For those of us saints and sinners who even remotely have been following last week’s Ashley Madison scandal, I can think of at least three lessons it offers (and you may have more, in which case feel free to leave them below):
1. Chances are you will be found out. 37 million Americans with personal accounts on Ashley Madison seem to believe otherwise — or did before last week. But if you’re trolling Craigslist ads looking for anonymous, kinky sex without all the inconveniences of love, there is always that possibility that so-and-so knows your mother’s best friend from college whose daughter is in your spouse’s pilates class.
And they just had coffee last week.
And if you’re building your kamasutra playbook online, without the fall-out of the next morning when your spouse gives you that look that says “I’d rather organize my sock drawer than try that move again,” you might want to think again before signing up to try out your trick on nice strangers. Someone will eventually catch you with your— ahem— “hand” in the cookie jar: something along the lines of “What’s in the dark will be brought to light,” maybe…
2. Shame kills. The fall-out from last week’s hacking has been lethal: some people have allegedly committed suicide after learning that intimate details of their private lives have now become the exotic and titillating digestive material of a national (and international) conversation. And when embarrassing details about your messy private life have reached a whole chirping chorus that includes members of the national news media bent on nothing other than boosting their ratings, crowds of recreational gossipers on jittery chat rooms, and, maybe worse yet, your church’s public prayer chain (like that scene in the movie Saved), who can blame you really? That would probably be enough to encourage even the thickest-skinned among us to get lost hiking somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.
High-decibel shame of this sort can kill. (And a note to self: explore this concept further in next book on shame.)
On the other hand, lower-decibel shame — of the kind that drives addictions like sex and intimacy disorders and an impulse to court sure disaster in the form of extramarital entanglements — kills, too. The difference is that this kind of shame will do you in over the longer haul, sucking the life right out of you, damaging your closest and most significant relationships and ultimately, destroying your soul (if not also your body).
3. Love covers a multitude of sins; it doesn’t expose them. There was nothing kind or loving about what hackers did last week in exposing the private indiscretions of millions of people.
In the sense that true love entails justice, I can summon an exception to this general impression when those who loudly trumpet their high moral and religious values, while indulging in the very opposite of what they profess, get their day in the court of public opinion. (In this case, Josh Duggar, a spokesman for conservative Christian family values already under scrutiny for child molestation charges when last week’s news broke, is the most obvious example.)
But I suspect that the great majority of people whose dalliances on Ashley Madison are now scintillating public knowledge are probably not the Josh Duggars of this world. They are more likely pretty ordinary, somewhat complicated people like you and me, who are capable of doing great good but also make plenty of dumb mistakes and are prone to lead messy, confusing lives, people who, when honest with themselves, are thankful only God and their very best friend or maybe their therapist know the asinine thing they did last year or this morning. Most of them probably aren’t looking to excoriate publicly those who fall prey to the same regrettable impulses, weaknesses and moral mishaps (“sins”) they themselves experience. They may even be trying to do their best, and dream of a day when they might be healed once and for all of their “multitude of sins.”
That makes the very dramatic and salacious public exposure of the far too particular ways in which 32 million Americans fall short, (and implicitly, “shorter” than the rest of us saints and sinners), nothing less than destructive and mean-spirited.
Yes, it’s possible that for Duggar and his publicly shamed compatriots, last week’s hacking signified a much-needed corrective — a redemptive day of reckoning, if you will. But to those who seek to publicly shame others on the basis of their sexual misbehavior, Jesus appears to dish out a taste of their own medicine. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day drag an adulterous woman caught in flagrante delicto to Jesus, demanding a word of condemnation, Jesus makes no effort to appease them by casting stones at the wrongdoer. Instead, in response to their finger pointing, Jesus bends down and silently begins to writes something on the ground. Whatever Jesus writes is enough to cause them to walk away one by one, leaving only the adulterous woman to contend with Jesus. Some commentators believe Jesus is writing down all of these accusers’ most secret sins.
If that interpretation is right, I’m guessing last week’s hackers have something more to learn about their own blind spots — and maybe even about love itself.