Integrity vs. Innocence

The scholars of The Context Group have done much to explain the culture of the bible, particularly by contrasting its honor-shame values with the innocence-guilt code we cherish in the west. People in shame cultures are driven by a concern for honor, vengeance, and saving face — all based on what others think of them. People in guilt cultures care mostly about truth, justice, and the preservation of individual rights — based on what they think of themselves (i.e. conscience).

Historian Richard Landes has also written about honor-shame (more in relation to modern Islam than ancient Judaism and Christianity), but he calls the opposite culture one of integrity-guilt instead of innocence-guilt. (Hat-tip to Stephen Carlson for the reference.) Is “integrity” preferable to “innocence” in the guilt model?

Admittedly it makes more sense to speak of someone of integrity as we would speak of a someone of honor. (“Someone of innocence” sounds awkward and perhaps childish.) But I see a problem here. “Integrity” is defined as a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values” (Merriam-Webster), and as far as I can tell, that code could be based on either guilt or shame. Some dictionaries and thesauri even point to integrity as the quality of being honest and/or honorable — the condition of being free of defects and flaws in either of those areas. Similarly, “dishonesty” and “dishonor” can both be considered antonyms to “integrity”. So I’m not sure that integrity runs parallel to honor, as Landes tries to make it. It includes honor, just as it includes honesty. Maybe “honesty” is the word Landes is really after?

But the question of honesty is only a part of the whole issue. It’s true that lies and deceptions are more socially acceptable in honor-shame societies (as I’ve written about here), but this points back to more over-arching sets of values. The idea of innocence gets at our value systems more expansively than honesty (“integrity”) does. James Atherton explains helpfully:

“In a guilt-culture I will defend my innocence even if everyone else is blaming me. My internal and individualistic judgment is what counts. But by the same token, I may be wracked with secret guilt even if the world believes me innocent.

“In a shame-culture, what other people believe is much more powerful. Indeed, my principles may be derived from the desire to preserve my honor or avoid shame to the exclusion of all else. The down-side is the license it appears to give to engage in secret wrong-doing.

“The positive aspect of guilt-culture at its best is its concern for truth and justice and the preservation of individual rights. The sense of guilt might also preserve us from engaging in wrong-doing which no-one would ever discover: but it can also be misplaced and potentially neurotic.

“[The positive aspect of shame-culture at its best is that] it may motivate me to ensure that I am not only innocent but am seen to be innocent: that I not only do not engage directly in criminal or antisocial behavior, but that I stay far enough away from it not to be tainted by association in any way… On the other hand, suspicion becomes sufficient to convict in judicial terms.”

In this light, innocence seems more all-encompassing than integrity. But I confess to liking the way integrity sounds. “A person of honor” vs. “a person of integrity” makes intuitive sense. But “a person of innocence”?

Anyone care to comment?

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Integrity vs. Innocence

  1. Perhaps the best test for what our value system gets at is the the terminology we use to praise people. The phrase “person of integrity” is common than “person of innocence,” and the latter has negative connotations that the person is naive or something. That in itself is an important clue that “innocence” is not quite the right term.I suspect that the term “innocence” was adopted because of an easy contrast with “guilt,” but this contrast is based on an equivocation. Innocence does contrast with guilt in a legal or forensic setting, but when we talk about a “guilt” culture, we’re talking about a psychological feeling.The nuance that we need to capture is that why should we feel guilty even when the world thinks we’re innocent? The reason for that is our integrity demands it, and popular definitions of integrity emphasize the “secret innocence” aspect. For example, Oprah Winfrey once defined it as follows: “<>Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going toknow whether you did it or not.<>“It is here where the forensic connotations of innocence falter. In a legal setting, innocence is a pleading against facts and actions that are publicly known (otherwise there would be no trial) and apparently wrong. Yet, in a guilt-culture, we’re supposed to feel guilty about stuff no one else knows about and even when no one else suspects something to be wrong. That’s an issue of integrity. Our integrity causes us to protest our innocence if wrongly accused. Our integrity causes us to feel guilt over our secret wrongs.

  2. <>It is here where the forensic connotations of innocence falter. In a legal setting, innocence is a pleading against facts and actions that are publicly known (otherwise there would be no trial) and apparently wrong. Yet, in a guilt-culture, we’re supposed to feel guilty about stuff no one else knows about and even when no one else suspects something to be wrong. That’s an issue of integrity. Our integrity causes us to protest our innocence if wrongly accused. Our integrity causes us to feel guilt over our secret wrongs.<>That’s a very good point, Stephen. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s