In the 1977 movie, Oh, God! God, played by George Burns at 94, says to his emissary, Jerry, the supermarket manager played by John Denver, "Shame was one of my biggest mistakes!"
Delivered in the off-hand manner which characterized much of Burns' successful comedic career, it almost passes the viewer by, given its two-second's of movie time.
Nevertheless, like other "lines" in other movies, it has a lingering, if not echoing effect on the state of the world.
Individuals, in the west, at least, are indoctrinated in what might be called "Christianity 101" with bed-time stories about creation, the Tablets from Mount Sinai, the flood and the ark, the hiding of baby Moses in the bullrushes, the many wives of Kings, the defeat of Goliath by the young David, and of course, the ruin of Sodom and Gomorrah allegedly resulting from their gross immorality. Other, New Testament stories have headlines that begin with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, the stories of his birth, his encounter with lepers, the woman at the well, with the Pharisees, his Sermon on the Mount, his gathering of disciples, his sailing on the Sea of Galilee with those disciples, his Transfiguration...
And then, stories abound from other "letters" some of which may bear the hand of the Apostle Paul...especially his line, "We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God!" among other cultural shibboleths like the most admired state is celibacy, with marriage only a poor second and others of his more prominent "teachings" depending on the brand of the christian message one's family was taught, believed and passed on to the children.
Such aphorisms as "Pride goes before a fall" (from Proverbs) and "Spare the rod, spoil the child" (by Samuel Butler, in a little poem exposing the factions in the English Civil War in 1642, and he also bears the indelible imprint of a christian "upbringing") also clutter our early beginnings, since we have hear such gems, or nuggets or "bullets" of "wisdom" from a very early age.
Those schooled in the contents of the Bible, depending on the nature of that schooling and also on the severity of the parent's obedience to that schooling, bear a remarkable and often superior attitude to that "schooling"...it ranks higher than "knowing one's times-tables from primary math classes".
And then, of course there are the Ten Commandments, second only to the caution "Do not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life" in the Garden of Eden in their ancestry and power over the lives of millions of families, court and legal systems, and the concomitant punishments, mostly designed by humans, for disobedience.
God speaks, in the words of scripture, and the whole world shakes, for millenia....and the whole world is still shaking, although the more recent shakings have different weapons of enforcement, recruitment, training and also both punishments and rewards.
Nevertheless, at the heart of the matter, "Shame," focuses on the question of the worth, value, goodness, authenticity and "obedience" of individual human beings, in the eyes of God, whose "eyes" can only be a human interpretation of what God might mean. This is especially true, for many, as they advance in years, hoping for a happy landing in a Heaven they may or may not merit depending on their life here on this planet, and depending largely on their belief in and adherence to the "rules" as they understand them.
I once listened to a ninety-plus year old man, lying in his hospital bed, as he repeated to himself, and to those of us at his bedside, "I know that I have not lived a life acceptable to God!" Over and over the line ran, a recorded mantra of shame, unworthiness, belief and perception. His spirit was anguished at his own unworthiness to meet God. He was, in short, full of shame...as he neared his death and possible encounter with God.
What if, I wondered, God has already accepted every human being, even Hitler, and Osama ben Laden, as "created in his image" as a child of God? What if our conflicts and our inhumanities to one another are merely our seeing through the glass darkly, our limited vision of what God "wants", what God means, and what God expects from each of us? What if we are and have been for millenia, focusing on the sinful aspects of our individual lives and souls, as well as on the collective indecencies and acts of revenge, murder, rape, pillage, that we have so passionately pursued, and that those passions are merely the expressions of our "emptiness" and our self-sabotaging belief, using God as our excuse for both our denigration and the heaping of officially sanctioned punishments on those we believe warrant the use of the power of the state? And that question applies to all faith communities, not only the christian!
What would the world be like if we could look into the mirror and suddenly know that every act we commit, especially in the name of God, that hurts the smallest and most vulnerable creature, even a sparrow on the clothesline, is anathema to God, to the sparrow, and to all of those who know about our insouciance?
What would the world be like if we were to be taught that God really is love, forgiveness, patience, wisdom and that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful....and those attributes can not and must not be restricted to our limited human capacity to conceive, to imagine and to communicate those definitions?
What would the world be like if God's exciting, and limitless and ever-expanding embrace, acceptance, forgiveness and championing of each of us were actually a given, as the cornerstone of all faiths and all spiritual journeys, and not the fear that we so compulsively and obsessively and neurotically embrace, as the "essence of our identity"?
"Oh, that would be a world dominated by hubris, and the Greeks taught us how tragic that would inevitably be," I hear you mouthing.
Really? Would it? Or would it be a world in which the psychiatrists couches and their pharmaceutial-industrial-military-capitalistic empires would no longer be needed, except for the few whose innate spiritual poverty required attention?
Or would it be that we could abandon our obsessive, compulsive and growing addiction to both secrecy and secret spying even on our friends, along with our bombs and our missiles, and our weapons of mass destruction, along with our dependency on those "boys-toys" that keep all governments and their peoples in extreme and growing anxiety, so that the flow of money from the sale of dependency products and services continues to grow and to feed the insatiable appetites of those in power, (READ: those with the money!)?
"Oh, how naive, and how disconnected from reality, and how child-like is this vision of a world without shame," I see your lips moving.
I don't know about you, but if and when an action of my life, or words that I may have penned, are thrown in my face, and in the faces of my enemies, without an opportunity to contextualize, without an opportunity to apologize, without an opportunity to face the music, and seemingly only for the purpose of feeding the "power and control" needs of those enemies, I feel worthless, embarrassed, cheapened, and quite literally trashed. And I am quite literally beside myself with SHAME!
And, I have not learned how that shame has served to advance my intellect, my spirit, my personal health nor my relationships with others. In fact, I believe that it has led to my withdrawal from the pursuit of relationships beyond those that could be classed as 'transactional'...the doctor, the dentist, the lawyer, the mailman, the grocer and the auto mechanic, for whose services I pay and for my needs they provide their service.
Roger Miller wrote a song once that included the words, "it's my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands and wives".....and the song goes on to picture two broken hearts neither one prepared to offer forgiveness. One is prompted to ask, Is PRIDE not the other side of the coin called SHAME?
If we were not so full of SHAME, would we be so in need of the PRIDE that breaks so many relationships?
If we were not so indoctrinated in the "evil" of mankind, by our christian churches, would we be so inclined to work out our SHAME, in the most heinous, and nefarious and reactionary manners, the range of which run the gamut from small and insidious acts of vengeance in middle schools throughout the west, to larger and more blood-spilling conflicts, wars and their snipping of the lives of so many of our "brothers and sisters"....
I agree with the George Burns' (God) line that SHAME was, indeed, one of his biggest mistakes, especially given all the self-denigration it has given way to, with hospital wards full of millions struggling, just like that ninety-plus year old man, whose spirit was one of the most brilliant, and most humble and most generous and most memorable I have ever met, or likely will meet.