A few years ago, the British Humanist Association and Professor Richard Dawkins paid for some adverts to be displayed on London buses with the slogan, “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy yourself.” I always wanted to fine tune it a little. Something like “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and go get smashed”. If you enjoy getting smashed that is. Or maybe, “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and go smash something up.” If you like smashing things up of course. Or how about “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and go ahead commit adultery, steal, lie, cheat – whatever takes your fancy, just make sure you don’t get caught.”
Of course in taking the BHA’s and Professor Dawkins’ advice to its logical conclusion, where enjoyment is the barometer of ethics, the charge of being absurd is bound to be thrust my way. “Oh come on! When we said you could enjoy yourself without worrying, we didn’t mean you could do anything you like. There are limits, even if this improbable God is really unreal.” At which point I would probably just break out into a wry smile and snigger at the irony. Didn’t they tell me that I could just go and enjoy myself without worrying about God and his antiquated ethical standards? And are they now telling me that there are actually limits on how much I can enjoy myself? Seems like it. Apparently there are standards after all. Who makes them, though, is anyone’s guess!
They really should have been more specific about how far we can enjoy ourselves in a godless universe, or at least put a disclaimer at the bottom of the ad. Something like, “The BHA and Professor Dawkins accept no responsibility for the actions of people who suppose that the probable non-existence of God means they really can go and enjoy themselves in ways that we ourselves wouldn’t necessarily approve.” But then, such a disclaimer might just have led people to see that having got rid of God, they were now attempting to take his place.
I mention this because another organisation of relativists have just been hoist by their own petard and seem equally unable to follow through on their own logic. Ashley Madison is a dating site with a difference. Whereas your traditional dating site is set up to try to bring people together with the hope of marriage, Ashley Madison is specifically designed to bring people together who are already married, with the intention of helping them discard their marriage vows. Breaking marriages is the name of their dating game.
Their slogan is similar to the BHA’s, although they are more specific about the sin which you apparently have the right to commit in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness: “Life is short. Have an affair”. Did you get that? Allow me to expand:
“Life is the product of random processes and so has no lawgiver, no transcendent morality and no ultimate purpose. It is also fleeting and so the only thing that makes it worthwhile is to try to cram as much fun into it as possible, indulging yourself in anything you like that you think will bring you pleasure. This means that the constraints of being faithful to your spouse and denying yourself a “good time” with someone else is anathema to the good life and to your basic human rights. So come on, drop your silly prudery, register with us and we’ll take all the hassle out of setting you up with someone else who just wants to enjoy themselves.”
Okay so that’s not quite as catchy as the original, but it’s the essence of what they are getting at.
But having set themselves up as a portal which mocks the idea that adultery is morally wrong, they have found themselves on the receiving end of behaviour which they apparently do think is morally wrong. In case you haven’t heard, back in July a group of anonymous hackers broke into their website and took the details of over 33 million accounts. According to most media reports, the hackers “stole” the details, which is ironic because “stealing” is prohibited by the 8th commandment, which comes just a tad after the one Ashley Madison has been helping others break.
In fact, so wronged do Ashley Madison perceive themselves, that their parent company, Avid Life Media, is offering $500,000 Canadian dollars (£240,000) for information on the hackers. Not only this, but Canadian police seem to be very concerned as well. In a statement addressing the as yet unknown hackers, the acting staff superintendent of the Toronto police, Bryce Evans, made the following comment:
“I want to make it very clear to you your actions are illegal and we will not be tolerating them. This is your wake-up call.”
So let’s get this right. There is apparently nothing wrong with adultery. There’s even nothing wrong with setting up a company deliberately to make adultery all that much easier. But hack the adultery-promoting company and you have committed a grave crime and a very great sin.
I anticipate the standard objections. The hackers released private details into the public domain, which is a breach of privacy and is wrong. Adultery, on the other hand, is a private thing between two individuals. To which I reply, “No it isn’t”. Adultery is the breaking of vows which were made in public, and there are other parties involved (i.e. the wronged spouse/spouses, children etc). So though the act of adultery itself is done behind closed doors, the meaning, the significance and the repercussions are very public.
This truth is clearly seen in Ashley Madison’s advertising. Their website features a picture of a woman with a wedding ring holding her finger up to her mouth in one of those “Shh! Let this be our dirty little secret” poses. It’s a dead giveaway. Marriage – proper marriage that is – is a publicly celebrated institution and there is no shame attached to it. In fact it’s glorious. Adultery? Well it has to be shushed up, even by people who are prepared to give their details to an adultery dating portal. Why? Because they know it’s wrong. This is the real reason you hear people talking about the fact and significance of adultery as being a “private” thing. They want to keep it a “private affair” not because it has no public significance, but simply because it is morally wrong. If it was morally right, they wouldn’t need to shush it up.
A second objection is that by releasing the details into the public domain, the hackers have done a great deal of harm. For instance, at the time of writing this there are two unconfirmed reports of people committing suicide. Adultery, on the other hand, is between two consenting adults and so does no harm. To which I reply, “Really?” Well apart from destroying the marriage covenant, ruining the life of the other spouse, devastating children, and cheapening the virtues of fidelity, honesty and truthfulness in society in general – apart from these things maybe it’s perfectly harmless! As for the suicide thing, it is not unheard of for people to commit after finding out that their spouse has cheated on them.
So were the hackers right to release this information? No they weren’t and they had no right to do so. Yet I can have no sympathy with those whose information has been released, or with the people behind Ashley Madison. It seems to me to be a fairly good practical exposition of this: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Whatever the wrong done by the people who have hacked and released the data, I fail to see how Ashley Madison, or the people who gave them their details can have any complaints whatsoever. Remember “Life is short. Have an affair”. Okay, but if you really believe this, you need to flesh the logic and the amorality out a bit more. How about this: “Life is short. Hack a company and release their details.” This is not my maxim. But Ashley Madison and the BHA have no right to object. Maybe the hackers were just enjoying themselves.