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Why Edward Snowden is a hero not a villain

Edward Snowden and other whistle-blowers provide us with evidence to navigate between paranoia and excessive credulity

‘Conspiracy theory’: inherently conservative people love that phrase. I don’t mean politically or theologically conservative people (though there’s some crossover), but people who seem conservative in their hearts and souls. People whose natural instinct is to believe what people in authority tell them. The authority could be Stephen Fry, the Pope, a nebulous understanding of ‘science’ or the Government. You know: people we should just take at their word. ‘Thou shalt not question…’ and all that.

By invoking that phrase, ‘conspiracy theory’, these instinctive conservatives, with their automatic trust in any position that seems to be accepted by established authorities (at least for their culture), can undermine any claim that we are being lied to by people with power. Even when we really are being lied to.

They are, it must be said, greatly aided by instinctive rebels, who are far too eager to believe that everything we are told to accept must be a lie. These dupes, in their hyper-credulity and gullibility, with their unhelpfully paranoid theories, make it easy to paint anyone exposing a lie as ‘the tinfoil hat brigade’.

The problem with extremes

Christians know both types well. Our instinctive conservatives are the ‘sensible’ Christians who are so keen not to be swept up in hysteria that they forget there is a supernatural reality to life or who reject any change in the Church as a needless fad. Our instinctive rebels are the well-meaning souls who get taken in by anything that claims to unveil the hidden secrets of this world: the illuminati in our music videos, Satanism in our toys, every political event an end-times portent.

The problem with both these extremes – those shouting “conspiracy theory” at every challenge to authority AND those frankly worthy of the slur – is that they distract us from and inoculate us against the light of truth.

I’m talking about the light spoken of in Luke 8 and Luke 12. Light that shines into the darkness and reveals what was hidden within it. Truth that makes lies wilt before it. The ultimate light and truth, of course, is Jesus. And I believe that he, the God who looks at a man’s heart rather than the exterior, to whom all things are known, values lesser truths too: ones that expose lies, deceit and the hidden deeds of darkness of the every-day. From the unfair weights and measures he detests to the lies of the powerful.

It’s those lies that have been in the news of late.

Conservative denouncers

Edward Snowden, the man who leaked details of covert and illegal spying activities of the American government, has been accused this week of having ‘blood on his hands’ by sources within the secret intelligence services of our Government – people so deep in the shadows they would not be named in the newspaper article. Subsequent responses by journalists who have worked with Snowden suggested that these claims were fabrications, and we are left with a question to ask ourselves: is Edward Snowden an example of the instinctive rebel, or are those who denounce him perhaps instinctive conservatives?

I believe the latter. Even conservative publications like the Financial Times, not prone to paranoid conspiracy theories, have suggested that the Snowden’s actions, which revealed that America’s spy agencies had consistently broken the law and then lied about breaking the law on surveillance of ordinary citizens, had done us a favour in revealing their wrongdoing.

You may, of course, believe that what Snowden exposed was not so bad – that governments need to spy in order to keep us safe. To an extent I agree. But when governments (and worse, when security agencies working for them) refuse to be governed by limits in these things, then I believe they are no better than the lawless hackers or unscrupulous journalists who share private emails and personal photographs of celebrities, royals and victims of crime with the world. And the crimes of governments have much larger consequences.

We need the Edward Snowden’s

Our government and the governments of our allies are not perfect – they are human, after all, and operate in a fallen world. There have been countless instances in which they have failed and done wrong in the past. Suggesting that everyone who is concerned that they might be hiding wrongdoing now is a ‘conspiracy theorist’ and therefore paranoid or crazy seems to me naïve. Naturally, we cannot believe everyone with a suspicion. That’s why we need evidence. That’s why we need people like Edward Snowden.

What Snowden has done is similar to what Daniel Ellsberg did in the 1960s. Ellsberg revealed that successive US governments had lied to their people about Vietnam. What Snowden has done reminds us of Chelsea Manning’s revelation of truth and her sacrifice. Manning made the world aware of an appalling incident where American soldiers wilfully murdered civilians.

We may not want to think of these things. As patriots, we may wish we could ignore them. But if we want our nation and her allies to truly be a force for good in the world, if we truly believe our enemies to be wrong, then we must hold our governments and those who work for them in the darkness, to the highest standards possible. And when they lie, deceive and move beyond the limits we have imposed on them, their transgressions should be dragged into the light.

Oppose the father of lies

More importantly, if we want to be daughters and sons of light, we must oppose the father of lies, and we must oppose his works. As a Christian, I believe truth has power. As a believer in democracy, I know that our system is at its best when our people make decisions with the full facts at their disposal. That’s why I think Edward Snowden is a hero.

That’s why I urge you, when you hear Snowden and other whistle-blowers being slandered – when you hear ‘conspiracy theory’ being thrown around as if it ends the argument, be courageous. Be wise. Be a lover of truth. Ask yourself if it’s more than a theory. And ask yourself if you trust a worldly government with limitless power, or if you’d prefer them to be forced, as far as is safe, to work in the light.  

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