I liked this Christianity Today story on privacy a lot. It raises a question I’ve asked myself for a long time – are we sure that privacy is a Christian value?
When I went on a mission trip to East Asia in 1998, I remember being bothered when some of my team members would say how the people there are so brainwashed. It’s not that it was untrue – it’s kind of crazy to me that there’s a society where all media and information is controlled by the state and there’s no place to find out what’s accurate. There were rumors about some events happening at the campus we were at and there was no news or any other source where we could find out if these rumors were true or not. That’s nuts. So yes, they are in a sense brainwashed, but what bothered me was the unsaid assumption that in contrast, we American Christians were not brainwashed at all. That’s completely untrue. The more I travel around the world the more I realize how tainted American Christianity is with non-Christian values. These values aren’t necessarily anti-Christian, it’s just that they’re more American than truly Christian. The emphasis on personal liberty and decision-making is probably the biggest of these.
I’ve long thought that privacy is another one of these values. American Christians seems to place a high value on privacy. In my mind, that value stems more from particular American ideas about liberty than Christianity. Does the Bible ever extol privacy? Propriety for sure. But privacy? The best I can think of is Matthew 6, which urges us to keep our good deeds private, our giving to the needy, our prayers, our fasting. That’s not the kind privacy American Christians seem to value. On the contrary, the Bible seems to consistently value opening up, confessing our sins, letting our light shine. It speaks of a day when everything that is hidden and secret will be made light (Luke 8:17). Scripture seems to value the opposite of privacy. I jive with that, and because of that in my life I have tended to value openness far more than privacy. I’ve probably overshared at times. But that has always felt more in line with Scripture to me.
The Christianity Today piece helped me clarify my thinking. It affirms what I think, that in general, we should value openness and revealing ourselves over maintaining privacy. But it doesn’t mean we should be completely open with everyone. It observes that the feeling of having our privacy violated is a useful indicator. We only feel our privacy is violated when information about us is unexpectedly revealed to someone with whom we have the wrong relationship for that information. If we receive a bad medical diagnosis, we are not likely to be bothered if our sibling shares that information with our parent, but may be if that same information is shared with a coworker we do not know well. The relationship matters. So the article challenges us not to share with everyone, but to make sure that we are in relationships such that we feel open to share what could be private. That feels right to me.
I consistently struggle with how much to share online. I would actually like to share a lot more that’s personal – I kind of hate how superficial Facebook and Instagram and whatever is. It gives no sense of how I’m really doing. But blasting personal stuff online often feels like it would lack propriety. In the end I’m resigned that even with these supposed social tools to keep in touch, only a few people around me will really know how I’m doing.