The Not Safe for Work Post, Part 3

In this final post, I’ll tackle the words the commentator used: “dirty” and “shame”

So often we start to culturally change the meaning of words as they fit to our understanding at the time and years later hold on to outdated senses of the word…or at least perceive that other people are. When actually…


One of the commentator’s questions had to do along the lines of why does the Church teaching (or other Catholics) make people feel “dirty” or tell them [check on this] for doing such things as in Post 1 and 2.

Note that in the previous 2 posts, I never used the word “dirty” or used names, but presented the teaching and my understanding of the human person, which, hey, seems like it could be a pretty fair generalization acceptable to everyone, and asked questions. I don’t go for calling people “dirty.” And the world’s come a long way from the Leviticus times of being “unclean.”

In fact, when it comes to this issue, I’ve heard very little use of the word “dirty.” Rather, what I see coming from the Catholic Church is a very pastoral approach—a recognition that these are problems hurting people not just on a spiritual level, but emotional, physical, and relational. So the language is more of healing. Unlike in the past, there is more of an understanding of how addressing the human inclination to sexual sin through a sense of healing and imaging of the beauty of the whole human person is better than just saying “it’s wrong,” “it’s dirty,” or anything else greatly pejorative.

So no, I won’t tell a teen who hasn’t been formed in the principles I have or who is struggling to control impulses or detach from the neurochemical high that s/he is “dirty.” Personally, I’d save that word for someone who deliberately bilks money from the elderly or rapes or murders.

But I will still say both are doing wrong (that which is not right). Part 1 and Part 2 started to unpack why these actions are not right; now let’s unpack why it is right to feel shame.


Is shame a bad feeling? Yes. Should we avoid it? Yes. Can we avoid it by saying that some actions that were considered “not right” are now “okay”? No.

No one likes to feel shame. It means that we recognize we’ve done wrong, have hurt someone or ourselves, and usually wish we hadn’t done it. The awesome thing about us being humans with reason, is that if we feel shame, we have a choice of whether we do it again or not. We’re not animals following a base instinct or urge and can’t help it.

And shame is not without its positives. One of my favorite writers wrote a great blog post about the distinction between embarrassment and shame. Se writes, shame “always leaves room for justice, mercy, and repentance.”

Why should actions like those in Parts 1 and 2 merit shame? Well, hopefully I started to explain how it is not really very just to one’s self to use the body or use a person . If you think about all the uses of your time and capacity as a human being made for higher purposes and authentic love, why not “feel bad” that you used it in such a way that was unproductive and entirely self-serving. If one wants to argue that you can be a good person and because you don’t do something all the time, you are making it subjective. But I believe—and many others, and not just for religious reasons—look it up—that such actions are objectively wrong (“not right”), which means you can’t excuse it or avoid shame by saying you only do the wrong thing some of the time.

I know when we think of shame, we think of the parent who says “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” and feel bad about getting caught, about what we’ve done, or about how we’re now feeling bad because we’re disappointed that someone has called something we thought was okay “wrong.” Are people open to trying to see how the person doing the “shaming” could have a point?  I do think it takes some growth to move from shame just about feeling “bad” or down on one’s self, to it being a call—a call to seek repentance or make amends if you can.

These words can make the Church seem one of condemnation, when actually it is pure, authentic love and mercy. We care about your souls, your dignity, and believe in your capacity as human beings. I personally agree that is not merciful to call someone “dirty,” and not even the act, because too often people associate the act with them as persons (not the case, but that is a larger philosophical point harder to unpack). But I do personally wish shame was seen more as a an understanding and then a call to seek what is right.


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