10 December 2008

Honor, Shame and Resurrection

Shrinkwrapped has been blogging about Terrorism and the Narcissistic Trilogy, Part 1 and Part 2. He writes of tribal culture as being failed culture, unable to satisfy the needs of its members who have taken upon themselves the narcissistic injury that their culture is not economically and militarily competitive with Western culture.

The problem, however, is not that the cultures he identifies are tribal. Humans are by nature tribal, and all societies reflect that to some degree. The problem is that the "failed" cultures he writes of are honor/shame cultures in which power is honor and powerlessness is shame. It is the relative powerlessness of these cultures with respect to their neighbors that leads to intolerable shame that must be redressed by terrorist violence. It seems that honor/shame cultures amplify the defects of narcissistic personalities.

Can honor/shame cultures "grow out of" or "get over" their narcissistic injuries? Can they evolve into cultures based on something other than the honor/shame dichotomy? All the sources of Western culture ultimately go back to honor/shame cultures, including that of the ancient Greeks. Somehow the West did so evolve, but only through a series of catastrophes including WWII in which the obsession of the Nazi's with their narcissistic injury (defeat by the Allies in WWI) was thoroughly beaten out of them by the Allies in WWII. That is to say, sometimes cultural change must be brought about by total defeat.

We have only one example of a Middle Eastern honor/shame culture evolving into a successful modern culture - the Jews. But again, theirs is a 2500+ year long history of defeat, occupation, domination, dispersion, and finally an ingathering in their place of origin. That is how much it took to get a people to base their sense of self-worth on something other than their power over others, or even their ability to prevent others from having power over them.

Let us pray that the honor/shame cultures in which Islam has taken root will not require for their awakening an encounter with defeat as total as the Nazis or as prolonged as the Jews.

And then there is the event that stood the contemporary honor/shame culture of 1st century Judaism on its head. The Resurrection of Jesus after his humiliating execution. At the time, it was too much for an honor/shame culture to digest: the idea that the Almighty G-d would become an ordinary man, and suffer himself to be treated so badly simply does not compute in honor/shame cultures. G-d simply cannot be allowed to be humiliated. But Roman culture had already become accustomed to the idea that the right person does not always win, that power and wisdom, or power and righteousness can be two different things. Tragic heroes like Socrates prepared the way for this realization. And so Christianity had a much easier time spreading among the pagan Romans than among the Jews of Israel.


Undergroundpewster said...

The idea of becoming like Christ and following him to the shame of being stripped and hung from a tree must be difficult for those raised in an honor/shame culture to understand, but is it impossible?

Scooper said...

Generally speaking for most people in honor/shame cultures the answer must be yes. Perhaps that is why God gave Islam to the ones who didn't already have Judaism.

You would think the Shi'ites would have some understanding of this concept because of the martyrdom of Ali at Karbala. But somehow they have interpreted it otherwise.