Why religious people shouldn’t fear for their privacy online and in the real world

WorriedA 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. Photo of Rabbi Daniel Ben Zion

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.


  1. Wow! I know people like that, too. Of course, I live in Idaho and we have our fair share of "alternative thinkers" here who have been raised in smaller communities with "idiosyncratic" values. To be fair though, these sorts of folks are few and far between. Most religious people I know (Christians and Jews) aren't nearly that paranoid.

    This is probably somewhat off topic, but I have experienced a disproportionate number of the sorts of religious folks you have described in the "Messianic" community. My general take (and the majority of these people are very nice and well meaning..just misguided) is that these are the sorts of Christians who never really fit into a traditional church. They are almost always socially and politically conservative, pretty much Sarah Palin/Tea Party supporters, believers in a literal rapture, and very in tune with "conspiracy theory" scenarios for the immediate future.

    I've always had a hard time understanding them. To be fair, they've always had a hard time understanding me, too. They especially don't understand why I have virtually no interest in studying the end-times prophesies and looking for all of the "secret messages" in the Torah that will protect "true" Yeshua-believers from the coming tribulation when the system will collapse and the Government will come for us in black helicopters. We both worship essentially the same God and are disciples of the same Messiah, but the difference between their worldview and mine is just staggering.

    Judah, I'm not sure much can be done for most of this sort of religious person. They are people who are very afraid and believe that the U.S. Government (which is probably barely aware of their existence) is actively seeking to monitor their communications and movements and will come for them due to their religious beliefs, when the "time is right". I've met them. Tried to talk with them. Tried to explain my perspective on the Bible, God, and what our responsibilities are to Him and to people in the here and now, but they are always looking to the future with a fearful yet longing eye, waiting and watching for the coming spiritual war, which is their entire focus. They waste most of their opportunities to serve God by clinging to ideas of anxiety and who the Anti-Christ might be. When I was with my previous congregation and occasionally encountered such folks, I invited them to our studies in the hopes they might gain a different perspective on God and perhaps lighten their souls, but they almost never came back.

    They're one of the reasons that, to some degree, I don't miss the One Law movement, which seemed to be a magnet for them. Most form small congregations or home fellowships where they feel "safe" and some of them only worship in their own families, believing other groups, even in MJ/OL are too worldly or apostate.

    I pray for these people because they don't experience the joy of God, only the fear.

  2. I agree that the movement tends to attract some of these folks. I don't look at them as a burden. They're ultimately a blessing. Maybe God's sent them to us, maybe it's on us to help bring some things to light. Sometimes, seeds are planted even through a single encounter, you know? Or maybe, God forbid, they have something to teach us. :-) I know my friend Thomas was such a guy. I learned things through him that I'll take with me the rest of my life. That, despite being one of the people we're talking about now.

    I remember, Thomas would always talk about conspiracy theories to us. My brother jokingly told him, "You should start a tin foil cap brigade with all these conspiracy theories of yours!" Next shabbat, he came in with his usual kippah...wrapped in tin foil. :-) He had a sense of humor, was a joyful guy, and I'd by no means describe him as never experiencing the Lord's joy.

    Folks distrust the government. I don't blame them. The problem is, being coy online isn't going to protect yourself. And besides, if things ever do go sour, maybe God's set you out to help people, not just survive yourself. :-) I hope my religious friends believe that much.

  3. Hey now. There are LOTS of people who desire to live "off grid" for LOTS of different reasons...some because they believe it is a better, sustainable choice...that self-sufficiency can mean the freedom to be able to offer help and sustenance to others in times of need--first, to our own families as the food supply is increasingly polluted/lacking in nutritional value/and crazy expensive, and second, to a broader group in times of emergency, if and when they come. I live in suburbia (and btw spend way too much time on facebook without a pseudonym:) ), but would love the chance to live out a bit in the country and rely a bit more on ourselves than on the local grocery/gas company/electric company. Hopefully, you don't see Yeshua's disciples as only able to help out if they stay in the cities & "plugged in"?
    Just wanted to speak up for those who want to live a simpler (tho' not necessarily easier) life closer to the land, who have an eye to service to others in the name of Yeshua when and if "The System" fails...I'd hate to be misunderstood and "lumped" in with those that you and James find to be "misguided", "paranoid" and lacking compassion and a sense of true discipleship. :*(

    Jane Doe ;)

  4. Good stuff, Judah. Rabbi Rich Nichol gave me much the same advice as you're sharing here when he and I discussed the troubling economic trends a few years ago. If things get better for families in America, great. If they get worse, we need to do what we can for someone else to alleviate suffering.

  5. Hahah. Hey, I'd love to live in the country, be self-sustaining, not have to pay for gas, electricity, etc.

    But really, living off the grid is not a feasible reality for 99.9% of the people living in civilized countries. My post is to make that clear, and show how silly it is to refuse to, for example, create Facebook profiles in order to maintain an off-the-grid status.

    The Essenes were a 1st-century Jewish group that took the "live out in the wilderness, isolate yourselves from all the apostates" idea. They eventually disappeared.

    Yeshua's disciples were commanded by the Master himself to go into all the world -- get out there all public and exposed -- and preach and live the gospel. Not very isolationist.

    Yeshua's disciples are still around, the Essenes disappeared.

    I think that's the right model, better than the isolationist one. If people are preoccupied with hoarding toilet paper and canned foods, maybe their focus is wrong.

    A desire to live in the country and have less dependence on the government isn't wrong, in fact, it'd be quite nice. We can desire that without being paranoid, black helicopter-watching, tin foil cap-sporting people. :-)

  6. The reason I don't join social networks is because I don't want people to see how boring I am....

  7. There's probably a continuum of people who desire less of a connection with traditional "civilized" life. But there's a difference between completely living off the grid and just being a little less dependent on all of our "modern conveniences". The people I was addressing are on the extreme end of the scale and who have a less-than-realistic grasp of what it means to be a believer.

    I apologize if I put you off, Allison, uh..."Jane Doe". It wasn't my intent, but I do not believe I was describing you (or her..or someone) in any way.

    Interestingly enough, right after I finished making my previous comment, I read an article at The Register which seemed to play right into that "distrust technology" mindset, thanks to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Distrust of the governments and technology around us isn't something that is isolated to one small group, it seems.

    Frankly, I just can't live my life as if I have to look over my shoulder every ten seconds. Either I live as authentically as possible and do the best I can to be the person God made me to be, or I should just crawl under my bed and hide. Maybe the conspiracy theory folks have a point, even to some small degree, but I'm not going to start collecting a year's worth of canned goods, convert my life savings into gold, and surround myself with guard dogs and assault rifles. We can't serve God and be a witness if we live in isolation looking out only for number one.

  8. The funny thing to me is that I would think someone living off the grid would stand out like a sore thumb to anyone tracking the grid. "Hey, why is there electrical signatures coming from this off the grid location? Send some soldiers out there and check it out!"

    If the government can find someone in the Afghan desert with a drone, it seems like it would be rather easy to find someone living in a home with a generator in rural America.

    All that being said, excellent points about being better to engage in society than to run and hide from it. I totally agree.

  9. @Dan,

    Don't worry, we can easily see that in your comments! ;-)


    I actually laughed out loud reading this: "Hey, why is there electrical signatures coming from this off the grid location? Send some soldiers out there and check it out!"

  10. Suddenly, news seems to be mirroring this blog conversation: 5 things that will happen to you when America goes bankrupt. It's like when someone mentions the make and model of a car, you start seeing them everywhere.

  11. James, do you think they are watching??


  12. Thank you for the encouragement! great post!

  13. As if modern religious folks needed another excuse to spend more hours on social media sites!

    I for one value my privacy very much. I share precious few details about my personal life on the web. Being kind, loving, a servant, righteous and standing up for one's faith need not mean being a publicity hound on the internet and airing all your dirty laundry for the world to see. In fact, privacy and reputation is VERY valued in the Jewish world. This is one of the reason G-d had Moses arrange the tents in a special way to prevent neighbors from spying on each other when Israel camped out in the desert during her sojourn. Besides, your private life is no-one's business - being too open about your private lives opens you up to gossip, and gossipers are reviled in the Jewish world. Minding your OWN business is very biblical indeed!

    New Testament also demonstrates this need to not air our dirty laundry to the world.

    "Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? "

    Also, according to Messiah himself, one is actually rewarded for doing things for G-d in secret. In fact, this is how G-d himself operates - He hides his face but we can see His works.

    "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt 6:3.4)

  14. Perhaps you'd like to explain why you deleted your Facebook profile, Gene.

  15. In the former Soviet Union, EVERY church and synagogue had a government minder present, dutifully pretending to be a nice Christian or a devout Jew and reporting everything to his superiors. What was funny and sad, however, is that everyone in the congregation knew exactly who that person was and everyone was very careful to avoid saying anything important within the earshot of that person because everything would then be reported to the government and may result in arrest, imprisonment, being fired from work, taking away of one's children (lest they too be "brainwashed) or worse. You would especially be careful not to mention names of people who were about to be baptized or parents who dared to circumcise their baby sons. BTW, the above bit of information I didn't not read in some book but heard it from close friends and relatives who actually lived through this.

    It's fun to be "brave" and bold for G-d on the blog and Facebook in America. The real life is far different, however.

  16. "Perhaps you'd like to explain why you deleted your Facebook profile, Gene."

    Judah, two reasons:

    1) Privacy
    2) It was consuming too much of my time.

  17. Explain the privacy thing. Obviously you don't care about your name being on the web, or you wouldn't be commenting here. So what was it about Facebook specifically that was an invasion of your believed privacy?

  18. "So what was it about Facebook specifically that was an invasion of your believed privacy?"

    It's not just the information that I myself may have posted on Facebook (something that I have some control over), but the info that my friends (which is a very lose term on Facebook in many cases) would post about me, my family, my whereabouts, my personal details, my photos, photos of my children, and also info that could be used to hijack my identity for financial fraud or other nefarious ideas, etc.

  19. Here's little something for those who are curious about other people's private lives:

    "For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer, or a meddler in other men's matters." (1 Peter 4:15)

    I think some social media helps facilitate this needless meddling into private lives, don't you think?

  20. You are concerned about your friends sharing information about you, where you live, and your family.

    The thing is, that information's already easily accessibly by the government. Heck, just by your visit here, Gene, I can pinpoint your IP address, your ISP, your city. Authorities already know about you through your job, tax payments, driver's license, for example. So it's not as if you're off the grid anyways; that information is already available to them, and some of it's available to me just because you're reading this.

    If it's your kids pictures you don't want others to see, don't show anyone your kids pictures. But that feels rather paranoid as well, honestly, a little old-world suspicion brought over from the Soviet bloc.

    Have a good shabbat! And don't mind that government agent tailing you. ;-)

  21. "So it's not as if you're off the grid anyways; that information is already available to them, and some of it's available to me just because you're reading this."

    Judah, it's one thing for the government to know my address and other basic stats and keeping them secure in some computer people tracing my IP address (which can easily be spoofed via proxies), and me sharing minute details of my private life and goings-on in my own home with all of the world and doing so daily (as many people indeed do on Facebook and Twitter).

    "If it's your kids pictures you don't want others to see, don't show anyone your kids pictures. But that feels rather paranoid as well, honestly, a little old-world suspicion brought over from the Soviet bloc."

    Actually, I would be far more concerned about pervs going after my kids in America today (assisted by social media) than most families in former Soviet Union were or even in America a decade or two ago. It's not "paranoia", it's a sad reality.

    Also, having a record of everything you said from years and years of social media interactions can certainly come back to bite (as many folks have learned when applying for jobs, for example, without even know why they were turned down).

    "Have a good shabbat! And don't mind that government agent tailing you. ;-)"

    Have a good one yourself. That government agent would be mightily bored:)

  22. Gene is in the witness protection program. Gene Shlomovich is not his real name.....The Interpol is looking for him...If i reveal his real name, they will start looking for me....DoO Doo Doo Doo...(Twilight Zone music here,,,,)

  23. "Gene is in the witness protection program."

    Yeah, a witness for Messiah, protected by G-d!

  24. But Judah, what about Oliver Garky, and Al Luminnati? Tin Foil, no FB, they are watching! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!

    lol, I laugh at people stockpiling TP and water, congratulations, when the country collapses you will have a clean butt and live a week longer than anyone else! ~ Congratulations!

    On a more serious note, we shouldn't be doing things the father has not instructed us to do, if we trust in Him He will take car of us!...

    Mat 6:25-30 "Therefore, I tell you, don't worry about your life — what you will eat or drink; or about your body — what you will wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds flying about! They neither plant nor harvest, nor do they gather food into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you worth more than they are?Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to his life? "And why be anxious about clothing? Think about the fields of wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread, yet I tell you that not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. If this is how God clothes grass in the field — which is here today and gone tomorrow, thrown in an oven — won't he much more clothe you? What little trust you have!

    - Jesse

  25. Just got to this. Great read! Well said, sir. Thank you for the encouragement and exhortation.