The Prevarication of Privacy – Part 1

privacy hotel door tag

I think it’s so telling to read through the creation story in the first three chapters of Genesis. There’s something primordial yet proper in how we see the first man and woman interact with each other and their Creator. In just a few scant pages, a story is told that continues to provide insight into those relationships countless years later. A man, a woman, and their God.

One thing that strikes me is humanity’s response to the Fall. It’s lightning quick. No pondering, no debate, no weighing of options. When God came calling, they hid. Immediately. They hid from the God who made them, who walked with them in the cool of the day, who gave their lives meaning, context, and purpose.

“We seek more and more privacy, and feel more and more alienated and lonely when we get it.”
-Philip Slater

They were deceived, and their kneejerk reaction was to seek apartness.

Still Hiding

Today, this story plays out on a global scale, and something inside knows we’re still being deceived. Philip Slater said, “An enormous technology seems to have set itself the task of making it unnecessary for one human being ever to ask anything of another in the course of going about his daily business. We seek more and more privacy, and feel more and more alienated and lonely when we get it.” In this fast-paced world of email, smartphones, and even WebMD, we can accomplish most of our needs without ever seeing another human face. And our spirits grieve something lost.

Look at this blog, for example. Sure, I take the time to write this in hopes that you will read it, find it enlightening/informative/entertaining/vexing/whatever, and come back next week to read more, but we could have theoretically talked about this stuff in person. I reveal lots of details about me on this site, and you might know more about me than most people, but you don’t really know me. Because of the “privacy” of our online interaction, a barrier sits between us so long as this medium sits between us.

Some Distinctions

To be clear, I see a profound need for occasional solitude. Jesus demonstrated this over and over, and the prophets did the same. I owe much of what maturity and growth I have in my faith and Christian walk to the revelations and catalysts that I encountered during time alone with God.

I believe a life without occasional legitimate solitude is destined for failure and burnout.

Furthermore, I’m a fierce advocate for online privacy and other similar protections from governmental overreach. I can deal with Uncle Sam knowing where I live and how much money I make. I may not like it, but I can deal with it.

However, the detailed nuances of my day-to-day activities, interpersonal communications, and online browsing habits are frankly none of Uncle Sam’s (or anyone else’s, if I don’t want them to know) damn business.

But these aren’t “privacy” as I’m denouncing it. Having the option of disconnecting to focus on God is less about pulling away from people than it is about pulling toward God. Having the option of life not directly monitored by an authority is an exercise of my rights to free will, a gift I was given by God, not Washington.

“Privacy” or the willful separation of oneself from others, is much more about self. It says, “I don’t need them” (a lie) or “they don’t need me” (another lie). And as a society, we’re suffering for it.

“Privacy” in Marriage

For evidence, look no further than the most fundamental building block of society: the marriage.

As a rule, modern husbands and wives seem to enter into marriage with an expectation of ongoing independent lives. That is, rather than merging two into one, they take on each other as new features of their same old identities.

They often maintain separate checking accounts while polls show financial issues as the number one contributor to divorce. They maintain separate friends, sometimes even protectively hiding them from each other. They sign prenuptial agreements in case the other person messes up or doesn’t meet expectations or decides they want out.

No wonder divorce rates are so high. They’re expecting apartness in a relationship designed for the exact opposite.

“Privacy” in Parenting

No wonder divorce rates are so high. They’re expecting apartness in a relationship designed for the exact opposite.

 

One step out from there, and you’ve got kids. Teenagers are naturally going to seek independence, of course, but in healthy scenarios this process of distinguishing themselves doesn’t come in the form of utter apartness. Yet it often does.

Should we be surprised when that’s all they’ve ever seen modeled by their parents? Even in their parents’ marriage, assuming it even still exists? In childhood, parents live apart from them. This separation offered them “privacy” which they saw their parents valuing, and they’ve never known any other form of independence.

The family itself is shuddering under the weight of supporting all the individual units, and this basic component is weakening more with each generation that refuses to do anything about it. Yet it was not always this way.

Public Marriage

Weddings were once public affairs, not private occasions. In many cultures, even the first intercourse took on a level of publicity, be it in the form of a cheering crowd listening in on the newlyweds’ tent or the families taking turns offering ribald advice in a public forum or the showing of a bloodied bedsheet as public proof of virginity.

Even this most intimate of moments wasn’t “private” in these cultures, to say nothing of all those “barbaric” peoples who chose to consummate and celebrate their monogamy in plain sight.

Married couples themselves remained closely tied with friends that encouraged, challenged, and oftentimes frustrated them, and the proximity of these outsiders was typically closer than many married couples are today.

Public Parenting

And children were never so alone before the Industrial Age. They lived, worked, and thrived right alongside their vulnerable parents. They often shared sleeping quarters, bathing facilities, and more. They faced victory and adversity together, felt pain and love together, and carried burdens together. It was real-world, hands-on life training.

What’s more, the community as a whole played a role in the raising of children. In the ’90s, a certain political figure caused an uproar saying as much (“It takes a village”), but the offended missed the point. They defensively said, “No, it takes parents!” though few parents today do their job with intent and strategy (mostly, it’s “I’ll do what my parents did, ‘cause I turned out alright”). But the problem is that the village, too, is needed. Otherwise, the children don’t get the additional perspectives, learning opportunities, good role models, bad role models, and general respect and love for people we see absent in today’s youth.

Look at the story of twelve-year-old Jesus whose parents left him in Jerusalem after their annual trip for Passover. They traveled a day before noticing He wasn’t with them. Was this a sign of terrible parenting? Boy, people today would sure think so. Social services would have a field day!

But no, like everyone else, Mary and Joseph made this trip frequently with close friends and family from their area, and they saw nothing at all unusual about the idea of Jesus being with these others instead of His parents. Indeed, the village as a whole likely had a hand in raising Jesus.

We should consider this and other examples of broader intimacy from the Bible. We might just be surprised at what we find.

Series NavigationThe Prevarication of Privacy – Part 2 >>
About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.