Idolatry is easier to spot in hindsight. Back in the days of the Old Testament, it usually involved golden calves and sacred poles. People used to accuse pop stars of becoming idols, and ironically, we have television programmes dedicated to finding new ones. But perhaps the whole point of idols is that they are so deeply embedded in culture that we don’t see them. That is the danger they present – they remain beguilingly hidden in plain sight.
Like money, GDPR is not in itself bad. But privacy as it is interpreted by some responsible for implementing GDPR is perhaps just such an idol. Charities, among other organisations that hold data, are struggling to attend to the new legislation with which they must comply in May. GDPR is an expression of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that provides a fundamental right to privacy. How that law is implemented is a problem because those responsible for its interpretation and enforcement are at risk of elevating the right to privacy to cultish levels.
The law says that in certain situations, for example employers and taxation, there is a need to know some things about us. But purists argue that we must be allowed to control the extent to which others to see through the wall of privacy into our individual private lives. But God created humans to be in relationship with one another. ‘No man is an island’ and the idea of ‘being known’, not least by God themself, is a core element of Christian love for our neighbours and ourselves.
When a charity, or a newsletter, or even the vicar, invite me to sign up, they are asking me to be in relationship with their organisation. How can this relationship be initiated and maintained with this degree of control? The Church of England says that as vicar, I need to have the consent of every member of the electoral roll before I write to him or her to look at their regular giving – I can preach it but I can’t do direct marketing. Doesn’t that make privacy an idol?