Saturday, 12 April 2008

Internet Anonymity (part 3)

My aim in this little series is to give the reasons why I think that Christians should very rarely use the facility for anonymity which the Internet gives. Part one, part two.

The major Biblical issue that I see for Christians in writing anonymously is that of accountability. When you write anonymously, where is the accountability?

The world's fundamental problem, the one underlying all the others, is that of rebellion. In the garden, God gave one command: "don't eat"; and Adam ate. We've been walking in his footsteps ever since. The good news is that an obedient man came - a second Adam, who perfectly fulfilled his Father's will. The whole load of his people's rebellion was placed on his shoulders and he died - and rose again. Christians, who share in this resurrection life in union with Jesus, must then be obedient people; a people who don't just tolerate, but rejoice in being accountable for their words and ways. We give thanks that the universe was not constituted to be anarchic, but orderly - ruled. So Christian children should rejoice in being answerable to their parents, Christian wives in being accountable to their husbands, and every individual believer to their local church. God has given us people who have a responsibility to lovingly give themselves in caring for us - and we have a corresponding accountability.

Where do we see any of this, though, in the practice of writing and debating anonymously? When we refuse to allow our words to be attached to our names, we sever the link which allows us to be called to account. We once again become autonomous, and lose all the controls and helps that God has instituted to keep us from going astray. When the anonymous (or pseudonymous) Christian blogger starts straying into ungodly speech, gossip, ad hominem, etcetera, how will those who have the responsibility to watch out for him and exhort him help him? If I could make a law of Christian blogging, it would be this: we should all have links up so that people can contact our elders if they need to. If I mouth off in a sinful way, you should be able to know who it is who keeps a watch for my soul and which church has an issue on its hands with a blogger who's lost self-control. There are many spiritual lone-rangers in the world, running one-man ministries accountable to no-one. Who's going to show a better way?

You'll have noticed that I've hedged my thesis with words like "almost always" and "rarely". In theory, the anonymous blogger might give his elders a list of places he posts, and the usernames he posts under, so that even if the people he's talking to don't know who he's answerable to, at least they know what he's up to. (Did you ever meet a real live case of that? Theoretical exceptions are nice, but "almost always" nothing more than theoretical.) But should not Christians not only be accountable, but seen to be accountable? Shouldn't the new attitude to accountability which Christ has brought to us not only be seen by the angels and a tiny elect remnant, but seen by the world?


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