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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Totali-shame-ism and the End of Mercy

Sometimes incidents cluster together and you realise you’re not just looking at a few coincidences, you’re not even looking at a trend, you’re looking at the new normal.

Complex though they are, a series of recent events crystallised this for me. There was the shame-hunt against Kevin Hart, hounded out of hosting 2019’s un-hosted Oscars for something that he said ten years ago, and has since apologised for. There were the social media attacks on the Superbowl’s half-time artists, and former civil rights marcher Gladys Knight, for singing the national anthem, both thereby apparently failing to take a stand against racism. And there was the cyber-shaming of Liam Neeson because he confessed that, after a close friend was raped by a black man 40 years ago, he’d wanted to kill a black man. He hadn’t done it, but admitted, to his own horror, he’d considered it.

Some would argue, including John Barnes, one of England’s first black professional footballers, that Neeson should be applauded for his honesty. After all, we won’t get anywhere by pretending that we never feel prejudice, that there is no smidgen of sulphur in our hearts. And we won’t get anywhere when every syllable in our public discourse is CAT-scanned and MRI-ed for any atom of possible prejudice. 34 years after Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four predicted, the thought police have arrived – they just don’t work for the state.

In 1985, Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death, reflecting on two mid-century fictional visions: Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Huxley believed our addiction to pleasure would enslave us, Orwell that our fears would. Postman argued that Huxley was right. I doubt he’d argue that now. Today, the laudable commitment of liberal democracies to inclusion and diversity risks morphing from protest to no-platforming to illiberalism and totali-shame-ism.

And here’s the thing. There’s no forgiveness, no mercy, no forgetting. Just a relentless drive to judge and denounce.

All this serves to highlight the majestic, counter-cultural grace of the gospel. Yes, God is a God of justice, opposed to the degrading of any human on any grounds. Yes, he has seen our every furtive action, picked up every sly whisper, logged every darkling thought… yet his mercy flows from the cross like an ocean, drenching the universe. As today’s Pharisees rage, God’s offer is ‘mercy, mercy, mercy’ to all who would repent and receive him. And our watchwords: grace, truth, love, and courage.

Mark Greene

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Mark Greene


  1. Good work, Mark.

    You just can’t escape the towering declaration of the cross and the majestic Saviour – and one day that will be gloriously evident for everyone to see.

    By Chris Fry  -  8 Mar 2019
  2. Great!

    By Tim  -  8 Mar 2019
  3. Thanks, Mark
    Such a helpful summary of the crushing prejudices of our current world.
    Such a powerful reminder of the permanent relevance of the gospel of mercy and grace.
    And such a strong incentive to take every opportunity to tell people the great news that this mercy and grace is offered to them today and forever.

    By John Samuel  -  8 Mar 2019
  4. Very true. If everything we have ever done, said or thought since we were children were judged before we could take on any responsibility or make any statement I suspect none of us could do anything. We learn, we are convinced by the Spirit, we repent, we become new creations. Praise the Lord for the freedom He gives. We are Justified. by the act of Jesus!

    By David Grassam  -  8 Mar 2019
  5. Thanks Mark. So true!

    By Eric Smeeth  -  8 Mar 2019
  6. Gosh if every sly and dark thought of mine was published – especially about former advertising executives – I’d be hung drawn and quartered! I grew up in an era when the playground humour was prejudice to folks from Ireland, the LGBT community and anyone whose skin colour was different to mine. That formed me and my mind. I have been in need of God’s mercy and grace to renew my mind and I’m glad he doesn’t hunt me down to hang me out to dry. I just have to deal with this former advertising executives thing – Lord help me 🙂

    By Steve  -  8 Mar 2019
  7. This “so needs to be said” and brought to light – like the light that shines so brightly from the grace poured out through King Jesus. Amazing!

    Could you publish this to a wider audience? It so needs to be heard.

    By Elizabeth (Liz) Day  -  8 Mar 2019
  8. Thank you, Mark: a thoughtful and very helpfull reflection. Even after 80 plus years on the road, we all have to go on going back to the Cross and the empty tomb,and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and their glorious effects in our renewed spirits, for “If any man be in Christ, he is (or “there is”) a new creature” (creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) That´s for real and cancels out all shame for a murky past. Hallejujah!

    By Terry Wickham, Spain  -  8 Mar 2019
  9. Thanks for this thought provoking piece, but one thought occurs, sometimes all I hear from Christians is a “relentless drive to judge and denounce” and often less about God’s renewing grace…..nice to see a reference to Neil Postman who, like Orwell and Huxley got so much right – as did Amos and Hosea….greeting from Northern Ireland!!

    By Joe Daley  -  8 Mar 2019
  10. Excellent article.

    By Philip Hamilton  -  8 Mar 2019
  11. Well said Mark. With the eclipse of the Judaeo Christian worldview we have left our guilt based culture behind for a shame based one. Guilt can be confessed, repented of and forgiven. Transparency and mercy are the keys. Shame can only be covered up because there is no forgiveness only the threat of exposure. Praise God for the cross. May we always boast of it to our culture of shame.

    By Tim Saunders  -  8 Mar 2019
  12. You have expressed so well the “new normal” soon to be just normal. However I think Postman may not retract his predictions upon our addiction to pleasure. Far too many people show indifference to injustice and politics and would prefer to escape reality by whatever pleasures available that can distract us.
    At least the naysayers get a bit worked up, but I suspect a majority of people do not have a concern for injustice,just as long as they are not affected. As a 60 year old I work at a leading university and in some lectures as many as 80% of the class (in some subjects) will be paying attention to their mobile phones, playing games on their laptops anything but anything to distract from perfectly good lectures. Avoiding pain and diverting ourselves away from reality especially by visual means and drug taking suggest that pleasure seeking has not gone away.

    By John from Belfast  -  8 Mar 2019
  13. Mark has defined the problem very well. If we dare to point out “he apologised…” We are instantly part of some big problem; as if we are on the wrong side of something. I like Mary Gauthier’s song Mercy now.

    By Brian Blundell  -  8 Mar 2019
  14. Hi Mark, Nail firmly hit on its head, as ever! This is such a succinct analysis of the ‘new normal’ accompanied by a clear statement of eternal truth. How did we get here and how do we correct our course? Your summary says all – “As today’s Pharisees rage, God’s offer is ‘mercy, mercy, mercy’ to all who would repent and receive him. And our watchwords: grace, truth, love, and courage.” Thank you.

    By David Henderson  -  8 Mar 2019
  15. Extremely well said Mark. Whatever happened to toleration!

    By Michael Pickering  -  8 Mar 2019
  16. For me, Mark’s excellent piece is about three powerful human realities of fear, shame and guilt, together with the words and actions that inevitably flow from them.

    This ‘terrible triad’ of emotions arises first in Genesis 3 and results in Adam hiding fearfully from God, Adam and Eve experiencing shame for the first time and, because of their guilt feelings, each of them blaming the other (and even God) for the sorry state of affairs. Everyone is ‘on edge’.

    It seems to me that this dynamic in our society underpins so much of what Mark is drawing attention to.

    Because of God’s mercy (pity) He acts immediately in Genesis 3, taking the initiative in going out to find Adam, providing ‘clothes’ for Adam and Eve to wear and making sure they wouldn’t live forever in their fallen state. The rest of the Bible then seems to be a development of these initial measures that God takes because He is merciful.

    Surely this is what makes our Gospel message so relevant today in dealing with this ‘terrible triad’ of fear, shame and guilt.

    By George Irving  -  8 Mar 2019
  17. Thanks Mark – brilliant piece, sharp and concise as ever.

    By Adrian Hancock  -  8 Mar 2019
  18. I’ve been thinking this too Mark.
    The hypocrisy though from the liberal judges is remarkable. Christianity has been sidelined on the basis that it is judgemental, only to be replaced with a secular judgement that is merciless, graceless, without pardon or regret! The gospel is good news for the guilty mind, whereas the secular replacement is conform or be damned!

    By Dave  -  12 Mar 2019
  19. Picking up on Brian’s point (comment 13) Mary Gauthier’s song “Mercy Now” is indeed both great and relevant to this topic. Also, Mark, great writing! Is there anyway of sending a copy of this to Liam Neeson?

    By John W  -  15 Mar 2019
  20. I am incessantly thought about this, appreciate it for putting up.

    By Ripoplex Review  -  3 Apr 2019
  21. I think we are missing a point here which is the core of what people are critising. All of the apologies, and digging up the past serves one purpose – to make those people feel better about themselves. Take Liam Neeson for instance – his story was to show everyone how far HE had come, how HE now has turned away from those thoughts – it’s self-serving. Coming from a black windrush family I grew up with stories (and visible physicial injuries) about the constant attacks and brutality and unprovoked attacks that were experienced – his story was not only triggering it brought back painful memories for many people I know. God’s mercy doesnt mean that you are loose-lipped and you have no consideration for others people’s history and trauma. Not every thought or experience you NEED to tell the world. You can be honest but you can also simultaneously be unwise.

    By Marcia  -  3 Dec 2019
  22. Thanks Mark, for this helpful summary of this growing problem. It seems that even Christians have forgotten that love keeps no record of wrongs. I originate from Central Africa and have experienced extreme prejudice, because of my skin colour. This caused great anger and hurt, because everything in life was determined by colour. For many years, I harboured great anger about this, but God showed me his all-consuming love and that if I said I love him, then I needed to also love my neighbour and my enemies. Accepting this resolved a heart issue that had robbed me of joy for many years and set me free from the past.

    The culture of being “always offended” and Total Shame-ism are not the work of God. We have received Grace from God; let us also give Grace.

    By Rich  -  6 Jan 2020

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