How does honor shape our views of morality? How does not having an honor perspective influence moral behavior? We consider these questions in this third post in a series reviewing Tamler Sommers’ Why Honor Matters. (Click on links for Part 1, Part 2)
What are Honor Norms?
Sommers explores “norms” commonly found in honor cultures. He first explains,
Norms are the rules or principles that govern human behavior within society. Every known society has norms, and human beings have an innate capacity for acquiring and internalizing them. (p 31)
Of course, all people fall short of their norms. Nevertheless, norms point out the virtues to which people in a culture aspire to attain.
The author mentions several norms throughout the book, including loyalty, group solidarity, social stability, personal connection, respect for tradition, mutual accountability, resilience, taking responsibility for others
I’ll simply comment on two for now.
Hospitality is a norm in all honor cultures. This no doubt is due to the close correlation between honor and collectivist societies, wherein people are more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. A famous example of radical hospitality is that of Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL whose story is told in Lone Survivor. A Pashtun tribe protected him from the Taliban despite the fact that doing so would endanger their entire village.
People in honor culture demonstrate courage in various ways, such as the Pashtun elders who protected Luttrell. In addition, an honor perspective carries “obligations to stand up personally against challenges, insults, and signs of disrespect— even when that comes with significant risk.”
But wait, is this a virtue or a vice? Both.
The inclination to resist “challenges, insults, and signs of disrespect” certainly has obvious negative consequences; yet, we are prone to see its upside. Two key questions lead us to observe the virtue of standing up “against challenges, insults, and signs of disrespect.”
a. Whose honor do you protect?
b. How do you seek to uphold that honor?
Many people answer the first question like this: “we should be concerned with Christ’s honor, not our own.” The problem, however, is this response is an oversimplification. For Christ’s followers, there is a sense in which our reputations are inextricably tied to Christ’s (a vice versa).
New Testament writers are most definitely concerned that Christians defend their reputations inasmuch as one’s reputation reflects Christ. For instance, one of Paul’s overarching purposes for writing 2 Corinthians is to defend himself and by extension his gospel ministry against those who slandered him and sought to turn the Corinthians against him.
In Acts 6:3, the disciples tell the Greek believers,
“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty”
In 1 Cor 5:6, Paul highlights the impact of the church’s troubles when he says, “brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?”
Other noteworthy passages include Eph 5:3; 1 Tim 5:9–10; Rom 16:7.
The Cost of Rejecting Honor
Sommers’ makes an astute observation. He says one of the biggest costs of rejecting honor is “hyper risk aversion, a growing lack of community and solidarity, and diminished personal accountability” (p 44). He states,
…hyper risk-averse attitudes are possible only in a society that has rejected honor. And this risk aversion is one of the biggest and most neglected costs of casting honor aside as a core value. (p. 46)
People concerned with honor do not easily forget their behavior has consequences, especially on their reputation. One’s honor depends on upholding various personal and social convictions or values. When pressed by circumstances, they’re more likely to take risks when a threat is posed to one’s sense of identity. To protect their name or identity, they will need to demonstrate courage, integrity, or loyalty.
What do we find in America? Sommers explains,
Americans are obsessed with personal safety. We’re not rational about it, of course—if we really wanted to stop risking our lives, we wouldn’t get into cars. But our conscious goal in personal conduct and national policy is to minimize all threats to life and limb. Okay, fine, you might say. What’s wrong with erring on the side of safety? The answer is that living a good and moral life is impossible without the courage to take risks. (p. 47)
If we are not concerned with God’s glory or renown, will we risk our lives living for Christ when we face social or physical threat?
It may sound paradoxical, but today we place too much value on our own lives. Threats to physical safety, no matter how infinitesimal, have come to trump all other concerns, moral and otherwise. This obsession with risk is antithetical to honor, which places supreme importance on courage and being faithful to your group’s principles. (p. 49)
These are pretty challenging ideas. Which ones resonate with you?