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In her recent memoirs ‘Brutally Honest’, Melanie Brown (originally of Spice Girls fame) revealed the harrowing domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband. The recently released documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ shares the disturbing accounts of two young men who detail the sexual abuse they claim they suffered as children, at the hands of their friend, mentor and music icon, Michael Jackson. American singer, songwriter and record producer, R. Kelly is being investigated and prosecuted for serial abuse against young and underage women, dozens of whom have come forward to make accusations against him in the recent Lifetime docuseries ‘Surviving R. Kelly’. The #Me Too Movement has seen droves of women in the entertainment industry, reveal the sexual abuse they allegedly suffered at the hands of media executives. Each day seems to unleash a new spate of accusations against someone in a position of power who had previously been highly respected and admired by many.

Have you ever wondered why public media confessions are becoming more commonplace? People are very quick to open up about their weaknesses these days. Venting has become the norm,  under the guise of confession. Oversharing is what we have come to suspect from everyone from youtubers to celebrity autobiographies. There was a time when celebrities avoided scandals so as not to risk reducing their fanbase. Now they seem to court and attract controversy.

Shock Value

The media has succeeded in whetting our appetites for increasingly more graphic and salacious details of assault, abuse and general criminality. We are no longer shocked by accounts of inhumane and perverted acts. A troubling consequence of this is that dysfunctional behaviour has become normalised.

It used to be commonly agreed that “an honest confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation”(Thomas Dewar). However, confession may not be good for the soul if it triggers an avalanche of public opinion and commentary on your personal experience. Confession is only useful when it brings about catharsis, not celebrity or unfettered criticism. In recent times, the persons making these confessions on news media platforms or talk shows are usually claiming victimhood. They may be seeking anything but catharsis, for example –  sympathy, justice, celebrity, financial compensation or any  combination of the above. But if healing is the true motivation, then a different kind of confession will be required.

The Human Condition

When celebrities make public admissions of a medical diagnosis, addiction or childhood trauma, they are in effect admitting the inexorable truth – that for all their fame, prestige, wealth and status, they suffer just like anyone else. The worldly prestige of ‘having made it’ cannot insulate them from misfortune and suffering. But should we not have known this all along? Unfortunately, we are living in an age where images of perfection and having it ‘all together’ perpetuate myth, and myths sell brands and generate a fanbase of supporters who are none the wiser. It is becoming increasingly evident that to be a celebrity does not ensure immunity from prosecution, much less from tragedy.

When regular folk make accusations against celebrities’ misdeeds, the public seems to render a collective gasp of shock and disbelief. Yet, “there is nothing new under the sun”(Ecclesiastes 1:9, NLT). The heinous acts remain the same; it’s only the names and face which change. Some acts are weightier than others, and will breach the laws of the land, but in God’s eyes, we are all guilty of sin against His higher laws which He intended to guide our behaviour. Indeed, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”(Romans 3:23, NLT) Like a piece of wicker, we have all become twisted in some way; hence the origin of the word “wicked”.

True Confession

As a society, we are very good at posturing how strong we are. It’s because our image-based society has painted an unrealistic portrayal of who and how we are. Although we know that images lie, we nevertheless remain captive to them. As a society, we are starving for personal recognition and sympathy. There is so much bad news to absorb that we have become hardened to it, and we don’t readily feel ‘sorrow for sin’(the original meaning of the word ‘sorry’) or saddened by the evil we read and hear about. Who, therefore, is able to acknowledge the personal pain of others, and show genuine compassion?

Also, the unfortunate reality is that, by sharing our distress, we may not get the sympathy we seek. By revealing the pain of our victimhood, we risk having to talk about it for the rest of our lives, and we being forever associated with it. This type of confession may therefore result in a heavier burden to bear.

But God intended that our confessions should be made to Him first and foremost. As David confessed “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.”(Psalm 51:4, NLT) We must acknowledge that our souls and lives have become twisted and bent out of shape as a result, and that without God’s forgiveness, we are doomed to a life of misery.

At a deeper level, we must acknowledge the truth that given the opportunity, we would relish the thought of wreaking our own vengeance on our perpetrators. Forgiveness does not come naturally to our proud human nature. Like Peter, we can relate to the sense of self-loathing – “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”(Luke 5:8) when we come too close to the divine. It is when we acknowledge the superhuman demands of the Lord’s prayer (“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”) – that being forgiven and forgiving go hand in hand – that we finally recognize how truly we need God’s mercy and divine enablement. Freedom from guilt and shame can finally be experienced. We are now free to leave the past behind us and move forward to a brighter future.

Carla Cornelius

Dr Carla seeks to bring a fresh and thought-provoking perspective to today's popular culture. With her Ph.D. in Biblical Counselling, she invites readers to see the relevance of the Bible in addressing the difficult and disturbing issues of our times.