How Many Pigs have you Slaughtered?  A Reflection on Cyber Fear and the Church

One of the disclosures of the Edward Snowden leaks of 2013 was that the NSA knows how many pigs you killed in Angry Birds.  The Angry Bird developer, Rovio, denied that they turned over any information regarding user gaming to the NSA, but the thought was still disturbing enough to the pastors and church leaders in the “Cyber Ethics” class I attended this afternoon.  “Why would the government care about our scores in Angry Birds?” one of the participants wondered.  “Because it’s data,” the instructor answered.  A few of the members of the class were upset by the revelation, whether it’s true or not.  So someone rephrased the question, “Why is it important to the Church whether or not the government collects data on our video game usage? ”

I’m not sure if the question was asked explicitly or not, but the underlying concern was that we were spending time raising fear levels in the class, when it has nothing at all to do with getting volunteers to staff a youth event or bring a covered dish to the next potluck.  Knowledge is valuable, but is fear-mongering?  This has nothing to do with the work we do in the church.

We had already shaken up the foundation of ethics talking about the issues of net-neutrality, open-sourced vs. closed software, artificial intelligence and how more than 60% of adults get their news from social media.  Being a not-so-closeted geek, these ideas were not new to me.  If you want my opinion or thoughts on any of them, I’ll be happy to share.  Dwayne and I frequently talk about these mega issues brought about by technology and the Internet.  The thing is, I’m not so much afraid of them.  Instead, I think they’re fascinating and add to the complexities and change that we’re experiencing in our lifetimes.  

I chimed in the class, “Navigating fear in life has always been at the heart of our work as theologians and pastors.”  It’s the core of the good news of resurrection, no?  How many times have we preached that the commandment made most often in scripture is, “Be not afraid!”?  That doesn’t mean we should avoid the things that cause us to be fearful, but to examine them and live into them in a way that is confident of the providence of God in Christ.  

Our responsibility is to know about the many changes going on in the world, including both the challenges and the benefits of social media and the Internet, AI and augmented reality.  We can have different opinions on whether on not the NSA should be collecting data on our use of apps on our phones, but we need to know that it IS being gathered, and that the Internet is never a private or semi-private place.  Use the “Side of the Bus” test … If you’re ok with it being broadcast on the side of a bus, then you can do it on the Internet.  

The world can be a risky place.  The mission of God is also risky.  We, as church, need to understand the risks.  And we should do what we can to remain reasonably safe, but fear itself is a reminder of how much we need God, and how real God is.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil, for God is with me.”  

The world is changing, and there are things to be afraid of … And the Church is called to be in the midst of it … Preserving Truth and proclaiming the Good News.

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