Friday, February 13, 2015

Things even the dog knows

Many of you remember my corgi Bart (Bartholomew actually because of his birthday). He did very well at home alone all day for the most part, but every once in a while there would be a present waiting for me when I came home: the destroyed roll of toilet paper, or the remains of some food he managed to remove from the kitchen counter. I would alway know, because the minute I walked into the house instead of greeting me at the door, he would be in the living room under a chair giving me the pitiful face, his chin resting on his paws, his big brown eyes grazing up apologetically. He was ashamed.

Today we have the story of the original sin. The man and the woman (he had not named her like an animal yet) have decided they don't need God to tell them right from wrong they will eat from the tree. That is, they will decide for themselves. Once they do. There immediate reaction is to hide. They feel shame.

It is not just being naked. They know they have broken God's law. They did so freely. They chose to give into the temptation.

God has built into each of us a conscience. When we sin, we are ashamed. This is not a bad thing. Imagine the opposite, a world in which we could do anything to anyone and feel nothing.

Many jokes are made about Catholic guilt. And there are those individuals who go overboard and feel shame when none is called for. The Catholic tradition has always recognized the problem of scrupulosity. But if we look around our modern American culture, in our effort to rid our world of guilt and shame, we have created a culture of narcissism, where sensitivity to the feelings of others is always trumped by "I have a right to...." And I have yet to locate this list of rights to which they refer.

Shame can and should be a healthy component of the human psyche. It is nothing more than our acknowledgement that there is right and wrong, and we have done wrong. The dog knows it and we should be at least as smart as the dog.