Friday, July 10, 2015

Law, Honor, and Fear Cultures

Cultures have three major ways of maintaining social order: law, shame, and fear. All cultures use all three, but most tend to emphasize one over the other.

Honor Culture
In cultural anthropology, a shame society, also called shame culture or honour-shame culture, is a society in which the primary device for gaining control over children and maintaining social order is the inculcation of shame and the complementary threat of ostracism. A shame society is contrasted with a guilt society [also called a law culture], in which control is maintained by creating and continually reinforcing the feeling of guilt (and the expectation of punishment now or in the afterlife) for certain condemned behaviors, and with a fear society, in which control is kept by the fear of retribution. 
Paul G. Hiebert characterizes the shame society as follows:
Shame is a reaction to other people's criticism, an acute personal chagrin at our failure to live up to our obligations and the expectations others have of us. In true shame oriented cultures, every person has a place and a duty in the society. One maintains self-respect, not by choosing what is good rather than what is evil, but by choosing what is expected of one. 
Law Culture
Paul Hiebert characterizes the guilt society [or law culture] as follows:
Guilt is a feeling that arises when we violate the absolute standards of morality within us, when we violate our conscience. A person may suffer from guilt although no one else knows of his or her misdeed; this feeling of guilt is relieved by confessing the misdeed and making restitution. True guilt cultures rely on an internalized conviction of sin as the enforcer of good behavior, not, as shame cultures do, on external sanctions. Guilt cultures emphasize punishment and forgiveness as ways of restoring the moral order; shame cultures stress self-denial and humility as ways of restoring the social order. 

Note the emphasis on conscience.

Western cultures tend to be law cultures. One example is the US. The US is a law culture because of the heavy Christian component in its founding: Puritans (and Congretationalists), Quakers, Catholics, and Methodists. Later groups such as the German Anabaptists, Moravians, Baptists, and others merely solidified the tendency in the US.

This is referred to as "America's Judeo-Christian" tradition. Often people think that this means that the Founding Fathers were Christian believers. It does not. It means that the Founding Fathers were part of an over-arching culture that accepted and internalized a Christian moral structure. Additionally, they saw, accepted and routinely spoke out in favor of that culture even if they were not traditional Christians. (Yes, even, and most especially, Thomas Jefferson.)

Eastern cultures tend to be honor cultures. Examples include Japan and China.

Mediterranean cultures, even when "Judeo-Christian," and therefore law cultures, have a heavy honor/guilt culture aspect.

Tribal cultures tend to be honor cultures. The tribe may be rooted in blood kinship like the Romani, most Islamic cultures, or the traditional Native American cultures. Or they may be rooted in some sort of intense, shared experience (hazing in college fraternities or boot camp in the military).

While Western cultures tend to be law cultures, specific subcultures in the West can be honor cultures, for example the police, the military, criminal organizations, sports teams, and college sororities and fraternities.

Overall, human beings are tribal. That is, each of us relate to 100-200 people on a regular basis. Family, of course, is the basic tribal unit. However, all of us belong to other "tribes:" a political subculture, fans of a particular sports team, a clique of co-workers at an office, or members of a church or social organization. Once one is aware of our tribal nature, it becomes obvious everywhere: the regulars at a coffee shop or diner, the pundits on TV, or the regular commentors on a blog. There is an obvious camaraderie.

Fear cultures occur in totalitarian societies, ranging from the "petty tyrants" of the workplace to the totalitarian dictatorships of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

However, to make it clear, no cultures or subcultures are only honor, law or fear cultures. All cultures are a mix. One or the other dominates, but does not exclude the others.

Tribal signaling in the US.

Because the US has a large and diverse set of subcultures, it is typical to "signal" which particular subculture a person belongs to. Signals may include symbols such as a rainbow flag, a cross or star of David, a hammer and sickle, or a national flag. Or it may be what is and is not posted or commented on. Signalling may be posting of one side or another of a controversary: confederate flags, gun rights, gay marriage, global warming, or "gamer-gate." This is common, and once noticed becomes obvious on social media sites.

For example, I know people on Facebook who I know are born-again Christians, from families of born-again Christians, all of whom attend "conservative" churches (conservative theologically, that is). However, They may post items, sometimes links and sometimes comments, that counter practices and beliefs of some or most Christian subcultures. The posts are from a "left" political or theological viewpoint. Additionally, none of them post links or comments that openly state any affiliation with a conservative political or theological viewpoint.

This puzzled me until I realized that all of them were also members of very intellectual, very technological "tribes." Since these tribes, unless physically located in "Bible Belt" type regions, are uniformly non- to anti-Christian, it became obvious that they were signalling their leftist tribe members that they were also members of that tribe and not of "those" type of Christians. An odd form of "bearing witness."

There are other forms of signalling. Sports and military metaphors are very common in our culture. They might signal being a sports fan. However, they may also signal that the user is affirming being in a clique with another person.

For example, one office worker might use the phrase, "I've got your back," in an office setting. The person is using a military metaphor that he/she will stand by his/her coworker during a bout of office politics.

Law/honor cultures in the Bible.
Joshua 1:8 (NASB)8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
Jeremiah 31:33 (NASB)33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Philippians 3:4b-6 (NASB)4 If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I [Paul] far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
Acts 23:1 (NASB)
23 Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.”
Paul was an embodiment of law culture.

It would appear from the quotes above, that the culture of the ancient Israelites was a law culture, but it was clearly also an honor culture.
Numbers 15:32-36.  So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The forty years in the wilderness welded a slave peoples into the nation of God. Twelve tribes, often in conflict, but still a unified nation.

How then should the Church function? 

Church should function as a law culture. We are given the mind of Christ; we have His laws written on our hearts; and we can have direct and personal access to God via the Holy Spirit.

We do not have a spirit of fear [2 Timothy 1:7] and we no longer come under, and thus fear, condemnation, sin, and death [Romans 8:1-2]. Therefore, the Church should not use fear or shame as a means of maintaining order in the Church. Yes, we are to fear God, but that is whole different thing than being cowed into obedience by Church leadership.

Church Discipline
Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 
"Tell it to the church." This appears to be shaming behavior. The Law is written on our hearts, but we have a choice whether or not to obey that law. When the disobedience becomes obvious, it means that there has been a breakdown in a person's willingness to operate in the law culture established by God. The person is violating his or her own conscience, and that violation has become public knowledge.

Ideally, the person's fellow Christians then attempt to lovingly point out where the person needs to submit to the rule of the kingdom of God that is in the person's own heart. If the person refuses to submit to the law written by God on that person's own heart, they are unruly (that is, un-rule-y). They need to be told that it is they who have stepped out of bounds. "Telling it to the church" and disfellowshipping the person is merely a public acknowledgment of where the person is already.

It is an ostricizing or shaming action that is required, in good conscience, by law culture.

What about the honor aspects of the Church? 

"One maintains self-respect, not by choosing what is good rather than what is evil, but by choosing what is expected of one."

The church should not be about doing "what is expected of one," unless it is what is expected of one by God, by the voice in of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit.

Humans are tribal, and humans in the church are tribal and act tribally. That is, we try to turn the church into a tribe and operate inside an honor culture. The results is cliques.

Cliques are a natural side-effect of talking to our friends and meeting in small groups (Sunday school classes, Sunday or Wednesday night meetings, house churches, prayer meetings, or whatever). It means that new members or visitors feel unwelcome, not because they are unwelcome, but because they are not yet part of a tribe. New member classes can be a "rite of passage" signalling acceptence by the church (tribe).

However, we are not bound by our hard-wiring to act tribally.

One way is adjust our viewpoint. CS Lewis said of the church that it is "Spread out through time and space, and terrible as an army with banners." We can take a "God's eye view" and see the church as a unified whole ranging from the 1st century church with Peter and Paul through all the believers in any and all locales and times. A person who has made a profession of faith in one church, is a Christian, a brother/sister, a believer, a fellow disciple and traveller on the same road as any other.

However, it does not end there. Any future Christian is also part of that the body of Christ, as well. And we do not know today who will be a member tomorrow, or next year, or on their death bed 50 years from now.

The tribe of all Christians is the body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as its head, and its mind.

Note: I am cross-posting this on my other blog, as well.

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