On Shame and Polyamory

“Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush.” (Jer 6:15a)

If I were to say that America is a ‘shameless’ culture, I would mean, quite literally, a culture without shame. I have noticed an insatiable vitriol (usually from those who identify as progressive) against things like ‘slut-shaming,’ ‘fat-shaming,’ ‘body-shaming,’ ‘pet-shaming,’ any kind of shaming, really. Shame is seen as a demon worthy of cultural exorcism. But what is the nature of shame, and would it actually be true to call it ‘evil?’

First, a point of distinction. One cannot simply blame someone else for feeling shame. Shame is merely the conscience doing what it is programmed to do. Specifically, shame occurs when your actions work against your own well-being and what you innately know to be true. For example, a random person on Twitter saying “What a fat piece of trash,” and a doctor saying, “You need to change your unhealthy diet,” is not the same thing, despite the somewhat parallel experiences of being on the receiving end of those comments. Both statements might cause an experience of shame within the individual, but both statements are not intentionally crafted to wound an individual. The pain caused by the former is like being attacked with a dagger, but the pain caused by the latter is more like a surgical operation. The former destroys, but the latter brings life.

However, American society at large has not looked at the subject of shame in a critical manner, and it has largely interpreted both scenarios as one in the same. Insults (which are obviously wrong) have consequently caused much of culture to ignore all forms of shame, which then results in the inability to discern any real problem that may exist. For instance, even though being overweight is objectively not a healthy thing, the bullying of overweight people have resulted in a harmful counter-reaction, in which being overweight ought to be seen as a good thing because “it makes you, you.” Instead of being inspired to overcome the obstacle, these people are told to identify with their obesity. Thus, if the bar is too high, all you need to do is simply lower the bar. This constant lowering of the standard across pretty much every aspect of culture (but especially monogamous fidelity) is how we got to where we are today.

The Curve Killer

When I was in AP Biology, there was a girl in my class who was particularly bright. She was no doubt the best in the class, and everyone knew it. She simply cared the most. I can think of multiple instances when she single-handedly prevented the class from passing exams via curve grading. We would all do poorly and she would get an A, which would then keep our grades where they were. This happened so often that she was named “the curve killer.” Most of the time the moniker was used jokingly, but there was also a passive-aggressive layer of contempt for her. She made us look bad. She made us fail. The standard is just too high, so we shouldn’t be blamed for falling short. This was the type of reasoning that went through our minds.

I was reminded of the curve killer when I saw how polyamory (the concept of being in multiple consensual romantic relationships) is being rushed to the mainstream. NPR published a story this week about it, which happens to be just after a popular story about a woman claiming to be just “too beautiful” to be faithful to her less attractive “plain” husband. Before this, Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks consistently commented on his theory that humans can only be monogamous for about four years. With all the divorces in Hollywood, Scarlett Johansson recently stated that she believes monogamy isn’t natural, simply parroting this recent trend. I predicted this would happen back when homosexuality was still being debated early on. Most Christians looked to the Mormons and thought polygamy (having multiple spouses) was on its way, but I told people polyamory would come first, and here it is. Celebrities failing the fidelity exam has resulted in fidelity no longer being an expectation among romantic relationships. But why is monogamy being increasingly rejected with contempt? Well, it’s because monogamy is the curve killer.

It is a sad state of affairs when affairs are no longer a sad state. The inclusivity of erotic lust is always casting sidelong glances at the exclusivity of romantic love. Lust is objectifying, it focuses on the bodily features of the other, in order to satisfy the bodily demands of the self. Love, however, desires only the healing of the soul and body. Love does not seek to satisfy itself, it seeks the other. When it comes to morality, I would much rather ace the test than put my trust in a curve that has already been declared nonexistent. Christ is the curve killer, and He is our standard. In a culture that is hell-bent on destroying itself, the Church must simply walk on the way that leads to Life, that one day we might explain to the world what it means to have that curious redness below the eyes.

 

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