And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. – Genesis 2:25
One of my favourite radio programs is the CBC’s “Under The influence” (formerly “The Age of Persuasion”) hosted by Terry O’Reilly . O’Reilly gives both an exposition of the tricks of the trade in the world of advertising and an exposition of human gullibility. More often than not I am stunned at how we are subtly (and not so subtly) shaped by commercial means. One of the shows that recently caught my attention was an episode entitled “Shame: The Secret Tool of Marketing.” He says,
“The strategy of “shame” is one of the most powerful marketing tools in modern times. Fear of being judged by our peers has led to billions of dollars of products being sold. Social embarrassment isn’t just a mix of humiliation, mortification and distress, it’s also a heady cocktail of marketing, strategy and product solutions. And the marketing industry has a vested interest in keeping shame alive and well.”
For example O’Reilly traces is the use of deodorant. Before the 20th century deodorant wasn’t something used by your average person. Through the use of advertising the suggestion was planted that people around you are judging you based on your smell. Almost overnight people began to buy deodorant because body smell was something to be ashamed of. Or how about mouth wash. Listerine was originally used as a floor cleanser but it was discovered that it could kill oral germs. The only problem was that no one was worried about bad breath. Listerine created advertising about the problem of “halitosis” and a new market for mouth wash was created. Before 1960 people didn’t worry about dandruff, but advertising taught us that it is something to be ashamed of and Head Shoulders was there to solve our “problems.” It took Wisk almost 10 years to convince us that “ring around the collar” was an embarrassment, but they got there. The list goes on.
What is most shameful appears to be the ease in which we sink into and hold onto shame.
At the end of Genesis 2, the end of the narrative of scripture which is traditionally labeled as “Creation” (a good and perfect creation) the statement is made that “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) At the pinnacle of beauty, relationship and order this incredible statement describes a world without shame. We then read in the next chapter that when humanity felt the need to be all knowing, to be like God, the first consequence was…shame – “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)
And so began life with shame. But it is not something to accept. Salmon Rushdie once wrote, “Shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.” (“Shame”) We accept so many of the lies culture tells us, everything from believing that our children will grow up undeveloped if we don’t put them in umpteen activities to the belief that your front lawn isn’t good enough if it sprouting dandelions or that being sweet 16 and never kissed as being a bad thing (and we’re not talking about mom and dad’s loving pecks on the cheek). These lies are based in the shame of not being good enough. So many of us have learned to live with shame and it is to the detriment of the goodness of creation and the glory of God.
The apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Philippians 3:18-21)
Without getting into a full exposition of this passage, the line that jumps out for me is the comment of “their god is their belly and their glory is in their shame.” Where do we find our glory? Are we content to bow to shame? Too often we seem to settle into the very things we have been sold as worthwhile and important. We wake up in the morning more worried about body odor, bad breath and grey hair than enjoying the fruit of the creation and the freedom to walk with God…as he made us, beautiful, original, and in his image. Our lives and our identities are not defined by shame and the judgment of others but by a generous God who is constantly transforming us by his spirit. If we understand heaven correctly as not just a place of clouds and harps, but a restored creational order, then we live the future in the present, we strive for more of heaven on earth, we work towards “the man and his wife [being] both naked, and…not ashamed.”