We are all acutely aware of the vulnerability of our personal data, since Cambridge Analytica was accused of harvesting thousands of Facebook profiles. Many companies keep an eye on our internet searches and online/ offline shopping, and their algorithms deduce our likely profile and preferences, so as to tailor their advertisements and target their propaganda.
For many Christians this has an unnerving resonance in the prayer that opens some Communion Services: “O God from who all hearts are open, all desires known…..” Their all-knowing God is even more informed than the internet giants, and disciples are called to act beneath the gaze of an all-seeing God.
Of course we should all aspire to live with a clear conscience, unafraid of how our actions might be judged by our partners, friends and colleagues. Those working for public institutions will always be mindful of the scrutiny of trustees, stakeholders and the watchful eye of the press, and must be prepared to defend their decisions. Good communication and trust is built on the sharing of personal knowledge.
Yet we would be reckless not to consider carefully in whom we place our trust. The dangers of identity theft are very real and can have serious financial, medical and legal consequences. It isn’t a new phenomena, however; the Genesis 27 tale in which Jacob steals Esau’s birthright is probably one of the earliest recorded examples of self-seeking and calculated identity theft.
Preserving our personal identity offline is probably as hard as online. It isn’t only unhealthy relationships and abusive communities that can rob us of our identity. “Make of our hearts one heart” sing Maria and Tony in West Side Story; something to which most lovers aspire. Yet alongside this idealisation of an intimate relationship, is the need to balance mutual dependence and the freedom of an individual’s emotional autonomy. As the Lebanese-American artist, poet, and philosopher Kahlil Gibran writes:
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
The same holds for the intimacy of faith. St Augustine wrote in his Soliliques “If I know myself I shall know thee, O God.”. To lose our identity is not only to lose ourselves but to lose the way to God.