On Ashley Madison & Public Shame
I'll admit to being disappointed yesterday when I viewed the image of what the Ashley Madison hackers had posted on the front page of the infamous and popular adultery-facilitation website. I had been hoping to find a bright and clean manifesto from a righteous Dread Pirate Roberts, but instead the rant the hackerz posted was full of foul language and misspellings. One cannot be bright, clean, and righteous if one cannot spell; my mama taught me that early on.
Regardless of their motives or misspellings, however, a spiked mace of good is being taken to the faceplate of a great evil. And no, I'm not losing my sense of perspective; this is a great evil. Ashley Madison has a database of 37 million users around the world (they're big in Japan). Pimpery and perversion on that sort of scale hardly raises an eyebrow anymore, but it is only in that sense, in the sense that we've been conditioned to think that this is an acceptable part of our world, that any perspective has been lost.
Publicly, there hasn't been a lot of handwringing over this event. Mostly there's been a lot of this:
Oh, how I wish gifs carried sound. Just fill in the soundtrack yourself: "ha-ha!" in Nelson's voice.
As with the hacker(s) himself, most of the ha-has we've been hearing have been the nervous, vicious, and cathartic sort that we revel in when others are caught in sins we ourselves engage in or wish we had the courage to. After all, who among us has not browsed a little free porn or wandered down the wrong Instagram trail? We are nervous that our veniality will one day be exposed, and relieved that these great sinners make us look so good.
Not going to lie, dudes. There's a lot of potential embarrassment out there. In 2029 Google will publish my browsing history, along with millions of others, in accordance with the Affirmative Speech/Equal Thought legislation of the previous year, because of my involvement with Hate Thought Movements and/or Churches. I hope you guys won't read it. But I'm prepared for you to. If I maintain an online presence, someone will read it, and will use it against me. People have gone after me before. Just imagine the sort of ammo that our histories would provide to the haters!
People's lives could get blown up over this Ashley Madison fiasco, my friends.
And a woman named Heather at NY Mag has decided to point this out to us. Hey guys, Are Broken Marriage Vows Grounds for Blowing Up Someone’s Life? (Amusingly, the ad that shows up by this story in my browser is for the Kinsey-an TV show Masters of Sex.) Guys. Lives could go exploding everywhere. Bloody pieces all over our houses and our marriages!
Do you miss the good old days of tarring and feathering, town-square stockades, and public guillotining as entertainment? If so, you may be savoring this week's events, which reveal that the crime of betraying one's marriage vows is now prosecutable by journalists and hackers alike, punishable by public shaming online.Never mind that adultery is still (STILL!) illegal in 21 states, and therefore prosecutable for reals. No, seriously, never mind, because those laws are a joke.
...yesterday, hackers compromised cheater/dating site Ashley Madison and threatened to leak the identities of 37 million users unless the site is shut down immediately. The hackers claim to be alerting the public to the fact that the site's $19 "full delete" option, which purports to allow customers to permanently delete their records, doesn't actually do what it claims. So the hacker group is courageously defending online privacy by ... [sic] violating other people's online privacy. If Ashley Madison and the date-a-wealthy-dude site Established Men aren't permanently shut down, the hackers claim that they'll publish customer records, allegedly including nude photos and private sexual fantasies. The hackers wrote, "Too bad for those men, they're cheating dirt-bags and deserve no such discretion."
Which is to say: So-called cheating dirt-bags don't deserve to be protected from public shame granted by the entire globe, likely affecting their ability to find future employment, secure custody of their kids, and have any kind of peace of mind about love, friendships, and family relationships moving forward, but they do deserve a "permanent delete" option that actually works.
Let's back up for a minute and consider this new world, in which personal values might be policed by a gaggle of reporters, hackers, and onlookers. Keep in mind, the parties in question aren't tracking down pedophiles or murderers or those who commit hate crimes. They are seeking out and shaming regular human beings who had the audacity to seek sex outside of marriage.So Heather feels bad for people who are being made to feel bad for their audacity. I'm calling her Heather, by the way, not just because it's her real name, but because she writes through the whole article as if we were only talking about men here. (The "men" the hackers referred to are the men of Established Men, an even shadier site than Ashley Madison.) So even though her name is Heather Havrilesky, to me she will be Heather. I don't mind sneering back at condescension.
Now, if I had to guess from Heather's writing, I'd say that she lacks a robust doctrine of sin. Her handwringing is quite understandable. People shouldn't get blown up over indiscretions, mistakes, and an overload of testosterone or audacity. That's cool with me. No, really, it's fine.
After all, she's a pagan. Here she is telling a reader that the big problem with cheating on your wife is not telling her you're doing it.
But now I'm starting to hear similar noises coming from Christians. Is this what we want?, they ask. Do we really want people who have repented to get blown up? Have their lives torn up and their shame exposed to all?
A brief aside, if you'll stay with me for a bit, before I get into the real problem with this sort of thinking.
If there has already been true repentance, then there has been confession. There would be plenty of shame and embarrassment at having adultery made public, and it would certainly affect the spouse as well, but it wouldn't blow things up if forgiveness and restoration has already happened/is happening. And doesn't pretty much everyone under the age of fifty in this country already understand that anything done online, ANYTHING done online, is ultimately public? Commit adultery privately, ask for forgiveness and restoration privately. Commit adultery online, i.e. publicly, be glad you haven't yet had to repent publicly.
But the real problem with being afraid of shaming people who do shameful things is that we afford protection to the master-level evildoers.
Sometimes you've gotta break a few eggs.
Now, usually people bust out the "you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet" in an exitus acta probat excuse to do evil so that greater good might result. I do not mean that, of course.
I might wish to protect myself or my brother from shame, but the bottom line is, if our shameful deeds are incidentally laid to light while exposing unrepentant high-handed evil, then only our false modesty and pride are made victims.
We must confess that we have tolerated evil in the name of decency. In the name of not being embarrassed. In the name of false modesty and wrong-headed ideas about privacy. Decent middle-class people don't talk about such things; better to abide the evil.
The American church is full of thousands of murderers who have publicly confessed their sin to all: they slew their own children. Glory to God! they are restored. But the American church is even more full of murderers who have tried to repent but have had their pastors insist on private, partial repentance, because abortion is indecent and not to be spoken of. And this sort of decency is the decency that allows the full evil of unrepentant murder to fester in our ranks, because we refuse to call evil evil and embarrass a few broken eggs. We thought we were casting a cloak of modesty over sin, but all we did was throw false modesty and approval over it.
Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that we have an obligation to tell every single person all of our sins. The modesty and dignity of ourselves and others is important. What I am saying is that if the sin of a brother or yourself is exposed when an evil is assaulted, it's okay. There are many things more important than our dignity out there. And when we prioritize these things wrongly, we afford protection to pedophiles, rapists, televangelists, and all other sorts of secret sinners. Decent churches are a great place to hide because decent churches are afraid of shame.
Shine the light of grace and repentance, my brothers. It's an embarrassing light, but then, light always is. Porn shops and strip clubs have no windows. Your sins have been done in darkness. Do not let your sins, or those of others, stop you from going after evildoers. Trust that the grace of Jesus really is grace. Tear down the curtain, open the windows, and make them repent as you do. And if they do not repent, let their evil be apparent before God and man, before the Jesus they crucify and the poor faces they grind.
Were you expecting this to be a post about abortion? Because that's what it is. That's what it was always going to be. Do people know you're an "anti-abortion extremist"? That's what the makers of the videos currently making a holy unholy kerfuffle are being called. Christians and pagans alike have called a truce and agreed to talk in euphemisms, because euphemisms are decent. We say we're pro-life, which is a decent thing to be. But the sin we ourselves are veiling is obscene, is disgusting.
Do we believe that the blood of Jesus cleanses? Then we must be obscene, we must be indecent, we must allow that shame is usually public. Call adultery adultery, call butchery and murder butchery and murder, call evil evil. Get some of the evil you and your brothers and sisters have done on yourself. The blood of Jesus will wash it away.
No one in Ashley Madison's databases deserves or needs protection from shame. They need repentance and grace. The same is true of those who work for or have been exploited by Planned Parenthood.
If we bring the Gospel of Jesus to these corners, we'll be making a whole lot more work for ourselves. Let's be ready. Let's bring love, humility, modesty, and restoration. But for real, y'all. We're going to have to break down the gates of hell before we can free its slaves.