Brett and Kate McKay have concluded a series of posts on the concept and practice of honour in Western civilization, from the Greeks until present day. It’s quite lengthy, and unless you have a whole afternoon or morning to spend, you probably won’t be able to read it in one sitting. But I think it’s worth giving the time, even if spread out.
Manly Honor: Part I — What Is Honor?
Manly Honor: Part II — The Decline of Traditonal Honor in the West, Ancient Greece to the Romantic Period
Manly Honor: Part III — The Victorian Era and the Development of the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor
Manly Honor: Part IV — The Gentlemen and the Roughs: The Collision of Two Honor Codes in the American North
Manly Honor: Part V — Honor in the American South
Manly Honor: Part VI — The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West in the 20th Century
Manly Honor: Part VII — How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century
They begin with honour in the Greeks, noting that even that far back there were two versions of honour: an external performance-based idea, and an internal conscience-based one. These two views have co-existed and worked out in different ways through history. In their last post, they suggest that some social honour code, with correlative social shaming, is highly valuable, and suggest some ways individuals could try to restore this practice, which has largely been abandoned.
At the same time, they don’t present a totally rosy picture of honour. They note throughout their series that there were good and bad sides to the practice of honour, and I would agree with them on that point as well. If as individuals, as the church, or as a culture, we want to restore respect for honour, we need try to preserve the good in the idea without allowing the negatives to return. This may not be easy, but the arguments McKay makes in his last post are convincing enough to me that I think it is worth trying.
It’s also noteworthy that scripture assumes some recognition of honour and shame is right:
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32)
“He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.” (1 Samuel 2:8)
“Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:12)
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5)
“Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;” (Proverbs 3:9)
“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12)
“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
but every fool will be quarreling.” (Proverbs 20:3)
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)
“to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Romans 2:7)
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
“I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,” (1 Corinthians 6:5)
“Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34)
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)
“and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:8)
“wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:13)