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Shame and Conscience

I think an interesting aspect of man’s conscience is their shame. I think it is pretty convincing that it’s real since I think everyone (especially me) has experienced it in one form or another.

I recall the funny joke in middle school was to sneak up behind some unsuspecting fellow student then pull their shorts down in front of everyone. We called it “getting pants’d”. Instantly the young lad would feel embarrassed and hopefully his undergarments stayed to prevent further humiliation.

I think it interesting even the idea of wearing clothes and how it distinguishes us from other animals. Even natives who live in remote areas have a sense of covering. I spoke with a missionary who served abroad for years to a particular group of people where the men wore solely a rope tied around their waste. One day he asked one of the leaders what the purpose of the rope was, his response “What do you want us to do? Run around naked?”

Reflecting on this a bit I found some enlightenment in reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The source of shame really begins with our origin. Or to be more precise, our (man’s) starting point. Understanding this is critical because it makes more sense when we see the perversion or deviation of our initial state.

To put plainly, it is in shame where man is reminded of his/her disunion with God and with other men. And our conscience is our sign of that disunion. Do not try to mix the two because they are separate yet they work together. Our conscience in essence presupposes this “disunion” with our maker. Our conscience is the voice that none can deny. Some naturalists would claim it is our “natural” tendency influenced through social, environmental or even biological factors. I think this becomes a rather difficult philosophy to sustain as it is carried out to its logical conclusion but allow me to develop the theistic response more.

Our conscience is the voice we recognize in ourselves that desires (at least) to remain one with itself. Does that make sense? It is the call inside of man to a unity to themselves. It is a call that we are detached. It is a recognition of a state of our being that is not what it “ought” to be.

Moving forward as people we have a certain working knowledge of the world and how it is. Our knowledge is a fascinating arena to reflect on. Man originally had a comprehension of God and man. Yet with the “Fall” (Adam and Eve in the garden) a new factor was introduced. The knowledge of good and evil. Knowing of good and evil in the state of “disunion”, man begins to reflect upon himself. Our life is our understanding of ourself verses in our origin, it was our understanding of God.

Man is constantly striving to escape this conscience, or this disunion from his Origin. Perhaps in denial, focus to something other or even in abject rebellion. Therefore for man who is in this disunion, all things are in disunion. Because he is trying to understand and have knowledge apart from his origin. What types of things will man “see” or experience in disunion? Well, everything. Your experience this disconnect in the world in what should be, law, life, knowledge, reality, duty, instinct, truth, justice and even love. They will all be or come to opposition of each other.

When our experiences in these areas come into opposition that is when we experience conflict. And we resolve this? With our acquired knowledge of good and evil. That acquired knowledge is man thus man is at his worst condition, trying to resolve uncertainties with uncertain knowledge.

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