Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology  by Stephen Pattison (Cambridge University Press) Shame provides an invaluable, stimulating resource for all those who are concerned with understanding shame and assisting those who live in its shadow. Psychologists, philosophers and therapists will find this α fascinating source of new insight into the theory and phenomenology of shame. It will be of particular interest to those who are interested in relationships between religion and mental health, to pastoral workers and counselors, and to religious thinkers and theorists.

Stephen Pattison considers the nature of shame as it is discussed in the diverse discourses of literature, psychology, psychoanalysis, philosophy, history and sociology and concludes that `shame' is not α single unitary phenomenon, but rather a set of separable but related understandings in different discourses. Situating chronic shame primarily within the metaphorical ecology of defilement, pollution and toxic unwantedness, Pattison goes on to examine the causes and effects of shame, including its use as α means of social control, before discussing means of healing shame and integrating individuals and groups whose lives are blighted by it. He then considers the way in which α particular religious tradition, Christianity, has responded to and used shame as α preface to suggesting ways in which religion might alleviate rather than exacerbating shame. His analysis raises fundamental questions for religious thought, organization and practice in what is increasingly regarded as an age of shame.


My main motivation for writing this book was better to understand my own experience of shame, particularly in relation to my engagement with religion. As the volume has progressed, Ι have occasionally ί11υstrated it with examples drawn from my own history. It may be appropriate now to say α little about where Ι have been left at the end of this project.

In personal terms, this work has been an attempt to see the back of the Angel at Beaune, or perhaps to get to a point where Ι can look 'him' in the face without flinching. The quest has been one of trying to understand and perhaps overcome α sense of dysfunctional, irrational shame fuelled and amplified in part by religious thought and participation. Ι want now to comment on the extent to which Ι have succeeded in this quest.

In many ways, Ι have been surprised at the extent to which this study has been personally transformative. Ι have often written, perhaps rather glibly, of practical or pastoral theology as α transformative activity. However, Ι have been surprised by the extent to which my views of shame, Christianity, God, and my self have been changed (sometimes uncomfortably and inconveniently) by engaging in this work.

With regard to shame, Ι now see it as α much more complex and more fundamental phenomenon in human existence than Ι initially imagined. The stain of shame is far more deadly and far more widespread and significant as α social and individual phenomenon than Ι thought. Ι am heartened to discover that Ι am not alone in experiencing α profound sense of shame. There are narratives of causation and effect that help to account for shame and may open ways for solidarity and integration. However, far more academic and clinical work is needed in this area if many individuals and groups are to enjoy the fullness of human life that is figured by face-to-face acceptance and non-objectifying belonging symbolized by sharing, singing and feasting together in the Kingdom of God.

In relation to Christianity, it has been very uncomfortable for me to have to acknowledge that α religion to which Ι have adhered all my life can itself be shame-generating and -amplifying. The Jewish scholar, David Blumenthal, said in α seminar Ι attended while writing this book that he felt physically sick and guilty at having to expose some of the faults, evils and inadequacies of his faith and its theology when composing Facing the Abusing God, a work that dealt with various kinds of horrific soul- and body-destroying abuse. Ι think Ι know something of Blumenthal's real anxiety and misery from my own authorial experience. If one has placed faith and trust in an idealized system that later turns out to be not what it seems, and if one has voluntarily represented it to others as healing and beneficial, this is somewhat humiliating. It also evokes feelings of intense anxiety and loss. The loss of α vision of religion as essentially 'all good', benevolent, and ideally parental is difficult to bear. It confronts one with the need to take responsibility for oneself, one's world and, indeed, one's religious tradition. This is hard adult labor and it is appropriate - but not necessarily easy or welcome.

Much the same kind of comment might be made of my perception of God. For many years, God functioned as α kind of ideal accompanying parental presence in my life. If this perfect, all-loving and all-powerful internalized object `God' was persecutory, hostile and critical, finding me vaguely disgusting and unsatisfactory all the time, God also made me feel wanted and important, having particular acts of obedience in mind that he wanted me to accomplish. Ι must acknowledge that this particular living image of God is now dead for me. The shaming, sadistic God that evoked in me α sense of profound stain has had to go along with many of the practices and assumptions that sustained his reality. This again has left α curious space and sense of loss in my life for which Ι still grieve. If God is no longer so powerful, frightening and shame-inspiring, this God also seems less protective, intriguing and fascinating.

All of which represents for me α curious kind of resurrection from the death of shamed or false self that inspires fear and confusion more than happiness or joy. Perhaps Ι understand something of why the women who first witnessed Jesus' empty tomb were afraid rather than having any other kind of more positive response. Christianity is α revelatory and an iconoclastic, anti-idolatrous religion with α God who has qualities of hiddenness and openness, presence and absence. Ι hope Ι can look forward, therefore, to discovering new faces or images of God that transcend my previous distortions. Alongside the image of the Angel on my word processor, at some point Ι wrote this quotation from Psalm 27: `Ι shall see the goodness of Yahweh in the land of the living'. Not far before, in the same Psalm, the author writes, `Of you my heart has said, "Seek his face!" Your face, Yahweh, Ι seek; Do not turn away from me'. Perhaps one day, like Jacob, Moses, Martin Luther and the pure in heart of the Beatitudes Ι will see God face to face. If so, Ι hope to be fortified by the example of Luther who, according to Nietzsche, `wanted to speak to God directly, speak as himself, and without embarrassment'.

So to my perspective on myself. One of the implications of idealizing α particular image of God as good is that this maintained me in α permanent state of feeling bad about myself. Ι failed to recognize that of God in me. In fact, Ι wished that `me' did not exist and did my best for many years to eliminate what felt like α very unwanted self. Ι have had to come to realize that what felt like α false self that disrupted my quest for sanctity, obedience and holiness, is in fact not going to die. Furthermore, it is this apparently unwanted part of me, for so long covered in shame and abnegation, that embodies the spirit of life within me which must in some way be both honored and released. If God is no longer all-good and all-powerful in the way that Ι used to think, Ι am no longer all-bad and passively helpless either. While God may seem less present to me, Ι feel less distant and more present to my own immediate experience. Ι feel less depressed; perhaps more of me is available to myself and to others.

In a strange way, Ι sense that Ι have been converted from α defensive, protective and inwardly persecutory religion founded upon fear and sado-masochistic dependence to some kind of new life that is both more mundane but more important than what Ι knew before. Ι hope it is not too pretentious to say that Ι find echoes of this in Martin Buber's account of his conversion from extraordinary religion to α life of everyday dialogue with humanity:

Mγ earlier years the `religious' was for me the exception . . . `Religious experience' was the experience of an otherness which did not fit into the context of life . . . The `religious' lifted you out ... Since then Ι have given up the `religious' which is nothing but the exception, extraction, exaltation, ecstasy; or it has given me up. Ι possess nothing but the everyday out of which Ι am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens. Ι know no fulness but each mortal hour's fulness of claim and responsibility. Though far from being equal to it, yet Ι know that in the claim Ι am claimed and may respond in responsibility, and know who speaks and demands α response.

Ι can only think that this is α kind of empowerment of myself and other human beings as agents with α real sense of selfhood and responsibility that is desirable in the modern world. Perhaps human beings need appropriately to differentiate themselves from God, Jesus and the church if they are to witness to, and make real, some kind of healing and salvation that is relevant. If so, paradoxically, there may sometimes be α need for people to emancipate themselves from Christ, in the name of Christ, to do the work of Christ in the world. To internalize Christ it may be that sometimes one has to undergo the stripping process of loss and mourning that ultimately leads to possibilities of newness of life.

It is time for me to turn my back upon the Angel and upon this long text to pass on to the next lot of claims and responsibilities that present themselves. Ι hope that this study may help others as well as me to claim and respond more fully and dialogically in the reality of the face-to-face community that is the human race created in, and creating, the image of God.

Headline 3

insert content here