Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler with Dr.Leona Stucky
Welcome to Dr. Leona Stucky’s WOW Blog Tour for her new memoir, Fog of Faith: Surviving My Impotent God.
Leona is cast into bewildering disgrace and poverty—with a baby, a violent husband, and shattered faith. She hacks through the bones of her Mennonite naïveté to confront harsh realities. This riveting and morally unflinching memoir, recommended by MS Magazine, delivers intense suspense, humor and unusual wisdom.
Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Prairie World Press (May 25, 2017)
Shame: How Culture and Religion Are Internalized
Shame is a powerful emotional force. We are all familiar with shame, yet it often goes unnoticed, unexplored, unchallenged, even by experts.
In this blog we will explore the way culture and religion utilize shame to assist humans to become conscious social beings.
Shame invades our internal being. I’m probably writing about it because it invaded me and forever changed my life, as my memoir, The Fog of Faith: Surviving My Impotent God, illustrates.
Perhaps shame builds upon Darwin’s evolution, often in insidious ways. We may be hard wired for it. Parents instill it in their young.
How did shame become a precision power tool to connect internal and external worlds?
It emerged as a consequence of the dynamic relationship between babies and their caregivers. It developed within the internalized representational world of infants as they processed security and rejection from significant loved ones.
Explanation of our Childhood Experiences Related to Shame
As babies, we needed connection to survive. We would die within days without caregivers to assume responsibility for us. We humans are the most dependent creatures on earth.
Thus we attune to the big beings around us. We need physical and emotional closeness. When not in a pleasant position with big beings, we feel insecure, fearful, and bad. Shame is learned as a defense against doing those things that will break the tie that binds. We incorporate the anticipated rejected/bad feeling by shaming ourselves and thus gaining some control over those actions that might evoke shame. Our internal awareness of external judgment builds our capacity to feel ashamed.
As babies, big beings shame us most when we endanger ourselves or others. Thus we associate shame with fear of major consequences and fear of losing the affection of big beings.
By age 2 ½ we become aware that the biggest being of all is called God and God has special rules, offers guidance, love and acceptance that must be attained to enhance our security and magical powers.
We generalize our relationship with big intimate beings to older wiser beings/Beings with authority over us. Then shame can be projected and introjected as a way to avoid negative consequences from groups of big beings associated with culture and religion.
Adult Uses of Shame
In the early years of human evolution, as well as today, survival meant working intimately with others – both in cooperation and competition. Shame laid the groundwork for knowing ourselves and others, allowing us to synchronize our goals for work or play, and to guess the other’s motives and anticipate their actions. In this way, Shame makes sociality functional.
Oh that horrible feeling – head low, eyes cast downward, a quiet plea for the earth to swallow us whole.
Once we have experienced a heavy dose of shame, we are likely to glom onto it and it onto us, similarly to how touching a hot stove stays with us. Shame, however, often poisons our self-assessment with others’ negativity. It makes us hesitant to be seen, to speak up, to defend ourselves, to consider ourselves worthy or valuable.
To incapacitate a group of people, culture, often in the robes of religion, showers shame upon them.
When we are not conscious of shame, it still shapes our behavior. We learn manners. We avoid acts that would embarrass us. We thwart shame with the clothes we buy, with diets and exercises, the house we live in, the church we attend. At its most basic level, Viagra resists shame. Mirrors in homes and public restrooms are shame information tools. Capitalism caters to shame avoidance when small town gas stations sell alcohol from drive-up windows.
Shame operates as a coordinating energy between our internal and external worlds. It is the forerunner and often the foundation of our sense of decency and morality.
Shame can shoot in or rise up to help us control our impulses. With shame we sometimes delay responses and employ our more rational executive functions. It can sometimes stop us from being cruel, harmful, arrogant, or rude. We would not want to be “That man who has no shame!” Or, “That woman who is shameless!” When we shame others, we warn ourselves.
People and politicians battle over who gets to say what is shameful. Class distinctions are shame embedded.
Religious Shame Considerations
In the past, when culture needed help to effectively shame an individual or group, religion played an oversized role. Not that religion is any more uniform than politics. But religion offers an unassailable higher Authority. Conservative branches of Abrahamic religions believe in a Divine Entity who is better, more powerful, wiser, and who must be obeyed or else! This Divine Authority says what is right and shames the rest. Think divine rights of kings while shaming the serfs who had little claim to rights, honor masculinity as more God-like, rational, and active while shaming femininity as more childlike, emotional, and passive. Today it’s honoring heterosexual relations while shaming the LGBTQ community.
While religion tends to maintain traditions longer than culture, it also is more agile than culture. It can absolve shame as well as ascribe it. Forgiveness of sins, or wiping the shame slate clean is religion’s domain, as is enveloping the sinner with grace, creating a bond between that lonely heart and the Divine, providing love and guidance and an ultimate reward. Religion has much to offer anyone who feels vulnerable to shame. Once under the protection of Authority, believers breathe easier, watching religion direct shame mostly toward those on the outside.
When shame must be directed toward someone on the inside, some religious groups shame and forgive in a single beat.
That’s how it was for me that day at Hopefield Mennonite Church. But as a teenager, shame felt real and forgiveness a distant illusion.
I was jealous of Ron, who felt little shame. What had he done? Sown a wild oat? Last night when we practiced the ritual words of confession with Rev. Schmidt, I noticed nothing in the litany that would indicate my guilt more than Ron’s. Yet I knew that I was the responsible party, the one who should be ashamed.
In front of the congregation, Rev. Schmidt fed us the confession line by line. We repeated each one. We acknowledged that we were sinful, that we allowed passion to mar our judgment, that we failed our commitment to follow God’s way. We said we were weak and unworthy, we were bringing an innocent child into a tainted situation, and we were sorry for our deeds. We acknowledged we had no right to mercy except that we knew God was merciful, and we would count on His Son, who died to save us from our sins.
I was so nervous attempting to repeat the lines that their meaning barely registered. I was saying I had sinned. I knew on a scale of one to ten where my sin landed. I was announcing pregnancy before marriage. Thus I had committed the worst sin a young woman could commit, except murder.
I smelled the acrid fear on my body, a smell to which I was accustomed. But why fear now? . . . These kind and compassionate Mennonites were at this moment reciting lines of forgiveness, promising to hold us in their circle of love, inviting us back into the fold of committed souls who walked the path Jesus took, the narrow and disciplined path of salvation. . . .
After forgiveness was granted, I smiled a thin, defiant half-moon. Under my breath I dared them to talk about me over Sunday dinner. I guessed some people were sad for me. Some might have felt compassion for my family, burdened by shame. In my whirling sensation of unleashed sinfulness, I thought I was foremost on the congregation’s mind. Perhaps, as Dad said, they were worried about their own problems,. . . But I couldn’t escape my own harsh inward gaze; I couldn’t imagine escaping theirs. . . .
After the service, I bowed out quickly. I went home to hate myself,. . .
The Fog of Faith: Surviving My Impotent God
Though I was angry, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I bowed to the Authority of my Mennonite beliefs, and quietly increased the injury to myself.
About the Author:
The Reverend Doctor Leona Stucky, the author of The Fog of Faith, resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When not working, she enjoys New Mexico landscapes, walking and driving in the open expanse, and exploring nature here and around the world with friends and family. Being a grandmother is one of the highlights of her life; she adores playing with the little ones and watching their relational capacities unfold. She revels in their joy and treasures moments together as they grow.
November 2017 Newsletter: Monthly Updates, Memoir Musings and Max Moments
“The Season of Gratitude”
If you are interested in receiving this monthly newsletter in your inbox, please sign up in the right side bar. I’d love to have you along!