A third answer to the question of public and private

In another life, I may have been a lawyer. Actually, right before I started the process to plant a church, I was looking at law schools and ready to apply. Who knows? Maybe I will one day.

Nevertheless, I still have any opinion about the “public and private” debate that rages among politicians, pundits, and their lawyers. Last week, it got shaken up again in my mind after in the same edition of the New York Times both Maureen Dowd and her colleague Thomas Friedman wrote about it.

Dowd’s column revolved around the European Court of Justice ruling that Google and other Internet giants could be forced to removed search results about normal citizens “if the information is deemed ‘inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.’” Interesting idea. From my perspective, a paper like the Times might have columns that might herald this step forward in the war for privacy. But on the contrary, while Dowd seemed to understand the case brought by Mario Costeja González, she seemed to be more critical of it then supportive. The case seems like it’s a reaction against the abuses that U.S. intelligence agencies, but to her that’s not a good argument.

The Times itself warned that this ruling would leave citizens more clueless, all the while making it harder for journalists and rebels to be heard. Please. That is the most Orwellian response one could conjure up.

Dowd insults González caling his attitude a “fusion of nerd supremacy and hyper-libertarianism.” One of his defenders, Jaron Lanier, thinks it’s unfair that Google can hide secrets about itself, while saying it’s crucial that all of our secrets be uncovered. Dowd quotes him as saying:

“We have to give each other some space and trust and room and faith and privacy,” he said. “There should be a right to self-definition, self-invention and how you present yourself.”

Well, they are both wrong. I don’t trust Google or the government—at all. With my information or anything about me. They’ve proven time and again not to be trustworthy. Or at least, they don’t use their power to share my values.

But I also disagree with González and Lanier, because I don’t think self-definition, self-presentation, or self-invention are all that important. I find my identity in Jesus and in the Body in which He dwells. I’m not a slave to the super-information giants, nor am I to the oligarchs who with whom they are in bed. I’m a slave to Jesus and in Him I find my identity.

The public versus private debate is asking the wrong questions. It’s not about oversight or individualism, it’s about covenantal relationships. I don’t trust myself to be the only one that has a say in my life—nor do I trust individuals who have forced their way into my life. But I do have a trust circle of accountability—the Bible writers call it a covenant—where I am held accountable for my actions. My actions which have communal consequences.

Friedman says that privacy is going bye-bye since we can all be recorded all of the time. Everyone’s talking about Jay Z and Solange’s fight (caught on an elevator tape, made famous by TMZ), and Donald Sterling private, racist conversation (also caught on tape, and also made famous by TMZ). Friedman’s point is that we are always being watched and there’s nothing we can do about it. Dowd seems to agree with him, actually making the point that it’s better for all of if they keep watching us.

I have a large cyber footprint, social media, streaming music and videos, Emailing all the time. None of my secrets are kept! I suppose that’s fine, and I’m not too threatened by what the state does to me—the worst they can do is kill me, and Jesus gave me the antidote to death anyway.

But still, I think what people need is more than personal liberty, and not just public exposure. I think we need to live in a community that functions are a body. As an organism that breathes and loves and connects. The tension between the values of privacy versus security doesn’t exist in the Body of Christ. My security is found in Jesus knowing me, and privacy is found in knowing that there is an advantage in containing our darkest sins to a contained group of people.

I think as a collective organism, we are known and cared for by people that we trust and have made the agreement to be vulnerable with. That vulnerability makes intimate relationships possible and transformation can then occur. The cold loneliness of a studio apartment in Center City above a loud bar where fake community is formed is as cold as all of the meta-data that the government collects on us, hoping to protect our very right to that frigid isolation.

Jesus has another way. Make a commitment. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Do it a third way. Be in relationships, trust each other, voluntarily share your secrets, and overcome all of your sinful patterns and behaviors, forgiving those who have hurt us, and inviting others into the fold.

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