Divine Privacy

I remember being told in my youth that God saw everything we did, and that when we did wrong His spirit would go away. I know variations on this are common teachings, and it did cause me a little distress at times, knowing that God saw the things I had done wrong and would judge me for it. But God was pretty impersonal for me, despite intellectually believing in Him as my father, so the impact never lasted long. It didn't make me choose right, although it did likely foster feelings of shame. The shame of being watched really hit home when I thought about the spirits of my Mormon ancestors and children to be floating around and caring about my welfare. It was always presented that way -- they were cheering me on to make good choices -- but it was a whole lot more emotional to imagine them watching me as I obsessed over a lingerie catalog, and I couldn't help but make the connection.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but probably sometime after my Grandpas died, maybe when I was 22 or 23. Now they were spirits who could look in on me. I finally accepted that they did want the best for me. They did love me. They had seen life. They knew the stupid, silly, weak, and even evil things that people did. They loved me anyway. Nothing I could do would surprise them. If they didn't want to be around when I was sinning, they could go. If they did want to be around me, even with my faults, they could deal with it. It was their problem how they judged me, not mine. And I believe they judge me with love.

A recurring theme in our increasingly digitized and connected world is that of privacy. This is probably big everywhere, but with our constitutional right to it in the U.S. I know it's an especially big deal for many Americans. My gut reaction is consistently to fight for privacy, but when I get down to what I really care about, it isn't privacy. What I care about is safety and freedom. I don't want my personal choices to be abused by those seeking gain, or even seeking to harm me. I want to be able to think freely and make choices without judgment by those who don't really know my life or my heart. I want to be able to make mistakes without someone capitalizing on it to gain an advantage or put me down. I don't value privacy for its own sake, but because I fear the very real abuses of intimate knowledge.

This thought struck me in recent years because I aspire to a future where there is no real privacy. I want to be a God. God knows an awful lot. God lives in a society that has atoned, or become one. I want to live with people who know me intimately, and may have power to know me completely. No more secrets -- not even the ultimately harmless but really embarrassing ones I'm not sure any other human knows about me -- or would really care to know (I've shared all the ones that are true failings with somebody -- often many people -- when I needed to get help). Zion is an open place. People are of one heart and one mind. I'm convinced now that this means unity inclusive of great diversity rather than unity from sameness.

How does this view of Zion and of heaven fit together with technological erosion of privacy? I see in our loss of privacy a two-edged sword. Human rights are being abused by unscrupulous people and the misuse of amoral knowledge collection engines, I'm sure. But knowledge of me makes my world better, too. Search engines pull up the results I want more often and more quickly than when I was completely anonymous to them. I connect with friends, and the stories from friends, that most interest me without seeing every posting about what band my nephew next plans to see (love you!) or every game milestone my "addicted" acquaintances surpass (I just don't let mine be posted online -- too embarrassing for a 40 yo). Surveillance devices may be used abusively or to protect people and make the world safer.  I can learn about people, businesses, charities, products, etc. much more quickly than ever before, and with reputations built through hundreds and thousands of relevant, first hand interactions (e.g. Amazon reviews), I can judge likely outcomes much more accurately. The erosion of privacy may even be necessary to preparing us for exaltation.

I hope we will harness the erosion of privacy to bring us closer to perfection rather than fight to simply maintain privacy as if it were a primary virtue. We can work to curtail its abuses as we move step by step toward openness and unity. We can work on mindfulness and shamelessness to improve our personal lives and prepare ourselves to better live with less privacy. We can learn to judge not that we be not judged, and to give no place to gossip in our lives. We can become the kind of people with whom others wish to be one. We can do many things to make our eventual loss of all privacy be a free and joyful day for humanity and for each of us. Maybe that day is an exaggeration -- God is not an open book to me, and I imagine there will always be beings without full knowledge of me -- but I sincerely hope for a happy end to privacy.