How to Be a Sinner by Bouteneff Peter

How to Be a Sinner by Bouteneff Peter

Author:Bouteneff, Peter [Bouteneff, Peter]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr
Published: 2018-03-29T16:00:00+00:00

Doing vs. Being

Some—including many psychologists—analyze guilt as a feeling about something that I have done, while shame is a feeling about something that I am. (“I did something bad,” vs. “I am bad”).

Within this distinction, guilt concerns things that are within your control to change or redirect. You can therefore acknowledge it, confess it, and take responsibility for it. You may be able to make reparations. And you can repent of it, working to reorient yourself in order not to repeat the problem behavior. It’s therefore possible to be rid of the deed, so that the feelings around it no longer need to haunt you.

Shame, on the other hand, being about what you are, is outside your control. You can be ashamed of your height, your skin color, your social class. There’s little or nothing to be done about these, so that feelings of shame are pointless and always to be avoided. The only way shame can be useful is if it is converted into guilt, in other words, into something that can indeed be changed, dealt with, and expunged.

This way of distinguishing the two is helpful in that it encourages us to identify what we can act on and what we can’t. It directs us away from downward spirals of shame and toward reparative actions to free us from the weight of guilt. This is important and helpful.

But there is something in this distinction that rings false. For one, people don’t only feel shame for things they are, for things that they cannot help. People can be ashamed also for things they have done. If I do something wrong (cheat on my spouse, say), I feel not only guilty, but ashamed of myself. In addition, I disagree that shame plays no useful role unless it is “converted” to guilt over something you can change. Shame can be both apt and healthy. Imagine someone who wantonly and repeatedly lies, steals, bullies people, or sleeps around. People will justly ask such a person: “Have you no shame?” Because in the face of some kinds of bad behavior, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

The Philokalia talks about “shame” mostly as a descriptive of sins—the “shameful misdeeds” we should avoid. The implication there is always that we ought to feel ashamed for such wrongs, such that “feeling no shame” is seen as a problem. “Alas, alas, for I do not feel shame before my Creator and Master!” 1 At points, though, the feeling of shame is shown to be a possible aid to acquiring humility. 2


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