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David W. Hegg: Shame no longer exists in today’s society

Posted: October 14, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 14, 2013 2:00 a.m.

At the ground level of ethics is the understanding that living ethically is honorable while unethical behavior is shameful. This fundamental recognition of shame and honor can be found in every society. Even the idea of guilt and innocence has ties to what that society considers right or wrong, honorable or shameful. When you transgress a societal law or moral standard the unavoidable consequence is supposed to be personal shame. And when a society reaches the place where egregious action fails to produce shame it is time to consider the reality that its ethical standards have been incrementally, but substantially eroded.

It is fair to say that public nudity has, with few exceptions, been recognized as wrong historically. Certainly in our society this is the case. The reason is tied to the even stronger ethical standard that public sexual activity is unacceptable. Nudity and sexual intimacy are not supposed to be spectator sports.

The world of artistic expression has moved the moral boundaries in our day, and you can hardly watch TV, view a film or attend a play without seeing nuanced sexuality if not scenes that leave nothing to the imagination. As a society we have come to accept this, but it has not been without significant, if unrealized, consequence.

The recent action of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke on the VMA Awards has garnered attention in almost every arena of society. But the tragedy is not limited to the fact that two people acted out graphic sex on stage while belting lyrics about the animal nature of intimacy. The greater tragedy is that so many in the emerging generation thought it was great, and are finding ways to imitate that behavior. Mark it downThat was the day we had a public, if unpublicized, funeral for shame in America.

The question is: should there be shame? or is public nudity and sexuality honorable? You can’t have it both ways.

It is no coincidence that the seeming death of shame parallels the fall of belief in God in our country. After all, God is the King of shame given that he has determined what is right and wrong, calling wrong “sin.” And it is no surprise that shameful behavior rises as faith in God wanes for one simple reason. People too often worship what they can do, and choose a god that allows it. Today, too many are worshipping at the throne of unrestricted personal pleasure while angrily mocking any person or worldview that dares to curb their appetite. 

Now, before you go off ranting about my puritanical views, consider this: My point is actually more than the surface evidence that the acceptance of public nudity and sexuality has eroded our ethical norms. My point is much more important than the differences those in our free society have toward sexuality on parade.

My point is that, with the erosion of shame in this area, we have lost an important guardrail on the treacherous highway of life. Those who applaud Miley and Robin, and the erosion of shame do so because they understand that the train of debauchery is heading toward even more aggressive demonstrations, and they can hardly wait. We are watching the rise of a generation who believe freedom means absolutely no boundaries, no restraints, no shame.

Unfortunately for us all, in a society where shame no longer exerts a restraining force, freedom devolves into chaos. Some reading this will think I should be ashamed for my conservative views, as though my conservatism somehow curtails their freedom. But I actually answer to the greater ideal of a society some things are sacred, and need to be protected from the base passions of those that demand we let them act like animals.

We have laws that forbid the theft of possessions. We must resurrect a sense of shame that condemns those attempting to obliterate the moral and ethical standards that should allow us to live as an honorable society.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. Ethically Speaking runs every Sunday.


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