What about my pain-pleasure culture? What voice, for example, do millennials have speaking inside their heads? Not an inner lawyer, not an inner grandmother. I think the inner voice of the millennial is an inner therapist. And what does the inner therapist say? “Go for it, you’re worth it, it feels good.”
At St Andrew’s Hall, we train future missionaries to understand and engage cultural worldviews with the gospel. Perhaps the broadest categorisation used by missiologists and anthropologists is to divide human cultures into three predominant worldviews: guilt-innocence, shame-honour and fear-power. Ruth Benedict is credited as the first anthropologist to distinguish guilt-innocence and shame-honour cultures.
Three ways to view the world
Using this distinction as a starting point, those of us who teach “Culture 101” explain that there are three main ways to view the world and make decisions. You can live in a world that is controlled by the spirits, where you try to gain power in the face of fear. You can live in a world that is controlled by community expectation, where you try to gain honour and avoid shame; or you can live in a world that is controlled by individual conscience, where you try to maintain innocence and avoid guilt.
We then make the following generalisations: that animistic cultures are controlled by fear and power; that most Arab and Asian cultures are governed by shame and honour. And traditionally we have said that Western cultures – Australia, England, and the United States – are guilt-innocence cultures. Guilt-innocence cultures make their decisions based on whether things are right or wrong. Right and wrong are defined by an external code or set of rules. At one level, right and wrong are defined by the rule of law whether secular or religious. At another level, right and wrong are defined by social norms and expectations.
The shift from guilt-innocence to pain-pleasure
This is the world in which Anglo-Australians grew up during the 1940s and 1950s. But I don’t think this is the world we inhabit today. Guilt-innocence is eroding as the worldview of western culture.
One place where that is evident is in the world of politics. In a guilt-innocence culture, it ought to matter a great deal when politicians tell blatant lies. Political parties used to lose elections because they had reneged on their election promises. But in 2017, nobody expected Donald Trump to keep his election promises. Trump is a post-truth politician. “Post-truth” was the word of the year in 2016. It is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Trump knows that objective facts are less influential than appeals to emotion and personal belief. His tweets are aimed at connecting emotionally with how a disenfranchised part of the American electorate are feeling.