Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shame and Social Control

The class lecture was on social control. In this class I present the different mechanisms of control and how those mechanisms make us conform into the image of our cultural environment. Formal controls are rules and laws passed by society on what is proper/improper behavior (e.g. speed limits, paying taxes, age limit for consensual sex). Informal mechanisms of control are set by family, interest groups and religion (endogamy for marriage within defined ethnicity; Weight Watchers using shame techniques for dieters and fear of the supernatural to control devotees of faith). The media is big on shame manipulation and social control. In every election people are called “idiots” if they vote for one candidate, while others are sophisticated if they vote for the other person the media has anointed worthy of office. Social control can be subtle or overt, but it’s a phenomenon that takes place constantly.

While the class discussion continued, a young lady from northeast India told her story. She recounted that the reason she was in seminary was because of the expectations of her family. At a young age she was “consecrated” by her parents for God’s service. Though she insisted that she indeed wanted to serve Christ and enrolling in this school was her choice, she said she never thought much about doing anything else because of the expectations of her family. She then went on to say, choking back emotion that would lead to tears, that her pastor told her that if she did not fulfill the consecration of her family that she would be cursed and perhaps that curse would even fall on her parents.

As I listened to her story I was both incensed and saddened. Saddened because this truly sincere but confused young woman was serving Christ, partly because of personal choice, but strongly influenced by social control. Incensed because a pastor dared to use the fear of the supernatural to shame this person to conform to the wishes of her parents and even the church. For too many religious leaders, be they Christian, Muslim or Hindu, theology is a form of quality control and they set themselves up as one who speaks for God to pass judgment. Not only is that theological heresy, when it comes to manipulating the emotions of others it borders on the criminal of physiological abuse.

All of humanity is pushed, pulled and jerked around by the opinions of family, peers, religion and the constant barrage of influence that comes our way through music and the film industry. Paul admonished the followers of Jesus not be conformed to the things of this world but be transformed into the image of Christ. While the battle for control continues, our Creator is trying to break through to show us His love, mercy and patience. And He does that without heaping on us guilt and shame…that’s the work of the enemy.