Gladys and Privacy

We all assume privacy is a right – a right everyone has, including Gladys. And yet it appears she has misused her privacy rights in ways that have ended her career, and may yet prove to be illegal. What do we make of privacy?

The use of the word privacy has increased tenfold since about 1940. It is a modern preoccupation. My mother was one of eight children and was raised in two and three-bedroom houses. Privacy was a luxury she was not afforded.

This is not to say the concept of privacy is new. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) spoke of the public and private domain. His word for private was oikos – literally ‘house’. For Aristotle, private means beyond the control of the state, not under the control of the individual.

I find it difficult to think of biblical passages to do with privacy. People keep secrets, but this is often hiding sin. Achan hides stolen goods in his tent in the OT, and Ananias and Sapphira do the same in the NT. Jesus often withdraws to a quiet place, but this was not about privacy from others, but rather about intimacy with God. Peter asks Jesus about what will happen to John, to which Jesus replies “what is that to you?” (John 21:22) Jesus is not protecting John’s privacy, rather he is helping Peter focus on his own need to repent.

I suspect if privacy is a right, it is not an end in itself. The greatest commands in the Bible are to love God and to love your neighbour. At times, when I give to one person, it may be appropriate to not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. Making charity public may engender pride, or shame, or jealousy. Privacy is then important, but only in as much as it serves a greater good.

Over-sharing can also be a problem. Sometimes revealing too much can lay a burden on others that is needless and unhelpful. Being understated can be wise, but I am not sure it is the same as being private.

The next time you find yourself feeling your right to privacy has been violated, you may wish to dig a little deeper inside your soul. Good and capable people can come unstuck when they overplay their right to privacy.

Rev David Rietveld Senior Minister


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