-sided smile at St. Francis Xavier’s Church that I attended as a child growing up in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Fr. Sullivan’s matter-of-fact piety was as (deceptively) simple as it was profound. His sermons were brief and, perhaps because they did not meander, the one or two lessons he offered hit home.  In this election season, a phrase from one of his homilies that I have cherished through adulthood, “the loss of a sense of shame” keeps surfacing because it is so much in evidence.

It’s the loss of a sense of shame that allows politicians to concoct lies out of legislation that serves the people’s interest because in so doing they might advance their own interests. And right now those lies serve the over-riding aim of getting elected. Too many politicians have lost their moral compass while looking for votes. Lacking the ethical moorings that a sense of shame helps provide, they play, not to the highest aspirations of this democracy but to the lowest common denominator of populist rage. That rage is prompted in part by the very real frustration of unemployment and personal hardship but it is knowingly fuelled by the likes of Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich and the GOP machine of make-believe as in “make voters believe the very real good that has been accomplished by the Obama administration on their behalf is really, really bad for them.” In this they are aided by Fox News masquerading, again without shame, as journalism.

Intellectual Integrity as Inconvenient as Global Warming?

It’s one thing for Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell or Sharon Angle to demonstrate their ignorance or lack of preparation for high office.  They almost can’t help themselves. It’s as simple as a lack of education yoked to unbridled ambition, fanned by the seductive winds of media notoriety. Not a happy marriage for them or the public they profess to want to serve.

It’s another thing entirely—and a sure indicator of a complete lack of shame—for the perpetrators of the biggest mess the country has experienced to say they really cannot tell if any of these and other defenders of some primal imagi-nation they yearn for might be ready for leadership at the highest ranks of government.  If you completely suspend disbelief—and any sense of the public good—Christine O’Donnell might make a good Senator.  Really. So says Michael Steele this Sunday, the latest in a string of veteran Republican leaders who are willing to go on television and say, without blushing, that it’s not their place to assess the suitability of candidates.  Who then knows how to take the measure of these and other candidates who brazenly threaten the public peace and brag about it? Apparently “voters” do.

What would make Michael Steele, like so many other Republican leaders, shrink from publicly providing their assessment of the caliber of these crank, manifestly unqualified candidates or their readiness to be a Senator or even President of the United States? Have they so totally abandoned any capacity to bring intellectual rigor to the political process? Or is intellectual integrity yet another inconvenience—like global warming, say?

Too Much to Ask for the Assessment Skills of First Line Managers?

Could it be that they refuse to do what any first-line manager in a corporation has to do when hiring because they have traded their sense of shame for power at any cost? So rather than provide their honest assessment of candidates or the irrefutable benefits of healthcare legislation, financial reform or the positive impact of the stimulus that their experience of leadership equips them to provide, they work actively against educating voters before they go to the polls. They willing engage in a systematic conspiracy of lies that manipulates voters to act against their own best interests.

See the New York Times for an analysis of the major lies being circulated about the historic healthcare bill that President Obama and the Democrats made happen. The Obama administration has made healthcare more affordable and accessible to millions of Americans previously uninsured or at risk of losing their coverage.  http://nyti.ms/c2tBYq

Fr. Sullivan was right: so much of what is wrong in our society can be traced to the loss of our sense of shame. It certainly helps explain the outright lies that have become GOP talking points, offered to a beleaguered and believing public without so much as a shred of embarrassment. Even as they allow doubts to fester about the President’s faith, Mitch McConnell, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona and so many of the GOP leaders count on recognition that they are clearly, familiarly Christian in the best possible way.  Dare voters assume they really try to live by the Word?

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Matthew 25: 35-37

In these tough times, voters need to see more evidence of commitment to this view of the world by those who would use religion as a political tool.  Forget the birth certificates.

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Posted in Healthcare Reform, I BLOG, Politics and Religion, Religion
One comment on “Our Sense of Shame: Can We Get It Back?
  1. Alphiene says:

    Your reference to a homily by Fr. Edmond Sullivan, S.J. jolted me as I was also then a parishioner. The “loss of a sense of shame” in the case of politicians today, and particularly with the Tea Party and GOP candidates, is well stated. However, blatant selfishness is definitely the larger point. A conservative economic and political position briefly stated, is one which supports selfish government policies and token social responsibility from corporations. Present day intoxication with candidates who lack intelligence, empathy and logic is reminiscent of how Hitler wielded power by inducing populist fear. In the US, it is the disgruntled masses who have been indoctrinated with fear of the loss of freedom in the market place, despite the fact that the Government and people are already hostage to global corporations and the banks. After falling prey to the manipulation of facts and placing Obama in a non-Christian category, even Catholics are desensitized and unable to decipher the truth. Lack of deep understanding of Scripture has resulted in so-called Christians being mesmerized by the rubbish thrown at them. What ever happened to the gospel message that Christ’s mission was to serve the poor, the needy and drive out demons. Yes, the demons of self-interest, deception, greed, discrimination, avarice, trickery and bloated wealth.

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