Animals and angels are apparently incapable of shame as animals lack the spiritual and angels the organic, the two ingredients which constitute humans. Shame marks the disruption of the physical and spiritual at the same time as it marks their presence. The feeling of being undone, of not enduring (shame and death are interconnected in experience and the biblical portrayal) or the attempt to isolate the physical (the drives such as sex and hunger) from its moral implications and to thus suppress shame, both point to the coexistence of the two realms in humans. Shame is a holistic physical/spiritual experience in that both human physicality (turning red with shame, the desire to cover up) and human spirituality or personhood (the desire to not be seen by others or the Other, the desire to disappear – to die of shame) are conjoined in the shame experience. Shame brings a more holistic perspective to bear, as one is made fully aware of oneself through the interdiction of the eyes of another (another person, God, or in the mind’s eye). This failure of one world, though, opens up the possibility of another.
To truly enjoy pornography, sexually abusing children, or the services of sex slaves, requires the inhibition of shame and the momentary or permanent forgetting of human fulness (the closure of the world). The happy pornographer is able to focus on the organic and physical to the exclusion of the spiritual (self-reflection). Through the aid of religion, wealth, and (pop) culture, one is kept busy pleasuring self so that others or the Other cannot intrude. Maybe this is always the principle or arche of culture; it is certainly at the core of our current culture. Billionaires, rap stars, preachers, priests, politicians, – the icons, leaders, representatives of the culture excel in shamelessness. One can apparently best accomplish suppression of shame, and full occupation with self-pleasure, through occupying a place of power in the culture; at least it is powerful individuals (empowered by money, position, and fame) most openly spending the coin of their success in shameless abuse of minors, children, and the enslaved. Perhaps they are simply the best students in absorbing cultural lessons – their casting off of shame is signified in both their achievement and exercise of power. Subjection to shame is, after all, to be rendered powerless.
With someone who loves pornography, as with the idolater, it is not human warmth, engagement and love but a representation, an image, that captures the imagination. The lone pornographer pleasuring himself before the simulacra of the flashing screen depends upon losing himself, forgetting others or the Other. The pornographic is deployed in the Old Testament as a metaphor for idolatry (horse sized dildo idols in Ezekiel and idolaters characterized as adulterers) as both exclude the spiritual dimension. The phallic idol as image focuses on the organic and orgasmic and displaces God as image and humans as image bearers. Pornographic religion suppresses shame and unleashes desire and drive with human sacrifice in all its forms.
Shame (in the form of the prophet in the Old Testament) is the intrusion of revelation, the personal, or the divine on this otherwise happy isolation. In this sense shame is anarchic, disrupting, disturbing, in that a world which would otherwise cohere falls apart. The idolatrous/pornographic arche is the principle around which this world coheres – as it is by definition closed, devoid of the transcendent, and reductive.
Paul, like an Old Testament prophet, is trying to shame the Corinthians at several points in his letter. He says as much in chapter 6, “I say this to shame you” (v. 5). He is trying to give them a more holistic picture so as to draw them out of their abusive relation with the weak, to prevent them from visiting prostitutes, and to halt their eating in temples (ch. 10). Shame is the moment of self-awareness, the awareness of others, and it is the moment of love’s possibility.
The question for us, as for the Corinthians, is whether the Christian faith as we have it is pornographic or anarchic?