A number of my religious friends are coy about their online presence: some have deleted their Facebook profile. Others refuse to join social networks altogether. Some folks refuse to use their real names on the web, opting instead for pseudonyms like christlovr07. Some people refuse to use twitter, figuring someone could see you tweet about your vacation, then rob your home while you’re away.
One Christian friend of mine, driven by the need to keep in touch with family but driven back by her privacy concerns, goes as far as to have created a Facebook profile with a false name, like Christy Smith. "Who's Christy Smith? Oh yeah, that's [real name]. She's using a fake name because she doesn't want her real name on the internet."
It even extends beyond the internet. My religious friends desire to live out in the country, away from the cities, in a self-sustaining community of other religious people. Presumably so that when The System fails, they'll be insulated from the resulting chaos.
These fears stem from a general distrust of authority and a misunderstanding of our responsibilities as Yeshua’s disciples. My religious friends are worried the government will spy on or track them via the internet. If the government goes bad, they don't want to be able to be found/tracked/seized. Thus, they stay "off the grid": anonymity online, never using your real name for services, seclusion from society, and so on.
I will explain why this is misguided thinking at best, and paranoia that folds on our responsibility as Yeshua's disciples at worst.
Privacy doesn’t exist in the 21st century. Really.
Refraining from having a Facebook profile will not save you from The Authorities. If the authorities, whoever they are, truly wish to seize you and your possessions, they'll probably be able do so with or without a Facebook profile. Sorry, that’s reality. I work in tech, I know this stuff.
Refraining from using your real name online? Great, no body knows who you are! Oh, except your ISP, who you’re paying with your credit card, hooked up to your bank, who has your social security number, knows where you live, how much money you make, and who you’re employed with. Oops!
In the 21st century, in civilized nations, you’re public. There is no such thing as the anonymous internet. Hey, even I’m spying on you – did you follow that link to my blog from Facebook? Surprise! I know what town you live ine, what time you clicked on the link, and what page you were on when you visited. Come here from a Google search? Surprise! I use analytics to see what you searched for and how you arrived on this page, where you live, what your IP address is, and who your ISP is. By simply visiting this page, I’ve just destroyed your supposed anonymity on the web. And I’m one of the good guys. Just imagine what people with evil intent could do. Reality: Privacy doesn’t exist today, and anonymity on the web is a façade, a skin-deep illusion.
Heck, if you hold citizenship in any nation, if you have held a job, if you pay taxes, if you vote, if you own a mobile phone, have a social security number, have an account with a bank, if you drive a car legally, if you purchase goods with credit cards – any number of trivial things – you can and will be found. So the idea of privacy, anonymity, independence from the corporations and government, the belief you can be off-the-grid – it’s all an illusion. It's misguided thinking. People in-the-know laugh at people like you. Stop thinking that way.
“I have one goal: to survive the impending chaos!”
But even if privacy is an illusion, at least with all your hoarded supplies, you’ll be able to survive the fallout of a collapsed system, or of a government turned bad. Your goal is to survive and insulate yourself from the chaos, and that’s worthy goal, right?
If you are Yeshua's disciple, you have no business isolating yourself from those things.
The System has collapsed, and now people can't purchase food? Ok. Why are you isolated out in your self-sustaining religious community; shouldn't you be helping those without food? Aiding the injured? No, here you are way out in the country, insulated from the world. Congratulations, you survived while all those injured, hungry fools out in the world are screwed.
Or maybe the government turned sour. Dictator takes power. The government issues laws that infringe on a precious liberty, like your faith. Maybe they are rounding up people they don't like and shipping them godknowswhere, but – ha! – you, you’re feeling all smugy-smug-smug, safe in your insulated religious community, right? And because you never created a Facebook profile, the now-evil government will never find you. Congratulations, you're theoretically surviving the evil government's tyranny, while those undesirable citizens get shipped off to gulags.
Back up a minute.
Sitting comfortably while others are out of food -- is that for Yeshua's disciples? Or resting peacefully while undesirable citizens are being imprisoned -- is that for Yeshua's disciples?
Nah. That's paranoia that folds on our responsibility as Yeshua's disciples to feed and clothe needy people and help people when they’re in trouble.
So why are you fretting your privacy so much? Relax. Let people know you're a disciple of Yeshua who helps people in need. Make it public. Then actually follow through, and help people in need, right now. It'll be good practice if your worst fears are ever realized.
An example from history: Daniel Ben Zion
I'm reminded of the late Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria of the mid 20th century, Rabbi Daniel Ben Zion. He's famous for helping Jews escape Nazi persecution during the Holocaust. Messianics know him well because of he was also a believer in Yeshua.
When I hear about my religious friends being all secretive and off-the-grid, I'm reminded of Daniel Ben Zion's plain openness, first in Bulgaria during the 1940s, then again in Israel during the 1980s.
When the Government-Gone-Bad scenario became real in Germany, then again in Bulgaria, Ben Zion didn't retreat to an insulated, off-the-grid location.
After a vision in which Yeshua appeared to Rabbi Ben Zion and told him to warn the King from delivering Jews into Hitler’s hands, Ben Zion wrote a letter to King Boris, delivered it in-person, petitioning the King to refuse Hitler's demands to deliver Bulgaria's Jews to death camps in Germany and Poland.
(Baruch HaShem, King Boris heeded the Rabbi's plea, and the next day in a face-to-face meeting with Hitler, the King refused Nazi demands.)
Rabbi Ben Zion's righteous example is this: instead of retreating from the Government-Gone-Bad scenario, he took the opposite approach of working everything in his power to influence the government towards righteousness, praying for the deliverance of God's people, all the way up to petitioning King Boris, with a hand-delivered letter, to save Bulgaria's Jews from Hitler. He wrote of his visit to the King’s palace, and delivering the news to the congregants back home:
“Fear not my dear brothers and sisters! Put your faith in the Holy Rock of our Salvation. . . Yesterday, I have been informed that the Metropolite Stephen has agreed to see me immediately and discuss about his conversation with the King of Bulgaria. When I went to see the Metropolite Stephen, he told me, ‘Tell your people that the King has promised that the Bulgarian Jews will not leave outside the boarders of Bulgaria’. . . I explained to the Metropolite that thousands of Jews are waiting for me in the Synagogue to hear this good news. When I returned to the Synagogue, there was full silence in the large crowed that was gathered waiting to hear the results of my meeting with Stephen. As I walked in my announcement was, “Yes my brothers God has heard our prayers . . . “
After the war, having witnessed the worst case of Governments-Gone-Bad, surely Rabbi Ben Zion of all people had every right to go live in seclusion, to go "off the grid", live in a self-sustaining home, windows shuttered, far away from society, hoarded supplies and all.
It turns out, he brought back a lesson, forged in the fire of the Holocaust, much different than the isolationist ideas of religious people today. After the war, having immigrated to Israel, Rabbi Zion's home was always opened. Everything of value, all his goods, he donated to charity. He never even locked his doors. You could walk right in.
Instead of being "off the grid", Rabbi Zion lived in plain sight. When authorities and governments went sour, he worked towards goodness: saving all he could. When persecuted by Fascists during the Holocaust, he didn't run for cover. As one author recalls,
Rabbi Daniel Zion as the spiritual leader of the Jewish community became the object of persecution and ridicule. He was taken and publicly flogged in front of the Great Synagogue of Sofia. During these times, Rabbi Daniel walked upright before the fascists and his only reaction was to call upon God. My own mother and sister were present in at least two of these occasions and they retold this story many times.
Standing up to evil, not cowering? Facing down darkness, not running for cover? Taking their evil and doing good? Doing righteousness in the face of great evil?
Do you want to emulate righteousness like this? Or do you want to be holed up in your Survival Cave with a year’s supply of toilet paper and canned goods?
Stop worrying about who's spying on you. Stop living in fear. The government may eventually turn evil. Yes, the system could collapse at some point. If that ever happens, it will be your once-in-a-lifetime chance to shine as a disciple of Yeshua. When everyone's fleeing and hoarding, you can be serving and working for righteousness when no one else is. It may make you a target, true. But if you don't think that's a good proposition, you're following the wrong King.