Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The illusion of privacy

Do you ever worry that we are losing our privacy?

If you do, you're not alone. Lots of Americans envision a time in the past when their privacy was guarded, and now they fear that it's under attack from government agencies, credit bureaus, and big business.

Privacy as we know it is mostly an illusion. But I'm convinced it's one of the factors in our terrified fear of private confession.

The privacy we envision was impossible throughout most of recorded history. Even in our time, most of the world lives in small enclaves where they know everyone, and everyone knows them. If you live in a village of 40 people, where you've lived all of your life, everyone there knows virtually everything of importance there is to know about you. In such a hypothetical village, the priest was likely a local guy, trained by his bishop. On a purely social level, he knows you. What you confess under such circumstances is likely no surprise.

But a time of larger houses, where people can sleep in separate areas, where people have cars that they can drive somewhere privately, where people can communicate by phone, email and IM, privacy is more doable.

I don't know how much people truly went to confession in the past. I know that it has all but died in the Lutheran churches in America, and is barely clinging on in Rome, where it is supposedly required.

I don't know why this has happened. I don't know if our obsessive fear of people knowing about us has caused that, or if it's a result of it. But I wonder if our tenacious defense of confessing our sins to God alone is a result of the fear of someone -- even the one charged with shepherding us -- knowing us, knowing our sins, as we really are.

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