The irony of my name being on the title of this post is not lost on me.
Most of us try to avoid being anonymous. We strive to be the center of attention. We want to excel in sports or academics, business or politics.
In fact, most of us can’t stand the thought of going through life as a nobody.
As a young man I went to great lengths to be the center of attention. I wanted the fame of an Andy Warhol. To be a spectacle like Mick Jagger.
To be marginalized horrified me.
Anonymous Uses Anonymity
Some of us, however, indulge in anonymity.
The cultural movement known as Anonymous is just one example. They’ve used their anonymity to pull benign raids and devastating invasions against organizations online.
For example, when Pirate Bay co-defendants were found guilty, Anonymous responded with DDoS attacks against the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
When the file sharing site Megaupload was shut down, Anonymous turned around and shut down the Department of Justice’s website.
And stole sensitive information from international intelligence firm Stratfor, including over 9,000 active credit cards, 27,000 phone numbers and 20,000 “easily cracked” passwords, because of their dubious nature.
As a taunt to their victims, whenever they appear in public, they wear Guy Fawkes masks, a cunning form of manipulation.
Those who applaud Anonymous do so because they view the people they attack as enemies of truth or freedom.
Strange, that a movement which values privacy is so eager to destroy it.
While the average person doesn’t have to fear a raid on their privacy from Anonymous, there is still some irony in their resemblance to Big Brother.
The Advantages of Being Anonymous
Those who are anonymous do so to protect their own privacy. For example, the forum that is thought to be the cradle of Anonymous culture, |b|chan, revels in this anonymity.
Everyone is anonymous. And as you might expect–everything goes.
|b|chan is NSFW.
|b|chan is a space for people to exercise and indulge every whim.
It is the id of the Internet ego.
It’s where child molesters and white supremacists express their freedom of speech. It’s where homosexuality, pediastry, bestiality live along side of homophobia and xenophobia.
|b|chan is not only NOT safe for work–it’s not safe for life. As I said, everything goes.
This is the advantage of being anonymous.
Anyone who’s run a blog or commented on blogs knows that over time an “anonymous” comment will show up.
Anon or Anny will vent.
It could be stupidity, hatred, lies. Whatever, it will be extreme. Nobody makes an anonymous comment about their preference for butter on toast.
And the Internet has given us a free rein when it comes to being anonymous.
Anonymity and Confessions
In certain occasions we encourage anonymity. Feedback given at work, suggestions for new ideas, comments for journalists on stories.
Anonymity gives people courage.
But there are checks-and-balance in place in those institutions. A mid-level manager at a large firm promises to confess to cooked books under the promise that he will remain anonymous. However, he understands that his confession can be held under scrutiny by the reporter…and can be traced back to him.
In a sense, if he is lying, he can be brought to justice.
No such checks-and-balances online.
To leave a comment on a blog all you have to do is provide a name and email address, neither real, and you may say whatever you want.
Of course some people can chase you down via your IP address. Most of what we do in life is traceable, even if minute. But for the rank-and-file, there is no need to worry.
Anonymity is to be cherished.
Anonymity and Sin
The Bible describes a God who sees all. Nothing is hidden.
For those who are convinced of his existence, this provides a proper deterrent from indulging in our secret whims.
It is not a perfect prescription, however, because to the degree that we believe this is the degree to which we obey it.
And to the degree that we doubt it is to the degree we ignore it.
Behind closed doors we feed these sins.
For instance, back in 1982 a pastor who remained “anonymous” wrote a letter to Leadership magazine. He explained how he was released from his bondage to pornography, pornography of the grossest sort.
It was Matthew 5:7 that broke his bondage:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
It’s the promise that one day he would stand before God and see Him–but only on the condition that his heart remained pure.
That motivated the pastor to resist his temptation, and it proved effective in breaking his addiction, where his previous efforts under the “plague of guilt” had no impact.
God Cherishes the Anonymous
For starters, the people of Israel.
A nobody tribe from the Late Bronze Age. A nobody tribe who end up slaves of Egypt. Thousands of Israelites died over a 400 year period beneath the weight of back-breaking work and intense heat.
Not one single Israelite’s name is recorded during this time.
After the Exodus, they rose to prominence, but fell again from their disobedience and again returned to slavery, this time under the Babylonians and Persians.
And they remained anonymous for the following 400 years.
They cried out, as the anonymous often do, to God who promised them a messiah, a figure who would give them liberty.
The messiah did not turn out to be who they thought he would be. As he walked through the rocky cities of ancient Israel he sought out the marginalized–the lepers, the prostitutes and the tax collectors.
He sought out the cripples, the poor and the children. Segments of society everyone had forgotten.
He ignored the proud. The educated. The wealthy. The physically fit.
He proclaimed justice to the anonymous–perhaps not here on this earth–but in the courts of heaven. He promised the poor that the wealthy will be the last in line–if given admission at all.
And he bestowed on children the greatest compliment of all–they were model citizens of the kingdom of God, ones whom we should emulate.
Adults, take note.
Why the Anonymous?
There is a certain mark among the anonymous.
It is the mark of humility.
Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Not this earth, surely, but the new earth, the one promised at the end of the age when all will be renewed for the sake of God’s glory.
The proud will have no part in it because God resists them.
We live in a culture that does not embrace anonymity. It is the cult of the extrovert. The famous. The beautiful.
That puts a burden on all of us to strive for fame and beauty–to resist being forgotten. To do something great, not for the sake of mankind or God or your family, but for ourselves.
No doubt man has always been possessed with this.
Men throughout the millenia strive for works of achievements to cement their names and reputations. God resists such achievements and men. In fact there is only one place in which our names and reputations should be cemented.
In the book of Life.
If not, the most fortunate of us may live on in the memories of the living for centuries, but among the dead we are a loathsome lot begging those whom we see enjoying the comforts of heaven while we suffer in the torments of separation from God.
This is the point of the rich man and Lazarus, the ultimate parable on anonymity and fame. The man who has no name triumphs over the man who has the name and the wealth.
And this is the classic truth of the gospel: the world as we know it has been turned upside down.
The last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Which brings us to the lesson of Anonymous and the anon. We’ve abused our positions of anonymity. We’ve used it to break laws and to say and do things we wouldn’t normally say or do.
We’ve used it to chase sin. And then, paradoxically, used it to chase fame.
God wishes we use to chase him.
Into the backwoods of the poorest countries. Into the cells of the darkest prisons. Into the wards of the sickest hospitals. Into the streets of the riskiest neighborhoods.
Fame isn’t sinful. Chasing it, however, is.