Daily Wire co-founder Ben Shapiro and Dr. Jordan B. Peterson explain the difference between guilt and shame in a larger conversation on sacrifice during the newest episode of Peterson’s “Exodus” series, streaming now on DailyWire+.
In the episode, Peterson, Shapiro, and a panel of nine renowned scholars continue through their study of Exodus, the second book of the Bible and Torah, focusing on chapter 24. Shapiro and Peterson explain the Biblical context of guilt and shame, with Shapiro saying that our culture places more emphasis on guilt – a priority that he believes is leading the culture in the wrong direction.
“Guilt is generally with regard to others and shame is with regard to yourself before God,” Shapiro says. “And what religion really is about is shifting the source of your feelings of inadequacy from what everybody else thinks of you to your inadequacy before God, which is really something else: That’s really shame.”
“We have a culture that’s very much focused on guilt, meaning I, as a member of a group, should feel inadequate before members of this other group,” he added, explaining that feeling guilt isn’t rational unless a person has actually committed a sin against a member of said group.
Instead, Shapiro notes that religion truly says that people should feel shame because of “falling short of God,” which can drive people toward individual action. “I think our society is moving back to almost a pagan sense of guilt, rather than the internalized sense of shame, which is what Biblical religion is really rooted in,” he says.
Peterson makes a similar point, noting that today’s culture focuses largely on actions toward groups in the past.
“There is a tremendous amount of guilt in our culture right now in the West about the blood of the past,” Peterson says. “We are inheritors of this brutal colonial enterprise, let’s say, and we bear that weight upon us.” Peterson added that he has some sympathy for those who hold this view because history, in many ways, is a “bloody nightmare.”
“Then you might ask, well, is the proper response to that a kind of disabling and demoralizing guilt and stasis, which it so often is, or is it a decision to re-sacralize your actions so that everything that you are doing, that is a benefit of the privilege that has been accorded to you by tradition, is now devoted towards the highest possible end?” Peterson said.
In the episode, Peterson and Shapiro are joined by social critic Os Guinness, Cambridge assistant professor James Orr, president of Ralston College Stephen Blackwood, president of Hillsdale College Larry Arnn, Christian thinker Jonathan Pageau, Dennis Prager, professor of philosophy at Cambridge University Douglas Hedley, and author Gregg Hurwitz.
This is the fourth of eight new episodes in the series, which will be released weekly, exploring the importance of Exodus according to theological and literary scholars and showing why the book remains significant thousands of years after being written.
For a deep dive into the Ten Commandments and other important topics in Exodus, you can watch previous episodes here.