Ken Connor

"Every lowlife can retreat behind the wall of 'personal morality,' and then, as has become customary, wrap himself in the warm blanket of 'therapy' which transforms the scoundrel into the victim or patient."

The motivation behind this moral equivocation is understandable: We all sin, so who wants to cast the first stone? It's simply easier to individualize, personalize, and marginalize all sins. However, our collective moral guilt does not excuse our individual failings. It just points to the need for our individual and collective repentance and reformation. If we refuse to call sin by its name, we excuse it and ignore our need for salvation and regeneration.

When, as a culture, we excuse sin and eliminate shame, we inevitably descend to the lowest common denominator. As a result, we have to live with the consequences of refashioned social norms: disposable human beings (abortion, infanticide, euthanasia) and broken families (on-demand divorce, cohabitation, gay marriage).

Conservative political theorist and statesman Edmund Burke pointed out the vital role that shame plays in a society. It reinforces moral standards and social stability:

"Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants."

Historically, notions of sin and shame have played an essential part in forming the mores that lead to the self-governance of people within a society. Unwritten rules backed by transcendent moral authority often have had a far greater impact on society than those enumerated in government's law books. Inevitably, however, when shame is exiled from the public square, moral standards are evicted as well.

Americans would do well to reclaim our personal and cultural standards, acknowledge that we all fall short of them, and pray for redemption and reformation. We should also re-embrace the concept of shame, for cultural standards are meaningless if there is no pressure to uphold them. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays summed it up well when he penned these words:

"It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.

"It is not a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled. But it is a calamity not to dream.

"It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, But it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture.

"It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars. But it is a disgrace not to have stars to reach for.

"Not failure, but low aim is a sin."

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.