The Ashley Madison Sex Scandal, Josh Duggar, and the Place of Shame

The Ashley Madison Sex Scandal, Josh Duggar, and the Place of Shame August 25, 2015
Copyright: prazis / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: prazis / 123RF Stock Photo

A woman who discovered that her husband was a member of the Ashley Madison website gives this advice to women through CNN: “To women who have no suspicions, I say: check anyway. It’s sad.”

The Ashley Madison sex leak is sad. Not because men are getting caught with their pants down, but because the website whose tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair,” has 32 million users.

32 million! It’s hard to wrap my mind around such a large number. So much attention has been given to Josh Duggar’s account with the Ashley Madison site. He was the first “star” to be outed by the leak. Duggar has dedicated his public persona to supporting “traditional family values.” He is the former executive director of the Family Research Council Action. The FRCA supports traditional family values, which means it is staunchly against LGBTQ rights.

Duggar’s opposition to LGBTQ rights means that he has put LGBTQ folk in the “place of shame.” It’s a common move among those who fight for “traditional family values.” To work for the sanctity of marriage means that they gain a sense of moral superiority by fighting against an “evil other” that threatens that sanctity. For example, Duggar and his friends fear that the LGBTQ community is a threat to the traditional family, so they work in opposition to LGBTQ rights, especially the right to marry.

Because it’s those LGBTQ people who threaten the sanctity of marriage. Right…

Of course, it’s easy to point out Josh Duggar’s hypocrisy. While working for the “sanctity of marriage” by shaming others he deemed a threat, he shamed his own marriage by having an affair. In other words, Duggar hid from his own shameful behavior by shaming others.

That’s how shaming works. We project our own shameful behavior upon others so that we don’t have to deal with our sense of shame.

And here we begin to see the problem when we gleefully unite against Josh Duggar. By shaming him we become what René Girard calls his “mimetic double.”

In the same way that Josh Duggar claimed a sense of moral superiority by shaming others, we claim the same sense of moral superiority by shaming him. By doing so, we risk hiding from our own sense of shame as we project it onto him.

James Alison, in his adult education course Jesus the Forgiving Victim, notes that we learn “to dance with others around the place of shame, close enough to get the benefits from someone being there but not so close as to be the person who is put there.” This is the pattern of life that adults tend to inhabit. We start to learn this pattern in middle school and high school, but we perfect it when we become adults. Putting others in the place of shame so that we don’t have to go there is how we survive – whether it’s immigrants, the poor, Muslims, prostitutes, the LGBTQ community, or Josh Duggar.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to avoid the place of shame. At some point in our lives, we will all find ourselves in that place, and we will all probably participate in putting someone else there. Because shaming is so mimetic, we tend to shift shame from one person to another, just as long as shame doesn’t fall upon me!

The Ashley Madison/Josh Duggar sex scandal is just one more example of how much our culture is run by shame. It infects each one of us.

That’s why Jesus is so important. He occupied the place of shame, the cross, without being run by it. The Atonement works in a very specific way – Humans put Jesus in the place of shame and Jesus freely went. He didn’t mimic that shame. He didn’t seek to defend himself by putting his enemies in the place of shame. He went to the place of shame and stopped the mimetic shame cycle by praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In the next few weeks, I have no doubt that many more people will be outed as having an Ashley Madison account. You will likely find out that prominent politicians, pastors, teachers, pop culture icons, star athletes, business owners, maybe even your coworker and your neighbors have an account.

How will we respond? Will we put them, and their already grieving families, in the place of shame? Will we experience a sense of glee as they are “outed”?

Because we don’t have to live our lives run by shame. We don’t have to shame others anymore. We don’t have to live our lives hiding from our own sense of shame by projecting it upon others. Rather, we can stop pointing fingers. We can start managing any sense of shame that we may have. And we can respond to others with empathy and compassion.

After all, the fact that 32 million people, men and women, have been involved in the Ashley Madison scandal shows how easy it is for any of us to get seduced into this kind of activity.

And when we are seduced into it, Jesus reveals that we are already forgiven. Thus, we don’t have to hide. We don’t have to project our own baggage, our own shame, upon anyone else. We can stop the mimetic cycle. Indeed, we can learn to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Stay in the loop! Like Teaching Nonviolent Atonement on Facebook!

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • PaulB

    however right this article is about other things, it is wrong about one thing: as a Torah-observant Jew, Jesus would have considered adulterous acts and homosexual acts as sinful.

    • It’s an interesting point about Jesus. He was Torah-observant, but he also had a specific way of interpreting his scriptures. You have heard it said….but I say to you…” for example. It seems as though Jesus had a certain lens through which he interpreted Torah – through mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus, the friend of sinners and prostitutes. There is no record about Jesus saying anything about “homosexual acts.” And in fact, it is highly questionable that the few references in the Bible that people usually point to are about same sex committed relationships. But I’ve written more about that here:

      • PaulB

        I think there is clear evidence that Jesus *did* condemn all sexual acts prohibited by God in Leviticus 18. Being a friend of sinners does not equate with being antinomian on the Law.

        Here are some examples of Jesus instructing his followers to obey ALL 613 commandments of the Law (which obviously must include homosexual acts mentioned in Lev 18):

        ‘Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach.’

        and here:

        ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others.

        Both passages are from Matt 23. There are others with similar teaching.

        Btw the issue is not what you call ‘same sex committed relationships’ but about specific sexual acts prohibited by God. Even today Orthodox Jews and Muslims have the same understanding as Jesus about this matter.

        It is ironic that *they* rather than many modern Christians are being faithful to Jesus!

  • Little Miss

    This article looks like a cheap, paid damage control. Adam Ericksen – imho, you are a cheater apologist. Using fancy psychological terms to trivialise cheating and deflect reader’s attention is lame. Go learn some integrity from Libby Anne.

    • Oh Libby Anne is great! I love her.

      But I disagree with your assessment of my article. In fact, I think you have unwittingly just proved my point about the nature of shame.

      Grace and peace,

      • Little Miss

        I would not expect any other reply from you. Typical.

        • That’s interesting. I wonder what exactly you mean by that.

          • Little Miss

            Oh, don’t get me started. I wonder, if you would react just as “cool” after caughting your deeply loved partner cheating on you?

            Most people succumb into depression, PTSD, Stockholm syndrome, broken heart, self-esteem and God knows what else, after surviving a cheating spose. But you are so “advanced” and “enlightened”, that one wonders if you have ever really loved?

            With your article, you supplying many with a free cheating pass, as it’s “no biggie” anyway. You are subjecting the other half to the above mentioned health problems.

            And what’s with “Grace and peace”? Why sharing it, if you obviously don’t have any yourself?…

          • Little Miss

            Beside that, your article stinks of victim-shaming.

            It’s ok to apply your theory to a partner, who regularly “forgets” to do house chores. But not to cheating!

            You have no idea, how much havoc this article can cause, just for the sake of your vanity and self-promotion.

  • Danny

    You have created a jiggery pokery psycho theory to make a sexually compulsive monster into a simple sinner who is some how no better or worse than anyone else. I think you definition of shame is just one of the steps in a Christian psychodrama for a jerk to do anything he wants and then be forgiven for it. And Christians say atheists are only atheists because they want to commit sinful acts with no consequences. A better theme for your article would have been “hypocrisy”.

    • This Christian would never say that about atheists. No need to project that upon me. Maybe your accusation actually does come from some insecurity inside of you? That’s how shame/accusations usually works. We project our own “stuff” onto others. That’s not “jiggery pokery psycho theory.” It’s human nature.

      Grace and peace,

      • Danny

        Ok, so pedophilia is just basic human nature then?

  • mintap

    Hacks like this are really great. Let everyone remember that doing stupid and immoral stuff online has consequences.

    I would welcome hacks of all the “adult” sites. The more that industry and its customers can feel shame, the better it may be for social health.

  • mintap

    The health of a specific individual’s marriage (or marriage-like commitment) ≠ the health of the societal view of marriage. A common error made in these discussions is equating the two.

    A John Dugger may have an unhealthy marriage, but that doesn’t invalidate views he may be associated with about policy for healthy societal marriage.

    Just because two (or three) people of the same sex may seem healthy in their committed relationship, that doesn’t mean society has to treat their committed relationship as a healthy marriage.

    Just because a married man and woman never biologically fulfill their comprehensive union, that doesn’t mean that the institution of marriage should exclude the infertile or elderly.

    The institution should be a general guideline not full of specific mandates that would violate privacy. These are all public:

    1. people
    2. two of them
    3. one of each sex
    4. post-pubescent, age of consent
    5. not of close blood relation

    This is what would be a healthy social view of marriage that would serve to secure rights of new people who come into existence.

    For individuals, monogamy, fidelity, and complementary roles may be what causes the most harmony and stability. But society and especially policy can not bring this about in individual couples so much.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
    Don’t throw children’s rights out with the immoral actions of adults.

  • jrb16915

    The author writes this : “That’s how shaming works. We project our own shameful behavior upon others so that we don’t have to deal with our sense of shame.”

    As he then heaps shame upon others. Makes one wonder.

  • Just what’s needed. Another straight Christian man telling marginalised groups how to respond to people who attack them.

    You know why my shaming Josh Duggar does not make me a ‘mimetic double?’ Because I have done absolutely nothing to destroy Duggar’s family. I haven’t campaigned against his rights. I haven’t villanised him far and wide because of any of his immutable personal characteristics. I haven’t been paid a fortune to destroy his life and the lives of thousands like him. Duggar, on the other hand….

    This is just another example of the toxic, abusive Christian doctrines of grace and forgiveness. To you, they’re mandates, expectations, burdens for you to shove upon and demand from others instead of a free choice born of individual agency. It’s worthless, and more importantly, it’s dangerous.

    I will shame Josh Duggar. Unlike all of his targets in the Christian war he chose to join, he brought it upon himself. It’s my family and my relationships he demonised, not yours. All others like me have the right to respond to our own Christian abusers without a guilt trip from straight Christian men who have not even an inkling of what that entails.

  • Elleblue Jones

    To be forgiven it’s not only necessary to confess the sin, there has to be a deep determination not to commit the sin again. It doesn’t appear that Josh ever really took responsibility for his actions. From all accounts he lived in a culture where talking about sexual thoughts and feelings was not happening or the very existence of them was put back on women. Each of us has to stand and take full responsibility for our thoughts and actions.