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Why Christianity Makes You Love Your Privacy

Updated on June 12, 2009

A detective approaches the owner of a dating site, investigating the murder of a woman. "We need to see her records," he says.

"Those are private," the website's owner replies.

Looking at him like he's stupid, the detective says, "Um... she's dead." Of course the government can view her records.

I saw this on a television show recently, and my interest was immediately piqued. Do the dead have privacy? What is privacy, and when do we obtain/lose it? Does it exist on its own, or is it a social construct? What does religion have to say about our "right" to this thing called privacy?

Religion on Privacy

Interestingly enough, no religion with which I am familiar says much about privacy. If anything, religious traditions seem to encourage openness (see confession in Catholicism and most Christian monasticism), at least within the religious community.

But we, as American society, have a serious moral opposition to total lack of privacy (see The Giver). Is this culturally imposed? If so, I can see this coming from the American obsession with private ownership -- the This Is Mine mentality. This is not as prevalent in all cultures as it is in the United States, so why not?

But as "secular" a nation as we may believe ourselves to be, our thought is still deeply Judeo-Christian-based. This makes me think, then, that perhaps our notion of privacy as sacred might come from the Christian tradition.

Freedom from What?

The Protestant Reformation -- and the migration to the New World that followed -- was all about freedom: freedom from the Church, freedom from persecution, freedom of worship. Hence the emphasis in the founding documents of the United States on freedom (of all of those things and more).

Perhaps this freedom from the Church, then, also included freedom from Confession? In many Protestant traditions, there is a general confession as a part of the liturgy, but there is no requirement to meet privately with a priest and confess all sins before taking communion. Is this part of the origin of our need for privacy?

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Guilt, Not Shame

Similarly, there is the common observation that we are a guilt culture, as opposed to the "shame" cultures of the East. Assuming that these labels have any merit (even though this is widely contested), it makes sense that privacy would be a major factor in determining whether the culture was shame or guilt.

In a private culture where personal business is not to be shared, personal guilt would be most important for maintaining moral behavior; the worst person you can offend is yourself (and God, if you are religious). And yet for a culture that relies on shame for keeping behavior moral, personal business must constantly be made public -- how else to shame the person into proper moral behavior?

I'm not sure which came first -- the guilt or the privacy -- but these two things as values seem to be highly correlated in American culture, and I have a strong suspicion that Christianity and the Protestant Reformation have something to do with it.


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    • profile image

      wellwellwell 6 years ago

      Actually, your are absolutly right. Christianity is a HUGE part of the way we live and think. If you remember for quite a long while back in the Roman-Catholic times, pretty much all of Europe was Christian in some form or other. The New World was settled for reasons that included religious freedom. Our Constitution was based on Christian ideals. Many people may not relize this but it's true.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      This is one of your best Hubs I have read. Brilliant!

      I will add one thing to your comment above—Charity should not makes us think as Liberals at all. Research shows that Conservatives give 4 times more to Charity than do Liberals. Surprising, isn't it? It is again tied to freedom. Conservatives want the freedom to give their own money directly to charities whose missions they support. Liberals want to confiscate Conservatives' money and give it to causes they do not support.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan

      Thanks, Ellie! I appreciate your kind words.

    • profile image

      Ellie Perry 8 years ago

      Thanks for this hub. I think it is a well written and thoughtful piece.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan

      I guess I am more of a secularist, then, in thinking that people shouldn't have to go to church to receive assistance. But I understand your not wanting to government to mandate how much you give. These little disagreements are the beauty of living in a democracy. :)

    • caitlinlea profile image

      caitlinlea 8 years ago from Texas

      Totally know what you're saying, except I think things like helping others should be left in the private sector and enacted by the church. When I say the church, of course, I am talking about the people who make up the church. The Bible tells us to help widows and orphans and people in need. The problem I have is when government mandates my sacrifice or my generosity. Since, like I said, everything is a personal choice, this should be left up to me.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan

      Wow, very interesting take on the correlation between Christian thought and conservative thought.  Most people tend to think that it's just about positions (on abortion, homosexuality, etc), but you are so right that less government means more personal freedom, which is so highly regarded in Christianity.  Thank you for bringing that to my attention, caitlinlea.  What an insightful comment!

      (On the other hand, the idea of "Christian charity" could be argued for why a Christian would be liberal and want government to have a stronger role in peoples' lives, especially those who need help like the poor.)

    • caitlinlea profile image

      caitlinlea 8 years ago from Texas

      Wonderful!! The idea of personal choice is all through the Bible. As humans, we have the ability to do whatever we want, knowing we will have consequences for every action-- be they good or bad. This, I believe, is why Christians tend more towards Conservatism. Less government means greater personal responsibility, truly a Christian idea.

      This is a marvelous hub...thanks for sharing!! :-)