NSA, Homeland, and God

Why should I be worried about the government monitoring my emails or how I surf the web? As someone who is a registered Libertarian (and never voted for a Libertarian candidate) I get it partly. The scale of government is mind-numbing and sometimes frightening, especially in its intelligence and military aspects. Can any regular American aspire to the presidency who has no experience with foreign policy and sensitive intelligence operations? Who can stand in that great day, indeed.

But when I read people who think the world is changing — not to mention ideas about human nature — because of the access now available to government officials through computing and phones, I wonder:

Will you really pay higher insurance rates to escape tracking, or will you swallow the pill of microscopic sensors that watch everything you eat and do—and secure your insurance discount?

The point is not that some simple tweak—making data on us available to us, making it easier to opt out (as if our absence would not be noticed)—would solve the matter. Rather, the point is that a certain view of freedom and a certain view of power are creating a world in which human faculties are superfluous because they are limited and inaccurate compared to scientific measurement.

The tracking revolution is the replacement of, not the extension of a human faculty. Because every advance it offers is a marginal improvement, it proceeds in rational steps toward a goal whose reasons are opaque. Like the division of labor which it imitates, the tracking revolution simplifies knowledge of human beings by breaking us down into our component parts.

For instance, one of the delights (all about me) I take from spy movies or television series like Homeland is a sense that someone is out there monitoring all this stuff, keeping the world safe from bad guys. The same goes for crime shows and murder mysteries (having finished Broadchurch‘s first season last night, I yet again marvel at the Brits capacity to entertain through narratives of justice). It is truly marvelous that any agency can possibly monitor all that stuff, intervene when necessary, and keep the world from careening out of control.

The powers of intelligence agencies and police monitors are of course akin to an all seeing God. If some Christians walk around thinking that certain saints are watching them, most Christians likely live with the scary and comforting thought that God is monitoring everything they do. What is the problem with a few more sets of eyes?

Meanwhile, what possibly could the government find out of interest about me? What Muether and I are planning for the next issue of the Nicotine Theological Journal? Granted, if I were doing something costly to me, something that could get me in trouble in those relationships that most matter — wife, session, department chair — I wouldn’t like the idea that some folks out there know the dirt. But it’s not as if staff at NSA or agents in the CIA are going to give a large rodent’s rear end about activities that might compromise my marriage, church membership, or job. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone wading through all the cookies I use in a day or phone calls I make or email messages I write — along with the rest of America — and finding anything of interest. Average life is so ordinary.

It also helps knowing that my favorite libertarian, J. Gresham Machen, is not looking down reading this.


54 thoughts on “NSA, Homeland, and God

  1. DG,

    Have you considered FX’s The Americans? The show asks big questions about loyalty, identity, family, etc., and (like all good shows) gives no easy answers. It’s not The Wire but definitely approaches it in terms of the humanity of it’s characters.


  2. Michael, my wife has been bugging me to get into The Americans.

    I’m way behind, you, Dg, cw, etc..

    Pray for me (emoticon).


  3. It’s amusing that Tennant played “The Dr.” for several years and that his on-screen partner was on Peep Show, yet the both of them were so believable in Broadchurch. Talk about range! According to Dominic West (from the MIB podcast): “You probably get a better quality actor for less money if you import from England.” I agree, though I’d change “England” to “the UK” given Tennant’s nationality.

    Everything about Broadchurch was good.


  4. I think anyone who likes ‘Broadchurch’ would like Branagh’s UK ‘Wallander”. The Swedish ‘Wallander’ is probably more of an acquired taste but worth trying, delightfully grim.


  5. AB – You might enjoy “The Americans.” There are occasional explosions and the main characters are “aliens.” Up your alley, no?


  6. Michael, I would love to chit chat TV with you, but I’m working on being less desultory (wink). I’m sure I would enjoy these things, finishing up season 4 of Boardwalk (with the FF button close at the ready (hello greg)).


  7. DGH,

    We only know the tip of the iceberg on what they do with data. Someone is writing software right now to parse your life, look at your cookies and assign you to all kinds of categories, few of which you realize. The Nicotine Theological Journal is probably going to cost you on your health and life insurance… You currently are rated for auto insurance on the average driving records of all your friends on Facebook… Who knows what OL regulars are doing to your chances for hiring or promotion anywhere. Cameras are now intelligent and can recognize suspicious or criminal behavior, will it result in arrest? Sue for false arrest over a software bug? Sorry sir.

    Total Depravity means l want less power in anyone’s hands. Especially a faceless software programmer
    Machen would take you to the woodshed on this, I expect. He hated uniformity, which all this is forcing us to. We will all be watching BBC approved programming with our cats.

    Hopefully some Libertarian will set up a place where all this crap is banned, maybe call it, the home of the free and the land of the brave.


  8. Doug,

    What happens when your libertarian anti-uniformity paradise gets nuked or bio-bombed because you eschew any monitoring? Are you going to call on insidious America to help out?

    Followup – I presume you are of leftist-bent in terms of american interventionism and “imperialism” abroad. If a curtailment of monitoring and intelligence gathering leads to events that in turn lead and cause more war and conflict by America, do you prefer that over allowing more monitoring which stops/catches those events and threats before they grow into a greater war/conflict?


  9. Sorry AB, I meant does Netflix take Dr. Who back to the debut in the 1960s?

    My package calls it Season One, which starts merely a few years ago.

    Hiss Boo!!!


  10. Kent, I watched season 1 -7 (i think) of the 2005-2012 series (that Michael mentioned, didn’t start with David Tennant, but he came in around season 2 or 3 and was the doctor for much of that segment).

    my library for sure has some old school looking “who’s”, and i’m sure netflix does too. my wife knows the good stuff to watch on tv, i take her cues. although homeland was my idea, and she thinks it’s because i read drudge only, and not hart. shhhh…

    s’all good, brutha, i’m out.


  11. Cletus,

    I reject your left right paradigm. Wars of prevention don’t = Right.

    And show me the net decrease in terrorism caused by undeclared and unconstitutional wars of prevention (killing civilians by thousands). Those people hold grudges for centuries, they still haven’t gotten over the Ottoman defeat in Vienna in 1683.

    Thanks to the America needs to save the world plan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan etc. etc. will be the source of increasing disaster and p_ssed off terrorists for generations. Thanks for spending the $3 Trillion btw. Great plan. Keep waving your flag and surrendering your freedoms, pretty soon you will be living in a security state that will be a lot like a prison.

    I think the 2 kingdom view and as much as it depends on us seeking peace with all, is wise and neither left or right politically. They aren’t terrorizing Switzerland, maybe we could learn something.


  12. well, if enough of us were still puritans, we would still do self-surveillance, because the practical syllogism means that faith looks also to how much we are saving in the bank and how much we are wasting, because it’s usually poor people’s fault –they could have saved also, but they didn’t

    if you give them money, they most likely will waste it on smokes



  13. by “puritan” i was thinking of Edwardsians, not only Wesleyans

    Gerald R. McDermott, “Jonathan Edwards on Justification: Closer to Luther or Aquinas?,” Reformation & Revival 14, no. 1 (2005):

    “Jonathan Edwards’s supreme devotion to Petrus van Mastricht, the late-seventeenth-century Dutch Reformed theologian who was steeped in Suarez, was not without effect. Edwards agreed with Thomas Aquinas -more than with many of his evangelical followers and that faith is inherently related to Christian living,that justification changes the regenerate soul.”, p 132

    “Edwards would have agreed with the New Perspective that, for Paul, faith and works are not mutually exclusive, and justification has a not yet dimension. We have seen that Edwards understood justification as dependent, in one sense, on sanctification (or “perseverance,” as he put it). He also spoke of a two-fold justification.” 134

    “Faith is not the instrument that gets members attached to the body, but is the act of union itself, and so is the badge identifying the members. Since these are members of the person of Christ, they will gradually begin to resemble that person…, faith cannot be abstracted from works of love. Edwards suggests that we must eschew false dichotomies between faith and works, imputation and infusion, justification and sanctification, soteriology and ecclesiology.” p 135

    Edwards: What is real in the union between Christ and his people, is the foundation of what is legal; that is, it is something that is really in them, and between them, uniting them, that is the ground of the suitableness of their being accounted as one by the Judge

    Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”


  14. (OK, it’s a bwog, whaddaya expect anyway?)
    But why should anybody be upset that the gummerint is spying on them?
    Because after all, little grasshopper thinks that he is not doing anything wrong, so what’s the prob?

    Rather the real problem is little grasshopper is not the one who gets to determine what is right and wrong, whatever they might tell us on All Things Not Considered.



  15. Homeland is even more far-fetched than Breaking Bad, without Vince Gilligan’s masterful cinematography.

    Guess I’m the odd man out here.


  16. The name “Broadchurch” may be more significant than it appears — a major theme is the need for and utility of CoE-type established, civil religion and how it can be good for the community. But I must say that scripture is generally used accurately, doctrine is mostly orthodox, and Xianity is treated about as well as could be expected in the 21st century.


  17. Seth, thanks for the heads up re:Homeland. Maybe Broadchurch or The Americans before Homeland for us out here.



  18. DGH,

    Thanks for teaching me about JGM, being in the PCA I find asking “what would Machen do” usually results in the the answer, “the opposite of whatever is going on right now”.


  19. AB, yo,

    Homeland was pretty okay the first season (as long as you don’t mind different sized cups, [heyo Erik]) but it jumped the shark pretty quickly. Funny how a show can attempt to humanize terrorists but somehow manages to make them more one-dimensional than if they were twirling their mustaches and doling out lashes. The main characters are interesting, but quickly become manic (literally and figuratively) and unapproachable. The political commentary was heavy-handed and, frankly, pretty dated. They tried gritty realism and ended up with 24 with nudity. The Wire did it best.

    That’s why I like Breaking Bad. It is what it is. Magical realism, a la Marquez or


  20. P.S.

    The Americans might be the best show on television. But what do I know – Walter White is my homeboy. Don’t blame me! It’s a product of my denomination.


  21. ended up with 24 with nudity

    well that settles it. i remember my first experience binge watching, was in 2006 with about 5 seasons to catch up on. 24 was great, but I can’t get into the current re-boot, nor would I want to go back and watch them again, nor see any of those people naked.

    The Americans it is (how come the wife is always right?). Yo.


  22. “Breaking Bad” sensationalized moral dilemmas and had characters who were only superficially complex (House of Cards also comes to mind). Beats me how it generated all the attention and enthusiasm it received.


  23. Michael, BB started out ok, but devolved. There’s lots in the archives, I’ve commented plenty. Darryl’s position I believe was it was clear that the Pinkman character from the start wouldn’t be a strong supporting character to make the story plausable. Don’t quote me quoting him, tho..

    I’ll leave the analysis to the experts tho. Where’s Erik? Someone page him.


  24. At the time, I thought the only series that devolved worst was Lost:

    If this is supposed to be such a smart and wise show, unlike anything else on network TV (blah, blah, blah), why such a wimpy, phony, quasi-religious, white-light, huggy-bear ending. … Once Jack stepped into the church it looked like he was walking into a Hollywood wrap party without food or music – just a bunch of actors grinning idiotically for 10 minutes and hugging one another.”[49] Max Read of Gawker was also particularly scathing, calling the finale “incredibly dumb” and remarking that “it ended in the worst way possible”.[50] Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times gave the episode 1½ stars out of 5, saying that many fans would wish “for a time slip that would give them those 2½ hours and possibly six seasons back”.[51] M.L. House of TV Fanatic felt “bored” and “especially disappointed” by the finale, and that the show’s resolution was “overarching”.[52] Peter Mucha of The Philadelphia Inquirer also spoke negatively of the finale, calling the series “one of TV’s longest, lamest cons.”[53] Laura Miller of Salon.com suggested that the finale episode was a failure because of its fanbase, calling the series “the quintessential example of a pop masterpiece ruined by its own fans.”[54] Daniel D’Addario, also writing for Salon.com, listed “The End” as one of the “worst finales ever”, describing the series as “a show whose twists and turns didn’t always seem to be undertaken by people who knew what they were doing.”[55]

    Enough chit chat. Bryan thinks Boniface may be looking down on his website as he writes? Spooky, yo.


  25. AB, yo,

    I think St. D. Hart looks down on everything I write. His face also showed up on my challah this morning. I hope I didn’t ruin it by my Breaking Bad talk.


  26. BB lost it’s way quickly and eventually Walt was taking more punishment than Wile E. Coyote.

    Like Cheers, it doesn’t remotely hold up well for a second watching.


  27. seth, i wouldn’t fret. we’re all a bunch of nameless floating avatars, shooting the breeze and dg’s bar.

    there’s a michael i’m trying to get to know better (don’t know if he’s our fellow at this table) but if he is, know from where i sit, you and him are both batting 1.000 in my oldlife fantasy league of all-stars. with that, i really need to shut up , yo.



  28. seth, no, don’t do that. my bad, don’t read my words. wait for the combox highlighted yellow. i’m just having fun:

    He’s devious and amoral and unreliable and irresponsible and… and definitely not to be trusted.”
    – Jean-Luc Picard”

    who’s next?


  29. Seth, good to hear.

    I may be mixing michaels, the one here knows a good podcast when he finds one. At least according to my first listen this morning of MIB, and the guys at the lunch table who knew about it as well.



  30. Don Draper’s not real?

    Best part of that entire series was when Lane couldn’t start the Jag in his hour of need. If Old Lifers can’t appreciate that, don’t ask me and mine for nuthin’.


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