I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth (Jeremiah 31:19).
Recently, while reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, I came across this admonition, given by an old monk to a licentious and foolish father: “And above all do not be so ashamed of yourself, for that is the cause of everything.” That personal shame is the “cause of everything” is an arresting claim. But I suspect it’s true. And therefore, important to remember in our times.
Not surprisingly, the Dobbs decision stirred up a hornet’s nest. But why exactly? Abortion is still largely legal, and all the Court did was say that states should decide how regulated (if at all) it should be. Why then the stridency, the ugliness, the character assassination? Are protestors really so ignorant as to why some people object to abortion? Do they really believe prolifers—who are predominately women—are religious bigots seeking to control women? Perhaps. But I suspect something else is going on.
For 50 years the culture could take refuge in our highest court having declared abortion a constitutional right. Roe v. Wade provided cover—a veneer of legitimacy—for an act that kills a child, violates a woman, and relieves the man who exposed them to such fate of any responsibility. But the Dobbs decision, in removing the blanket approval abortion enjoyed, has called into question its moral legitimacy. That is a hard pill to swallow for those who have not only embraced abortion, but depended upon it.
Abortion has always been a national shame. But now, even if only in part, the cover has been withdrawn. There are two ways to deal with shame. One is to come clean, confess, and seek to make things right. The other is to double-down and self-justify. Before June 24, advocates didn’t need to work hard to justify abortion and the sexual license it promotes. Now they do.
Which brings us back to Dostoevsky and the monk’s contention. If shame is the cause of everything, then facing up to it is the core challenge for our post-Roe culture. Shame, however, has no political solution. One will never acknowledge shame and come clean unless there is a place to go where he or she can find forgiveness and rest. Lifting shame is, and can only be, the work of the Church. For only the Church points to Christ Jesus, the One who forgives sins and cleanses us, giving rest to the weary and heavy laden. Christ is the end of shame.