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The Death of Shame

July 20, 2017

In this day and age too many people seem to have lost the capacity to feel ashamed. Shame has died and self-absorption, self-focus and selfishness appears to have taken its place.

It wasn’t too long ago that most people didn’t want to be thought of as greedy, ungrateful, uncaring, avaricious, egotistical or stingy even if they were. Such people were held up to ridicule in the press, on TV, in movies, books and in the forum of public opinion. It was once a blemish on one’s character to be labeled as such but somehow this has changed.

Today more and more people, both young and old, want to become rich even if it’s at the expense of others.  They lust after the “Good Life” of over consumption, owning mega-mansions, giant Yachts, private jets and only admire those who have achieved such wealth. Many politicians, everyday citizens and even the poor, want to give such folks who don’t need it, bigger and bigger tax breaks. And this is despite the fact that all those in the affected tax brackets are already in the top one percent of the nation’s rich and currently control fifty percent of our country’s entire wealth. All giving more to the rich will do is allow the shameless to  further bulk up their bank accounts and continue to buy more of what they don’t need. How many homes can one person, one family, live in? How many cars can any individual drive? How many incredibly expensive toys can they play with?

While there are those with vast wealth, such as Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates who have turned their great fortunes into vehicles for doing good, there are vastly more of their peer group who, without shame, have adopted Marie Antoinette’s quip of “let them eat cake.” This is in the face of the teeming numbers of our fellow citizens who struggle to exist on minimum wage jobs or no jobs at all. So why do so many of us applaud or acquiesce in enabling the mega-rich to do so instead of shaming them into sharing more of what they have? Is it because we secretly dream of being just like them?

2600 years or so ago the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the following about shameless people and no matter your belief system, his words still ring true:

For from the smallest to the greatest,
They are all greedy for gain, …..
They offer healing offhand
For the wounds of the People,
Saying, “all is well, all is well”
When nothing is well.
They have acted shamefully;
They have done abhorrent things –
Yet they do not feel shame,
And they cannot be made to blush

Jeremiah 6:13-15 (repeated at 8:10-12)*

Jeremiah was denouncing those that sought gain at the expense of the poor and who worshiped false gods. Today the shameless and greedy worship the false gods of wealth for wealth’s sake. They have no legitimate need for more. Instead they simply squander their gains on selfish self-satisfaction or alternatively hoard them so they can boost their bragging rights in the game of “I’ve got more than you do.” They will never go hungry or be deprived of a palatial roof over their heads.

So we need to resurrect shame as a society and hope the shameless can be induced to care about the less fortunate or face the condemnation they’ll deserve for ignoring them. We should certainly not reward them with our admiration and bigger tax breaks at the expense of the truly needy who are without prophets to speak on their behalf. Instead, we need to return to caring about one another and recognize  that in the eyes of our maker, we are ultimately all together in the same boat.


*          This translation of Jeremiah’s Hebrew is taken from the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of Holy Scriptures second edition, 1974. Many Christian Bible translations use the word “Peace” in place of “all is well.”