The fear of shame is stronger than the fear of death

Shame is the most powerful motivator of human behaviour.

There are many examples of the power of shame overcoming the fear of death.

Shame made Roman soldiers commit suicide rather than suffer the humiliation of defeat. Adolph Hitler’s Will said: “I and my wife choose death to escape the shame of deposition or surrender.”

This attitude continues, not only among the Japanese in the Burma campaign in WWII, but shame makes teenagers in the present time commit suicide rather than face shame in front of their friends.

Shame makes the voluntary euthanasia lobby want to commit suicide rather than face the degradation they fear in their declining months and years.

Shame makes human beings worse than animals. Animals kill other species to eat and survive; humans kill their own species and sometimes family members out of anger, jealousy, greed, personal gain and shame, misappropriately called ‘honour’ or honour killings.

This shows that the fear of shame is stronger than the fear of death. So it is not surprising to discover that it permeates most of human behaviour. Human beings are driven by their fears.

The fear of shame is closely related to peer group pressure. Teenagers are controlled by their fear of shame in front of their peer group. Thus they experiment with cigarette smoking, alcohol, sex and drugs.

The fear of shame results in being controlled by one’s peer group. This begins as a child and becomes stronger in one’s teens, so that teenagers resist the advice of their parents in order to keep in with their chosen peer group – a group of people who may ruin their lives, their prospect of a good career and whom they may not even know ten or twenty years later, while their parents help them to pick up the pieces many years later.

Jesus Christ teaches us to face up to the shame of a mocking world and to resist the sins which characterise one’s peer group Heb 12:1. ‘And they departed from before the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name’ Act 5:41.

This is why “Fear not” is such a common command in Scripture. We are not to fear our peer group. Christ sets us free from it. He told His hearers: ‘How can you believe, who receive honour from one another and do not seek the honour that comes from God only?’ Jn 5:44. As long as people seek each other’s approval and honour, they will never break out of that bondage in order to believe and to follow Jesus Christ.

Jesus teaches counter-cultural critical thinking.

The Lord Jesus Christ faced up to His public humiliation and shame 1. as part of the price to be paid for making atonement to offended justice for the sins of His people; and 2. as the only means of redeeming them from the just punishment of their sins. ‘I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting’ Isa 50:6.

From His example and by the power of His Spirit, Jesus’ disciples learn to resist the prevailing sins of their peer groups, sins which hinder their progress in godliness and in their Christian race Heb 12:1.

They do so by ‘looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’ Heb 12:2. They look ahead to the finishing line and lay aside what hinders their running.

So, how is it that many sinners begin ‘to glory in their shame’ Php 3:19? Where, when and how did they lose their shame of sin? This happens because they change their peer group and adopt different standards. ‘Be not deceived: evil companions corrupt good manners’ 1Cor 15:33. ‘Wicked people shall press ahead towards more evil’ 2Tim 3:13, because this is the standard of their peer group.

John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress writes of a character called Shame. Bunyan’s character Christian in his allegory thought that Shame was wrongly named because, although he was ashamed of religion, yet he was a bold fellow who was not ashamed of making others ashamed of religion also.

Shame is the motivating force behind peer group pressure, which takes young people away from the Gospel. The first step towards removing this shame about the Gospel is to change one’s companions. The godly Psalmist said: ‘I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts’ Ps 119:63.

Jesus draws attention to shame and its context when He said: ‘Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ Mark 8:38. Thus the apostle Peter exhorted his hearers: ‘And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation’ Act 2:40. We need to escape this peer group pressure.

‘And when Jesus had said these things, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him’ Lk 13:17. Jesus was and is quite capable of shaming His opponents.

It is time to learn from Christ how to overcome the shame of godliness. Jesus offers to share our burden with Him: ‘Share My yoke and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls’ Mat 11:29. Christ’s yoke teaches us to walk in step with Him and to learn from Him, relieving our burden by sharing with us.

It is time to free yourself from worldly bondage. The apostle Peter bears repetition: ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’ Act 2:40.

Jesus says: ‘If the Son of God shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ Jn 8:36.

As John Bunyan put it: Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.


17 Aug 2017: Peer group pressure.

21 Mar 2018: how far does shame go?

21 Feb 2019: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan was on BBC Politics Live today discussing his next book Skin in the Game about decision-makers not being held to account for the outcome of their decisions, whose “mistakes will never come back to haunt them”. He pointed out that we should not trust anonymized decision-makers who having nothing to lose when taking a risk, no skin or shame, whereas “shame is a big disincentive” to over-risky decision-making.  It applies in all areas of life but at the political level it reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s jibe that socialism spends other people’s money; in other words, it has nothing of its own to lose. Some people have no shame!

Jesus advises: ‘Leave them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch’ Mat 15:14. The context is not about those in trouble but about the responsibility of ill-equipped leaders giving guidance to others and the foolishness of those who will follow the ill-equipped.

Jesus Christ Matthew 15:14

2 Mar 2020: the fear of shame leads to stupid behaviour.

21 Dec 2021: shame led to suicide.

26 Sep 2022: Jordan Peterson: public shaming is an “unbelievably vicious weapon”, enabled with social media networks. His two categories of fear: the fear of nature and the fear of social alienation.

12 Dec 2022: Jordan Peterson thinks contempt is a more powerful motive than fear.

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