Voice Mail Hacking and the Kingdom of God


July 19, 2011

I suppose we, as a blog that concerns itself with the media, would be a bit remiss if we had not given some attention to the recent scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  The well-known and highly successful media conglomerate has been charged with phone hacking.  Allegedly, News of the World, a subsidiary of News Corp., has been involved in hacking for the past several years now, acquiring very private and personal information from people as high up on the social and political ladder as Prime Minister Tony Blair.  With the intent to exploit and profit off their misdemeanors, or so the allegations assert, News Corporation is now under investigation by not only British officials but also the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (aka. the FBI).

In the wake of the scandalous affair, Murdoch and his News Corp. family have few defenders – for obvious reasons.  No one is jumping out of their seat, ready to advocate the propriety of intrusion and invasion of personal voice mail messages.  After all, what we store on our phones is extremely personal, and even more so in our day and age.  For many of us, our phones (smart, cell, or otherwise) contain our whole lives.  In fact, it would not be hyperbolic to say that our phones contain our universe.  From banking account information to a personal tid-bit about where we will rendezvous for dinner, our phones have become not only the center but the governing agent of our lives.  So what happens when someone breaks into that world?

The narrative arch of the Bible suggests this very sort of in-breaking when it speaks of the kingdom of God – an eschatological event, wherein the rule and reign of God intrudes human history in a very decisive and revolutionary way.  In fact, according to New Testament scholar, Tom Schreiner, “Most scholars…agree that the kingdom of God [as witnessed] in Jesus’ teaching is [currently] present [among us]. In other words, the kingdom is already inaugurated but not yet consummated” (New Testament Theology, 54).  At first consideration, the Christian typically does not feel disgust when surveying this narrative.  In fact, though the interruption of Jesus into history and our lives is very life altering and demanding (Jesus demands lordship of our lives – private and public), Christians seem to speak of this event as somehow more benign than News Corporation‘s ventures.  It’s our gospel!

However, in practice, Christians have just as difficult a time welcoming Jesus into their lives as they do Murdoch and company.  But why?  Doesn’t the kingdom of God, as come in Jesus Christ, work out to our benefit, namely, redemption?  What are we unwilling to give up?  Well, not Christians only, but we Westerners, in general, have a seemingly unhealthy indulgence with our privacy and “personal space.”  One could very well suggest that we idolize our privacy; so much so, in fact, that privacy has become a necessity in our social climate.  So embedded is this value that it seems inane for one to speak of idolatry when referring to privacy.  After all, how are we going to secure our financial holdings without account privacy, right?

To be clear, this post is not calling for the eradication of privacy; nor is it a defense of News Corp.  One can certainly understand the necessary place privacy serves in an ever globalizing society.  Furthermore, one can well recognize the impropriety of violating an individual’s private and personal life.  After all, the intrusion of media organizations don’t bring the same stated benefit as does the kingdom of God.  However, the intensity of our disgust towards privacy offenders might also be a twinkle of revelation – telling us how over-indulgent we have become with our privacy; how greedily we have sought to protect the lordship of our private sanctums.  We have even evolved to a point where we view privacy as a “right.”

All this notwithstanding, maybe the message of the kingdom of God speaks in a different way.  The community which grew out of such a message (e.g. consider the followers of Jesus in The Acts of the Apostles) walked in a different “Way.”  Maybe the community of early Christians, who perpetually shared their lives with one another, was so radical as to suggest to us modern dwellers that we need to give serious reflection to our value of privacy.  It’s too easy to merely heap condemnation on News Corp.  We, as a society – our values and norms, have played a role in determining the import of the recent scandal.