Where transparency and privacy intersect

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

"One way we achieve transparency," a teacher/administrator of a small private school said, "is to think out loud when making decisions." That quite successful school, and other not-for-profit organizations, use many different ways to keep their proceedings open to the public. Experience has proved that hidden practices come to light and often leave a bad impression. We recall the stir when donations for Sept. 11 victims were going to be used for organizational expenses. "Truth will out," is the old adage. And keeping it out in the open has great benefits.

While competitive businesses can't make all their transactions public, the Enron debacle clearly reveals the need for greater disclosure in business operations and in contributions to political campaigns. Using wisdom to prevent collision where transparency and privacy intersect is today's challenge

As usual, the Bible offers guidance. In addition to the Commandments not to steal, bear false witness, or covet, we're also warned not to cover up: "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known." Jesus followed this observation by saying: "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops" (Matt. 10:26, 27). He wasn't saying that the hypocrisy uncovered was to be preached upon the housetops, or in today's words, splashed all over the media. Instead, what he had revealed to them of God's goodness was to be preached widely.

The more we dwell upon God's goodness and the inherent goodness of the man and woman of His creating, the more distinctly we see what needs correcting. When we know what is true, a lie is recognized and can be corrected; when we know that the true makeup - the spiritual identity - of each of us is good and honest, errors in private and public lives are quickly detected and mercifully corrected.

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science and this newspaper, added another Biblical element to uncovering evil - love. She wrote in her textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "The way to extract error from mortal mind is to pour in Truth through flood-tides of Love" (pg. 201). Whether the error is expressed by one individual or a corporate group, compassion and a sense of "but for the grace of God there go I" must accompany the uncovering of wrongdoing. Lives destroyed, even suicide in the Enron case, do not benefit humanity. Lives and situations corrected do.

Genuine love doesn't allow evil to go uncorrected. Punishment for correction is neither vindictive nor selective. Divine correction is a law that is universal, much as a traffic law applies to one and all. God that is both Love and Principle knows no more of a particular transgression than traffic lawmakers know of particular lawbreakers.

In his play "The Firstborn," Christopher Fry wryly calls God "the infinite eavesdropper." It's not helpful to think of God as a Santa Claus, seeing who is naughty or nice and rewarding accordingly. But to reckon God as Principle, Love, is essential.

God isn't an eavesdropper, and neither should we be. I grew up in the country, and our telephone was on a party line. At our home, we weren't allowed to listen in on others' conversations. Respect for personal privacy is essential to democracy. Whether a national ID card, as some countries require, would erode that privacy if required in the United States is open to debate.

As we sort through issues of transparency versus privacy, disclosure versus confidentiality, testimony versus Fifth Amendment privileges, congressional investigations versus presidential rights, it's good to know that these differing views don't have to collide.

The law of God gives each its rightful place while uncovering error and making adjustments. Of course, preventing wrongdoing is more valuable than uncovering it. Transparency that removes temptation is consistent with worshipping a God who doesn't lead into temptation but delivers from evil. Celebrating the goodness of this God from the housetops or in the media does indeed uncover evil, but, more important, prevents it.

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