Privacy? Says who?

The following was my talk at theology pub in Richmond Hill, Ontario, January 12, 2014. I spoke on the theology of privacy.

I observe two contradictory trends today: on the one hand, our culture really believes in the notion of privacy–perhaps best exemplified by Pierre Trudeau in 1969:

There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. I think that what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code.

He said this in regard to Bill C-150 which decriminalized homosexuality in Canada. On the other hand, many of us voluntarily relinquish our privacy through social media and our governments gather our private information without search warrants or probable cause. To understand how great the erosion of privacy rights is, just today I learned that the US border patrol, operating 30 miles inside the US border, arrested Greg Rosenberg an American of Armenian origin for refusing to cooperate with a search of his truck without probable cause. Then, after 19 days, the authorities just simply released Rosenberg dropping all charges.

Here in Canada, the Canadian government required that one out of five households fill out the 2011 Census “long form”, which included questions about what race we are and our sexual orientation. So much for the government staying out of the bedroom of Canadians. Gay activists were the most vocal complainers when the Tory government removed this form. Evidently, they thought that sexual orientation information in the hands of the government could only help their groups. A more pessimistic view of government would suggest that knowing personal data about people makes them vulnerable to special treatment. But I don’t want the attention of government and I would prefer to be invisible.

To wit, the Canadian government, as of July 1, 2014, has singled out certain people for special treatment in the area of banking privacy. The Stephen Harper government has passed legislation authorizing banks to collect information on people with alleged ties to the United States. The banks are to pass their financial data to the CRA which will in turn send that information to the IRS. On the face of it, this is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on several fronts. But clearly, the victims of this legislation will have their Canadian banking privacy violated with the authorization of Canadian law.

I want to discuss a theology of privacy tonight: Do Christians believe in privacy? What are the limits of privacy? In order to achieve this end, I want to discuss positive law and natural law as the theoretical basis of privacy.

Positive law as the basis of Privacy

Tyrants pass executive orders or edicts–their word has the effect of law. Legislatures write and pass bills into law. These man-made ordinances are called positive law. For example, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is a law in Canada which governs privacy rights. However, if positive law were the basis of privacy, the government could just as easily create rules taking all privacy away–but that would not make such laws appropriate. So around the world, many societies have put into place safeguards against the violation of rights through positive laws. These declarations often imply that their texts do not so much create rights so much as explicitly set out and acknowledge human rights in order to prevent their violation by governments.

Natural law as the basis of Privacy

Natural law is the idea that nature endows human beings with rights. These rights include everything necessary to live freely–the ability to breath, eat, work, and not least of all, to accumulate wealth so as to meet those other needs. In the Judeo-Christian world-view, God endows humans with these rights. In atheistic world-view, man’s nature endows him with these rights. Since we need to breath, eat, as well as clothe and shelter ourselves, we have the right to obtain and accumulate. The right to privacy is ultimately the right to private property.

The Bible affirms the right to privacy in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness, etc. These commandments prevent other human beings and associations of human beings such gangs, criminal syndicates, multi-national corporations, and governments, from violating private property rights.

Banking privacy and the Castle Doctrine

The concept of privacy has its basis in private ownership. If the authorization of the king to come into your house and make an inventory of your goods implies two basic premises: (1) the king is only making an inventory for his own purposes, in case he needs something; (2) ultimately what is in your house belongs to the king. Thus, the concept of privacy is long established in English law with the Castle Doctrine: A man’s house is his castle. The king has no business there, because what is in the castle belongs to its private owner. The limit to this rule, of course, is that if the authorities have reasonable cause to suspect that a crime has been committed, they may obtain a warrant to search the house.

Banking privacy is really thus an extension of the Castle Doctrine. The IRS has no right to know what is in the bank accounts of Canadians because we have the right to private property. Stephen Harper has procured a law written by human hands that takes away the privacy rights of certain Canadians, those with alleged ties to the United States–but he does not have the authority to do that. Privacy is a right given to us by God, enshrined on tablets of stone, written by God’s own finger.

This warrantless grab for information by the United States government in Canada is particularly foolish considering that even the Canadian government is not entitled to our bank account information except as it pertains to pertinent taxable events: e.g., dividends, interest, sales of stocks–these are reported on T5 and annual stock trading statements without also passing on the account balance or the account holdings. To obtain bank account information, even the Canadian government requires a warrant.

 

Cholesterol’s designer may be smarter than most doctors

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
Marvellous are thy works;
And that my soul knoweth right well.

Psalm 139:14 (KJV)

Cholesterol is good for you. It is in the lining of your cell walls. About 25% is of your body’s cholesterol is in the brain. The body produces stress hormones, sex hormones, and vitamin D from cholesterol. Cholesterol is necessary to repair the body and when a person is stressed or injured, the liver produces more cholesterol. But medical doctors have set arbitrary limits of how much of this good stuff you should have, and therefore to lower your cholesterol, they will prescribe a drug with many known side effects including muscle damage, kidney failure, peripheral neuropathy and memory loss. Statins are derived from the poison husk of red rice which kills its predators. Interestingly, statin poisons lower cholesterol, and perhaps that is the point: if you lower cholesterol, your mortality rate goes up.

Doctors have decided that this cholesterol which our livers produce and release into the blood stream is bad for us. Yet the mechanism which the liver “decides” to release cholesterol may be a necessary part of the normal function and often of healing the body. Who do you think is smarter? Your doctor or your liver?

Actually it isn’t a question of whether the liver is smarter but of the designer of the liver being smarter. If the one who designed your liver knew what he was doing, then perhaps we should not second guess this mechanism governing cholesterol production and thus allow a mere human being to determine what our serum cholesterol levels should be. For the designer of the liver may actually be smarter than the doctors who are trying to fix arbitrary limits on the liver’s production of cholesterol.

The final concern has to do with money. The designer owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 5.10). He is wealthy beyond our imagination. The pharmaceutical companies require continual sales of statins to pay their employees (not least of all their CEOs gargatuan 7 figure salaries), their shareholders, and their promotion efforts, including the transfers to doctors on panels which decide what cholesterol levels should be. In investing, we call this a conflict of interest. The designer has no conflict of interest, because he has no need of our money.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” is no talisman

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Mark 16:15-18 (KJV)

A missionary friend spent a very short week with us last Fall (2013), trying to learn my diabetic low carbohydrate high fat diet, alas, with less fruit than I’d hope. Still I always enjoy his company, and we have been friends since 1992–since Neuchatel, Switzerland. He was the one who first put me in contact with FATEB in Bangui, Central African Republic, where I taught for eight  years as a visiting professor of New Testament and early Church history. At one point during the week, my friend said something quite interesting, and I paraphrase: “You mean it really does matter what I eat. I never put any concern into eating. You know, Seek ye first the Kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you.” “All these things” is a reference to necessities of life–food, clothing, shelter. But during that week I’d stressed to him that for diabetics, sugar and starch are like poison because they raise our blood sugar to levels that we can’t bring down and the excess blood sugar begins to damage our skin, our blood vessels, our eyes, our brains, our nerves, and whatever other bodily tissue there might be.

I think I shared his attitude while still young and healthy. As long as I was in the will of God and on the mission that he’d called me to do, I didn’t have to worry about what I ate, for God would protect me. Of course I wasn’t entirely consistent. I didn’t want to go to Africa and die of malaria or some other tropical disease. So I relied on medical science to keep me alive, and indeed, without the yellow fever vaccine, you can’t even enter the tropical countries of Africa. I went to the local Missionary Health Institute and received numerous shots and two prescriptions: mefloquine for malaria and Cipro for traveler’s diarrhea. So was this the sign of my lack of total faith in my reliance in medicine instead of God’s healing power? Doesn’t the long ending of Mark promise protection  to God’s missionaries against serpents and poisons?  One would think that promise would also protect us from drinking Typhoid laden water or the bites from malaria or yellow-fever infested mosquitos. Perhaps.

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Peter and Cathy with Peter’s housekeeper, wife and children Bangui, Central African Republic, February 2005

But St. Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tim 4.20). Even Paul himself suffered bodily affliction (Gal 4.13). Paul says also that the grace of God means that we can do all things in Christ Jesus who gives us the strength, and that means to prosper or to suffer want (Phil 4.10-13). So Paul, arguably the greatest missionary of all time, knew both want and illness. Timothy may also have suffered from bad water (1 Tim 5.3), given his frequent illness–Was that traveler’s diarrhea? Ultimately, God’s protection is for our eternal well-being (e.g., Matt 10.28); but he allows us temporal suffering. This temporal suffering can be the most excruciating: I heard the story of an orphaned missionary kid, whose brothers died of malaria in a Canadian hospital and whose parents died in a airline crash off the coast of West Africa. And during my first trip to Central African Republic, one of my students said that the grave yards were full of the first missionaries who died shortly after arriving in Africa–but nevertheless, the African church was grateful for their sacrifice on behalf of the gospel.

I am reflecting on this issue as a I continue to suffer debilitating tendinitis, brought on by my putting something deadly in my mouth, Cipro. Somehow, Mark 16.15-18 doesn’t apply to me. Instead, as a diabetic, I have to worry about the food that I eat. Instead, I have to do the Wahls Protocol in my attempt to heal the damage that exposure to toxic foods and pharmaceuticals have done to my body. I am a victim, and this is partly as a result of answering the call of God, for I wouldn’t have taken toxic drugs like Lariam (mefloquine) and Cipro if I hadn’t taught in Africa.

So my conclusion is this: We shouldn’t see the biblical passages like Matthew 6.33 and Mark 16.15-18 as promising protection from all harm, especially the harm that we do to ourselves by eating junk food or by exposing ourselves to toxins. Ultimately, this means we are still responsible for what we put in our mouths, and if we eat badly, then we shouldn’t expect God to protect us. We shouldn’t reject wisdom and thus confuse presumption with faith. Besides, if God promises to provide food for us, our faith should be strong enough to ask God for nourishing healthy food, and we should not view food that is ultimately going to ruin our health as God’s intended provision. God gives good gifts to his children (Matt 7.9-12; RSV):  “Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Is biblical gluttony overeating? Part 2: The story of Nabal

An obesity epidemic plagues the world today. Some of my poorest friends are obese, and they often feel helpless to do anything about it. I have obese friends from Africa in countries where a typical salary, if one even has a job, is around $100 per month. No matter how little they eat, they have trouble losing weight. But in our minds today, even in the church, we associate gluttony with obesity and overeating. But in the Bible there are these stories in which very wealthy person feasts but refuses to share with the needy. One of these stories is 1 Sam 25, the story of Nabal.

One of the most important gluttons in the Bible, in my opinion, is Nabal. Nabal was very rich, and he had a shrewd wife. He himself wasn’t as smart as his wife. While David led a group of rebels, he asked Nabal for aid. David figured he had something coming from Nabal, since he’d protected Nabal’s life and property.  So he sent some of his men to request some food. But Nabal refused. Abigail heard and took some food to David and pleaded with David not to do something foolish by killing her stupid husband. David relented from his wrath. But when Abigail informed Nabal of what David intended and how she narrowly averted Nabal’s destruction, Nabal died, evidently of myocardial infarction.

So Nabal’s sin is not his overeating but his failure to acknowledge the service that David had done for him, and his unwillingness to share with David and his men. Even his own wife recognized his feasting in the presence of very dangerous men to be an extremely foolish thing to do.

Should we consider an obese person a glutton if that person is very willing to share and is generous towards the poor?

See also:

Is biblical gluttony overeating? Part 1

Is biblical gluttony overeating? Part 1

An African friend once told me that in his home province an elderly man learned that his son had killed a chicken and had eaten the gizzard. Now in that culture, it is a custom to offer the gizzard to the most honoured person in the family, and the father considered this act by his son to be disrespectful and so asked the constabulary to arrest his son–for eating a chicken gizzard! This seems to me to come close to the Old Testament understanding of the term “glutton”.

“Glutton” is a term that appears in the Old Testament a few times.  The Hebrew term, זלל (zalal), appears in Proverbs 23:20-21:

Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

This appears in a context of admonitions to children, telling them to obey instruction of their elders, as also Prov. 28.7:

A discerning son heeds instruction, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

The Proverbs passages may depend on common understanding of the term זלל that we find also in Deut 21:18-21:

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.  They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

Overeating may be an aspect of what it means to commit זלל, but it is very much a sin associated with rebelling against the commands of God and against the instruction of parents. Gluttony seems less a question of eating so much that it leads to obesity but rather of eating in a manner which does not honour other people, especially one’s parents.