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Shameful vs. Private: What Words Mean

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Facebook is one of the worst things in the world. Really, all of social media is pretty terrible, amplifying our most antisocial behaviors to frightening levels. It’s a bastion of thoughtless, empty opining where you can find support for even the most asinine and unscrupulous ideas. To that end, I’m going to be discussing one of these opinions.

“Why?” you might wisely ask. “Because I’m an idiot,” is the only thing that comes to mind.

A Little Bit of Context

For starters, I will not be discussing the issue that prompted this post because that will reveal whose post I’m responding to, and I’m not attempting to attack anyone. Our focus here is to examine words and the ideas behind them, not people or the issues that these words have surrounded.

This morning I came across a Facebook post using the words “shaming” and “shameful” to discuss this unnamed issue, which dealt with some degree of nudity in the public space, and I felt like I had an adequate response to confusing that lie in the use of these words. Thus, we’ll be discussing the meaning and purpose of shame, the purpose and power of feeling shameful, and the difference between something that is shameful and something that should be made private.

shameful

In the Beginning, Shame

God placed the first man and the first woman in the Garden of Eden: both were naked and neither felt shame. The first point I’d like to make here is that nudity was not originally shameful; there is nothing intrinsically shameful or wrong about nudity. The difference, however, is that sin has now entered the world through the machinations of the devil and the rebelliousness of humanity. Nudity, now, is shameful not because there is shame in God’s creation but because of what evil thoughts, desires, or behaviors can result from it.

Some might say that if others are drawn to sin by their nudity, that is none of their concern. The Bible, however, takes a different stance. It says that offenses will come, that Christians will stumble, but that we should be vigilant that we do not cause the stumbling, that we do not initiate the offense. Now, I’m not about to go on some moralistic tirade, but I will make the point that we have a responsibility to care for and protect those who need care and protection. We generally consider this to mean children, the disabled, and the disenfranchised, but I would argue that those who need care and protection are those who are vulnerable in an area for which we can provide care and/or protection. Thus, if someone is vulnerable in the area of nudity, then it’s upon us to protect, so far as we can, from it, or rather, from the sin that can result from it. But as I’m sure that I’ll never convince some of this, let’s head back to Eden…

After Adam and Eve sinned, they felt shame, ostensibly because they were naked; however, it goes deeper than that. Prior to their sin, they were “as God made them,” naked, sinless, and perfect in their reflection of the image and glory of God. After their sin, they remained naked, but it was no longer a nakedness full of God’s glory and free of the taint of sin. It was a nakedness that made them feel vulnerable and exposed even though they were physically no more vulnerable or exposed than they had been at any other point in their existence. What changed? Certainly not their physical state nor their fashion sense: the change was spiritual. Sin didn’t make their bodies shameful but did fill their spirits with shame.

Shame gets a bad reputation in our society today; we’re constantly on a quest to end “shaming” in all its various forms. Of course, I have no problem with that. Shame can often be paralyzing, even fatal. However, shame does serve a legitimate purpose, especially when you think of the fear of shame as motivator.

I recently had a very smart friend teach me something about motivations. To use his example—in light of the current public discourse about adultery—he loves his wife, and so he will not cheat on her. However, he was quick to admit there have been times that love—his primary motivator—wasn’t as strong as it should have been. During these times, secondary motivators like the fear of hurting his children and the potential for shame have helped to buttress the temporarily weakened primary motivator. Shame can and does serve a legitimate purpose in a fallen world: it feeds a healthy fear of messing up which can help to keep us on the straight and narrow.

And yet, shaming someone is inexcusable, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let’s talk about another word, “private.”

private

Private: The Need for a Covering

After Adam and Eve fell and found that shame had replaced the glory of their nudity, they attempted to cover themselves with leaves. A decent cover, perhaps, but leaves don’t last. Once they’re removed from the plant that crew them, they immediately begin to deteriorate. It’s a covering that won’t last long. This is why, when God shows up, He provides them a new covering of animal skin, one that will last much longer.

As I said before, nudity is not inherently shameful, though the glory and purity of the human form was lost to sin’s invasion. No, nudity is not shameful, but in a fallen world, it moved from being publicly acceptable to only acceptable in a private setting. There’s nothing wrong with private, and perhaps that’s the hang up some people have these days. They don’t see the value, the worthy that’s conferred upon the body through privacy. Maybe I’m wrong, but the more I think about it the more I can hear people complaining that they don’t want privacy forced upon them. If their nudity leads someone else to sin, they would argue, that’s their fault for being so perverse. And yet, I can see those same people being made at a company who knowingly sold food that had been somehow tainted. Would the CEO of that company be allowed to blame the victims for getting sick and/or dying from being so gluttonous? I doubt it.

Private “parts” or action are not inherently shameful. Some private acts are glorious, even lauded by the Bible. And though I feel like I’m being overly repetitive, I’ll say it again, the human form is not inherently shameful. The shame has been added in after the fact. It’s not that the form is perverse, but what can happened from a depraved mind viewing the form in the wrong context. Thus, the need for privacy. When describing the various purposes of clothing, I’m sure we’d include protection from the elements, regulation of temperature, and other such elements. All valid uses of clothing in a fallen world, and yet, God didn’t wait till Adam and Eve had entered that broken world before He gave them coverings. Adam and Eve made coverings themselves before they ever experienced a physical need for clothing. No, the first and greatest reason for clothing is actually spiritual: we wear clothes to cover what is private. We cover what is private about our bodies as a means of honoring our form and respecting the eyes and hearts of those around us. We don’t wear clothing because we are ashamed of who we are or how God made us; we wear clothes to prevent shame from entering in. Clothes should be seen as a mark of honor, covering that which is most sacred. Even Paul, in writing metaphorically about the Church, discussed our use of clothing to cover our “private areas” as a way honoring them.

What is shameful and what is private are not the same but neither are they mutually exclusive. Shameful actions are sins and yet, we must draw a fine point here: many shameful actions would have been legitimate actions had they be done in private. And this is the heart of the issue I saw expressed on Facebook. A perception had been established that a certain action was inherently shameful, meaning that it was, by its very nature, shameful. However—and this is why I’m writing all of this—the real issue wasn’t the action itself but the manner and place in which it took place: it was done in public instead of private.

Conclusion

There’s a certain amount of misplaced pride that has motivated some people to take what ought to be private and bring it into public view. This is partly the result of ignorant individuals who have shamed individuals and/or actions without recognizing the distinction between private and shameful. Too many people, who call themselves Christians, are “convinced” of the shamefulness of the human form. Again, this is a misunderstanding. Our spirits’ are fallen, and, yes, our bodies are cursed. However, the root of sin is not in nudity. Neither lust, nor fornication, nor any sexual immorality starts in the body: they start in our spirit and are then played out through the body.

The key element I want to convey is that there is glory in the human form, and that glory, that beauty is deserving of the honor of privacy. This is why God gave Adam and Eve better coverings. It was’t the first evidence we have of bilabial prudishness. Instead, it’s God demonstrating the value and wonder of His creation, namely us. He valued Adam and Eve’s nudity in the newly fallen world, even though there was no one else around to lust after them, which is a good point to focus on before we close this lengthy post.

Adam and Eve were husband and wife, but sin tainted everything. Husband and wife can still allow sin to pollute their marriage, even though they were the only sexual game in town.1 That’s how subtle and dangerous sin is and how valuable and worth protecting the human is to God and should be to us.

Some acts are always shameful, but many private acts are not, so long as they respectfully remain private. Private and shameful are too different things.


  1. Well, only “human” sexual game in town. That’s gross, but, in a fallen world, there are no limitations. 

8 replies on “Shameful vs. Private: What Words Mean”

While I applaud your well-thought out argument and articulate presentation, I am afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Phil. IMO, there is a difference between dressing provocatively, flashing, shimmying, etc., and breastfeeding, which is clinical in nature. I do believe that if a woman chooses to feed her child publicly, that it should be done discreetly. There are ways to go about feeding an infant without exposing oneself, while still not forcing them to suffocate under a blanket. No matter how soft the lighting or comfortable the furniture, no woman wants to sit in a closet alone and be made to feel like a social pariah. And don’t get me started on bathroom stalls…

It’s hard enough to get out of the house as a mom, without having to be sequestered once you make it past the front door. If a woman can breastfeed without “showing off her goods,” the issue of alleged nudity is moot, and I say more power to her.

Agree to disagree it is! 😛

There is certainly a difference between trying to be provocative and simply breastfeeding a child. However, I feel like women want to have their cake and eat it, too. In defense of public breastfeeding, I’ve heard it referred to as a special moment between the mother and child, something that is too grand to be derailed for archaic notions of decency. And yet, my argument is that it is too grand to be cheapened and put on display. (I’ve never heard anyone, not even medical professionals, describe it as “clinical.” Every physical action, in that case, is clinical, but there are several physical actions that would never be allowed in public.) Beyond all of that, it’s the parents’ job to make decisions and even sacrifices for the child. If that means that a family goes home for lunch because the infant needs to eat, then so be it or make preparations ahead time by bottling milk. That might sound harsh, but I feel like we, as a society, have forgotten the idea of “opportunity costs,” the concept that making one decision will impact even limit our ability to make other decisions. So if you choose to have children, choose to breastfeed, don’t expect that society—or God—should have to alter the meaning of what is decent and appropriate for public viewing.

I do want to be clear, though, that while I stated in my post that legitimate private actions brought into the public view often become sinful, I do not think that is necessarily true of breastfeeding. However, I do think that, for Christians, maturity and a desire to not bring offense to anyone should be what guides here and always.

Fair enough, and all great points. I chose not to do it in public, but it was out of selfish convenience. Tessa was a formula baby whenever we were out of the house 😉

Maybe “clinical” was the wrong word. I meant more that it’s purpose was utilitarian moreso than provocative, I guess. Not all of us can be walking dictionaries, bro 😛

I love that we can have a civil, intelligent discussion about things, rather than resorting to calling each other He-Man Woman Haters and nutjob liberal feminazis. Keep up the good content 🙂

Thanks, Nikki. Didn’t mean to pick on your work choice. That’s something I take a bit too seriously. Agreed, though, it’s nice to be able to discuss issues with civility. Thanks for reading and commenting!

I wasn’t sure exactly what you were referring to, but with the comments, I can now place this into specific context. There are some things you stated that I will refer to in the future, as I think you explain things VERY well.

As for breastfeeding in public, I think this is something that can be done without being “in your face” about it. I remember many years ago, my wife needed to breastfeed in public, so we found a place to sit clear out of the way, secluded from the busy areas. She was completely covered and back turned, when a women says loudly from clear across the way, “THAT’S disgusting!”

In world that loves extremes, I believe some have pushed the pendulum too far to counter this kind of unreasonable reaction to something that should be praised, respected, and even protected by society—especially when trying to nurture and care for an infant in such a modest and careful way.

In my opinion, being relegated to the bathroom stall is just as ludicrous as “whipping it out” for all to see.

I agree, Eric. I didn’t give context because I wanted to create a general argument that would work in several contexts. For breastfeeding, I think that the example you provide is a great one for how to do what must be done with decency. The woman who shouted was clearly interjecting herself into something that you and your wife had done everything to keep her (and others) out of. I’d also like to state for clarity’s sake that I agree that the idea of breastfeeding in a bathroom stall is disgusting and degrading.

That’s one thing I like about your argument—that it can be applied with multiple contexts. In fact, this morning, I saw a Facebook post and reply that didn’t ring true with me about modesty and THIS can easily be applied to answer why it didn’t ring true with me. I really appreciate how articulate you are. I may have to referr back to this post in the future!

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