Why Christianity Makes You Love Your Privacy
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
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.