Monday, 14 April 2008

Internet Anonymity - The Wrong Choice For Christians (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, part three.

The Internet makes routine and wide-scale anonymity possible in a way that has not been seen before in human history. It has always been possible to be anonymous. The visiting preacher next week in your church could, if he chose, decide to style himself using the handle "Lord Vortelius Poppledanger", and expound the word of God whilst wearing a Darth Vader suit. There's no physical or other necessary impediment that prevents us being anonymous in lots of the things we do. The Internet isn't a new situation at all in terms of anonymity being possible - what's new is the ease with which the option can be taken up. The question is, just because it's easy, does it make it any more right?

Let's face it: if you'd moved into a new area and were looking for a new church, you wouldn't attend Lord Poppledanger's place a second time, unless you were wanting to gather evidence for posterity.

A couple of responders to my series so far (whose responses I was both very grateful for, despite the day in acknowledging them), suggested that by concealing his/her identity, someone can make their arguments more convincing. The idea is that when the identity of the person speaking is unknown, it's only possible to concentrate on their arguments, and nothing else. Well, that's kind-of true, but not totally - the fact that the person talking to you has deliberately withheld their identity isn't one that's likely to escape your consciousness. Even "no identity" is a kind of identity - you register the fact that the person talking to you has some reason or other (even if you don't know what it is) for you not wanting them to know who you are.

In the context of my purpose to persuade Christians that making a point of not being anonymous is a more God-glorifying path, I think it's very relevant to show that the original Gentile evangelist thought that it was a virtue to be more known rather than less known. Whilst he made it his aim to hide himself in one very important sense whilst preaching, so that people could see Christ, he also made it his aim to be completely revealed in another very important sense, so that people could see Christ. I think that Christians seeking to be anonymous on the Internet are mixing these two things up. It's good to parade Christ rather than ourselves so that people might depend on him; it's also, according to the Bible, an enhancement to our witness if are transparent in our dealings:
2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Paul said that he commended himself to his hearers' consciences - not just his message. Is it possible to do that anonymously?
2 Corinthians 9 And he said unto me, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
God works through weakness. He rejoiced that people could see him in all his puniness (in worldly terms), because then God was glorified by showing his power through him. The message and the messenger were part of a God-ordained partnership - they were not intended by God to be separated. This is a major plank of my objection to Internet anonymity amongst Christians, along with the cutting of the accountability chain. Anonymity removes the messenger from the message, which is a move without any Biblical approval.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 ... you know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
6 And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit

Acts 20:18  And when they were come to him, he said unto them, "You know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,"
Paul made a deliberate effort to set an example that could be followed - an example he could appeal to, so that nobody could say that he preached differently from what he practiced.
1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Paul saw a divine purpose in the things which he, as an apostle, had been made to endure. God did not only intend for him, Paul, to declare a message - he also intended him to be a living theatre in whose experience certain spiritual truths would be displayed. Anonymity thwarts this divine purpose - that God's workings in our lives should accentuate the message that we speak.

In the above verses I've focussed mainly upon anonymity from the point of view of evangelism - but I think that the points apply generally. Internet anonymity is an attempt at de-personalised conversation. My two respondents have both suggested that this can be a virtue. I think it cuts profoundly across God's purposes. Personality is good, and indeed essential. Thus amongst those who want to speak continuously, over time, on the Internet it becomes necessary to invent a new persona. You can do drive-by anonymous commenting a little bit, but if you're going to say more than the odd line here and there, you eventually find it's essential to become a person, and not just "anonymous". The only people who seem to be able to be "Anonymous" long term are those with a serious problem - such as ranters, stalkers and the terminally fearful. This is the way God made us.

This being so, i.e. if we must have a persona, surely we should have the one that God made us with, rather than inventing a new one?

No comments: