The keywords for today are “Secrecy” and “Transparency.”
There are good secrets and bad secrets. Things to be concealed and things to be revealed. Some people want to know, others want to hide.
Secrecy is an valuable commodity. From universities that want to protect professors’ academic freedom by keeping their controversial viewpoints from public criticism to the Central Intelligence Agency’s protection of international sources, secrecy and confidentiality allows organizations and governments to effectively achieve their goals with a degree of freedom and flexibility.
On the other hand, transparency is also valuable. For instance, without whistle blowers, the American people would never have learned about the torture of Iraqi prisoners of war at Abu Ghraib and the United States would not have recently apologized for purposely infecting 696 Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, and mental patients with syphilis in the 1940s. (For that story, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/01/us-apology-guatemala-syphilis-tests)
After 9/11 when the United States went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration was roundly criticized for keeping things too private, and when President Obama took office, he promised a different approach the Administration issued a memorandum called “Transparency and Open Government” which is still visible online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment/
In the memo, Obama said, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
In the age of the Internet, information can be shared on a worldwide basis at the speed of light. The recent Wikileaks revelations of State Department communications, which were dispersed through the established media, have caused a great deal of embarrassment for the United States diplomatic corps, and may in fact harm international relations. In response, we can expect that it will be more difficult for representatives to operate, and we can also expect attempts to curtail freedom of speech.
They have also showed the American people the precarious situation in which we find ourselves by trying to balance between competing national interests. For instance, we are economically tied to China which has been sharing technology with Iran. But we are tied by oil to Saudi Arabia whose leadership wants the U.S. to attack Iran.
Other leaks from other sources have showed us that the Federal Reserve secretly bailed out General Electric and other U.S. companies to the combined tune of trillions of dollars. The Fed had long said that it needed complete secrecy to run the U.S. economy and we can only hope that revelations along these lines will not hurt our international credit rating.
If you remember the old Road Runner cartoons, Wiley Coyote can run over the side of the cliff and will hang in mid-air until he looks down and sees what the situation is. It is then that he falls. Hopefully the same will not happen if China and other major creditor nations look and see that the Fed has printed money beyond its value in order to prop up a perception of credit worthiness. Right now, the Fed’s veil of secrecy is providing the buffer between Wiley and the bottom of the canyon.
So what’s the moral to this story? We can learn that we cannot always trust what is on the surface because other things may be lurking below although you can go crazy trying to figure it out. We can see that secrets can protect good and bad activities, and that when there is harm being committed it is not a bad thing for people to stand up and say so. We can also learn that the path of a whistle blower is fraught with peril as people with multiple interests or fear of association will agree to “shoot the messenger” and for this reason that some secrets, like the Guatemalan experiments, may not be revealed for decades.
On a spiritual angle, the Bible has something to say about both secrecy and transparency. In Luke 8:17 Jesus says that there’s no point in trying to look good in public while doing evil in private. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”
If we want to avoid living life in fear of society’s spotlight, there is a simple standard — live life as if you’re in a fishbowl in the middle of Times Square. When the spotlight hits, people will see good things and criticism of you will be because they can’t handle the brightness of your goodness, not because they find actual fault with you.
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. and do not fear their intimidation and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”
1 Peter 3:14–17 (NIV).