Imputation: Shame Societies and Guilt Societies

Peter Leithart writes about the supposed legal fiction of imputation of sin and claims that guilt, if we take away individualistic presuppositions, is established not internally but externally – that is, outside of the perpetrator. To those who don’t believe that the moral law is found within without reference to an external person, an other, this is probably obvious enough. The implication, Leithart says, is that God’s judgement, now through the functioning of the covenant community, later at the end of the age before his own throne, is what makes guilt or innocence: God’s verdict is not a legal fiction but a change of a person’s real guilt or innocence.

Now I’m wondering how this dynamic of individual and community fits together whether a society is built on guilt or shame. The assumption has long been that guilt for a guilt-based society is lodged within the individual: that your guilt has absolutely nothing to do with what is pronounced, only what ‘objectively’ has or has not been committed. It is the shame-based societies, then, that are believed to place emphasis on what the community judges, not the guilt-based societies.

A person who is very much a member of a shame-based society and accepts its values will feel as if he has committed wrong if the community believes he has, even if he hasn’t actually done what everyone thinks he has. This is the idolatry of the fallible human community. Now a person who is very much a member of a guilt-based society will resist any external judgement on whether he has done wrong. Usually, he will also see himself as the most objective judge of his own guilt; often, he will convict or acquit himself without reference to any other being. In a Christian context, he will believe God’s pronouncement to be a legal fiction. This is the idolatry of the fallible human self.

The shame-based society needs to hear that it is God who always judges rightly and that the community may misread the testimony or not have all the testimony; the guilt-based society needs to hear that until the end of the age, God’s judgement will in part be found in the discipline of the Church. Your thoughts?

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One response to “Imputation: Shame Societies and Guilt Societies

  1. Pingback: Inauthentic Faith and Social Relations « Cogito, Credo, Petam

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